The optical retail markets in France, Germany, Italy and Spain rose by 0.2 percent in value at sell-out prices in 2017 to €17.6 billion, according to GfK's latest retail survey, driven by the German market, which rose by 3.2 percent.

Germany was the second-largest market in the panel of four countries, representing 34.6 percent of the total. France came first with a 36.9 percent share. Germany was followed by Italy at 16.7 percent and Spain at 11.8 percent.

The French market was down by 1.4 percent, hit by a change of legislation that trimmed the public reimbursement for eyewear to €150 a pair and limited the renewal rate to once every two years from one year previously. Italy was down by 1.6 percent due to a negative trend in single-vision lenses as well as a decline in the prices charged for progressive lenses. In Spain, the overall market rose by 0.5 percent.

Spectacle lenses, which represent 58.8 percent of the market, grew by 0.1 percent in the four countries last year. Sales of organic progressive lenses have risen by 22.0 percent in volume and by 18.8 percent in value since 2015, but GfK registered a significant slowdown in the growth rate last year, with a rise of only 1.1 percent in value compared with 4.6 percent in the previous year. Sales of single-vision lenses also decelerated to a 0.2 percent pace from 1.0 percent.

Sales of prescription frames, which represented 22.8 percent of the market, increased by 1.4 percent as consumers traded up to more expensive products. On the other hand, sales of sunglasses, which represented 9.2 percent of the average optician's sales, dropped by 1.7 percent.

GfK explained that the sunglass market is increasingly driven by the entry-level segment due to the significant growth of private labels priced below €80, resulting in a contraction in the average value of the products. Private label sunglasses have come to represent 24 percent of the total volume of the market.

The market for contact lenses and solutions, which took a similar 9.2 percent of the total market, was steady overall, with care products for contact lenses down by 3.7 percent and daily lenses up by 5.4 percent. In the premium segment, however, the contact lens market increased by 3.7 percent, with growth of 5.9 percent in dailies.

The average price paid for optical frames went up by 1.3 percent to an average of €100 a pair in Europe last year. It rose in France by 3.3 percent to €112. It remained unchanged in Italy at €108. It went up in Germany by 1.6 percent to €92 and down in Spain by 4.6 percent to €79.

GfK noted that the market segment above €100 is “getting more crowded” and the arrival of new players is underpinning its growth. The five major suppliers grew the most last year. The number of brands carried in the opticians' stores has been going up, but GfK concludes that this didn't necessarily help them to generate higher sales.

By contrast, sunglass prices dropped by 2.9 percent on average to €91 a pair. They grew in Italy by 2.0 percent to €113 a pair, and in Germany by 0.4 percent to €93, but they declined in France by 6.7 percent to €79 and in Spain by 5.2 percent to €79.

The price of mono-focal lenses grew by 0.9 percent to €62 a lens, with Germany up by 5.8 percent to €75, Italy down by 2.2 percent to €63, France up by 0.4 percent to €58 and Spain down by 2.4 percent to €51. In the meantime, the price of progressive lenses advanced by 0.3 percent to €196 a lens, with Germany up by 1.8 percent to €272, Italy down by 0.4 percent to €191, France down by 2.0 percent €167 and Spain up by 3.5 percent at €160.