In an online presentation to the members of Club Inter-Optiques, a French eyewear professionals’ association, GFK announced the results of its annual research on the optical market in France and four other European countries for 2020. The company’s results are based on sell-out data from a representative panel of opticians mixing independent and chain stores, but excludes other retail channels such as fashion or sports stores and e-commerce.

In a year marked by the Covid-19 pandemic and several lockdown periods, GFK estimates that the aggregated optical market for France, Germany, Italy and Spain decreased by 11 percent year-on-year to €15.5 billion, however with important variations by country. France was roughly on par with the four-country average with a 10.7 percent drop, but the Italian and Spanish markets went down by 13.9 percent and 16.5 percent, respectively. Germany fared better with a decline limited to 6.9 percent.

The research company breaks down the variations in value by product category with prescription lenses, eyeglasses, sunglasses, contact lenses and eyecare products as shown in the table below.

Variations in value by product category - 2020 vs. 2019
  France Germany Italy Spain UK
Prescription Lenses -8% -7% -8% -12% n.a.
Eyeglasses -12% -4% -8% -14% -14%
Sunglasses -22% -22% -29% -41% -41%
Contact Lenses -13% -11% -18% -17% -17%
Eyecare products -22% -6% -25% -20% -20%
TOTAL -11% -7% -14% -17% n.a.
Source: GFK

In the four previously mentioned countries, prescription lenses and eyeglasses sales declined at slower or equivalent rates to the country’s total market. Beyond the differences in Covid-19-related lockdowns, the fact that sales of corrective eyewear fared better than the other product categories probably contributed to the better resistance of the German and French markets, where the share of prescription lenses and eyeglasses in the total market value was calculated by GFK at around 90 percent in 2020. On the other hand, these two categories account for only 70 percent of the Italian market and 80 percent of the Spanish market, as shown in the next table.

Percentage of market value by product category - 2020
  France Germany Italy Spain
RX Lenses 62% 63% 50% 61%
Eyeglasses 27% 25% 19% 19%
Sunglasses 6% 3% 16% 8%
Contact Lenses 5% 7% 13% 11%
Eyecare products 1% 1% 2% 2%
Source: GFK

Sales of contact lenses dropped more than the average market in the four main countries studied, with GFK commenting that some consumers started to purchase their contact lenses online during the first lockdowns and kept doing so even after restrictions were lifted. Sales of sunglasses at optical stores in Europe were even more impacted than those of contact lenses, particularly in Italy and Spain where they plunged by 29 and 41 percent, respectively. It was also the case in the U.K., with sunglasses’ revenues down by 41 percent and contact lenses’ by 17 percent. However, the research company did not provide figures for the country’s lenses and overall market value.

Looking again at the four main countries of the study, GFK analyzed the share of private label sales in volume for three product categories. Private label prescription lenses accounted for 23 percent of the segment’s volume in 2020, with their sales declining by 10 percent year-on-year. As branded prescription lenses’ sales in volume decreased by 11 percent in the same period, the breakdown between both lenses’ categories remained mostly unchanged at the European level.

This has not been the case for eyeglasses where branded products have slightly increased their market share to 59 percent in 2020, against 41 percent for private label frames, with sales in volumes down by 8 percent for the former and by 11 percent for the latter last year. The opposite trend was observed in the sunglasses’ category with branded products’ sales falling by 32 percent, however still representing 69 percent of the segment, while private label sunglasses’ sales drop was limited to 23 percent.