The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the Russian eyewear market hard, but the long-term outlook remains mostly bright, said Vadim Korol, chairman of Essilor Russia, in the Russian magazine Invest Forsait at the end of April.

Last year has been marked with a slump in sales caused by a number of factors, including a retail lockdown in the second half of 2020, the Russian ruble’s depreciation, and a sharp decline in the Russian population’s purchasing power, Korol said. As the vast majority of products on the Russian eyewear market are imported, the unfavorable exchange rate of the ruble led to price increases of 5 to 10 percent according to each brand’s strategy, adding to the general drop in volume due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As soon as the lockdown was lifted, some deferred demand emerged, which appeared to be stronger in Moscow than in provinces. The market recovered to about 90 percent of its pre-crisis level, he estimated. The contact lenses segment has been less affected than the general optical market, since these products are largely being sold on line or, more surprisingly, by vending machines in shopping malls. The retail lockdown has virtually not touched sales in this segment, according to Korol.

The Russian contact lenses market is expected to grow from 29 billion rubles (€321m-$390m) in 2017 to 42 billion rubles (€465m-$566m) in 2023, the Moscow-based think tank Discovery Research Group calculated.

Korol also claimed that the Russian eyewear market had more growth opportunities than most European or American markets thanks to the low base effect. “The Russian market is still characterized by low spending per capita on eyewear – only €2 on average. In developed countries, this figure ranges between €10 and €30. Even in China, it stands at €3.5 per capita,” he said, adding that by all means, sales are expected to grow to catch up with the European level.

In this background, the Russian eyewear retail is developed rather poorly. The country has one eyewear outlet per 18,000 citizens, while in Europe, the average level is one store per 6,000 citizens. The Russian market is also dominated by the budget segment. The share of premium contact lenses is close to 1 percent in volume compared to 30 percent in France and 12 percent in Turkey, he noted.

“Russians have a different mentality. Unlike Europeans and Americans, they do not pay too much attention to their vision and are in no hurry to correct it. In addition, there is a general dislike of our citizens for glasses. This is evidenced by the high share of contact lenses in the Russian market - they are bought twice as much as the world average. Most Russians are not ready to wear glasses,” he said.

All in all, Russia is however expected to become the world’s fourth eyewear market by 2050, Korol said, citing analysts. “We already see that the number of retail market participants is growing, and the consolidation of chains is underway, and they, among other things, are beginning to use a more professional approach to working with clients,” he added.

In this background, market leaders are putting a lot of effort not only to promote their products but to promote eyewear products and eyesight exams in general. For instance, Essilor has been investing for many years in communications campaigns to educate consumers about the ways in which they can ensure clear vision and prevent the development of eye diseases, Korol said.