US exports of sunglasses bounced back during the first three months of 2004, confirming a certain recovery in the international market for these products. Following a disappointing trend at the end of 2003, US sunglass exports picked up by 3 percent in volume in the first quarter, reaching 4.9 million pairs. In terms of value they actually jumped by 28.2 percent to $38.5 million, as average prices were 23.6 percent higher. Canada accounted for the lion's share of US exports, with 38.4 percent of the total.

Imports of sunglasses into the USA decreased by 6.2 percent in volume to 112.4 million pairs, but their total value increased by 3.7 percent, with the average price standing at $1.71 per pair. Nearly 82 percent of the sunglasses imported into the USA come from China.

These figures were recently released by the Vision Council of America. The monthly "Consumer Barometer" published by the association, which is gaining more and more members, indicates a slowdown in sales of prescription eyewear and sunclips this past summer in the USA, which was probably related to rising unemployment. VCA says its 3-month purchase plan index for sunclips stood at 104.1 for September, which is 15.5 percent higher than in August and back to where it was in June at the beginning of the summer buying period.

VCA data indicate that while the market for sunclips is tiny, it's expanding promisingly. The percentage of the adult population using sunclips has risen from 6.7 percent in the first quarter of 2002 to 11.0 percent in the second quarter of 2004. This rise has remained almost entirely consistent through each quarter from 2002 to today. Adults of 50 years and over still account for over half of sunclip users. Women and married people are more likely to use sunclips than single people or men.

Meanwhile, VisionWatch has reported that total optical retail sales rose by 3.7 percent in the first quarter and by 0.9 percent in the second quarter in the USA, as compared to the same periods of 2003. VisionWatch, which surveys 100,000 people annually about consumer buying patterns and intentions, forecasts a 1 percent increase in optical retail sales in the third quarter, but just a 0.2 percent boost in the fourth quarter, which is traditionally the industry's weakest period.

However, 27.1 percent of the consumers surveyed over the 6 months ended in June said that they were ?very? or ?extremely? likely to purchase eyewear in the next six months. This was 25.1 percent higher than in June 2003. Jobson Optical Research has estimated that full-year retail optical sales for 2004 will reach the record high figure of $16.7 billion, rising by 2.4 percent over last year.