Consumer spending on eyewear products grew by 2.8 percent overall in value to €8.8 billion during the first six months of 2016 in four major European markets: France, Germany, Italy and Spain, according to GfK. The growth was partly due to a general tendency to prefer more expensive items, according to GfK officials.

At a presentation made during the Silmo show in Paris a few weeks ago, they added that very positive trends were also recorded in the U.K., where GfK doesn't assess sales of prescription frames. The growth of the market in Britain was driven by higher sales of low-priced sunglasses and by the retail chains, which control 42.6 percent of the optical stores in the country.

The strongest growth occurred in Germany, where sales increased by 4.7 percent in the first half of the year, led by higher sales of spectacle lenses and frames, which represented 87.6 percent of the market. They offset a particularly negative trend in sales of sunglasses.

A 7.5 percent drop in purchases of sunglasses in Spain was the main factor behind an increase of only 0.9 percent in Spanish consumption of eyewear products during the period. Spectacle lenses and frames went up by 3.8 percent in Spain. Contact lenses and solutions advanced by 2.8 percent.

Sales of contact lenses and related products fell by 7.5 percent in France, but they were offset by a 3 percent increase for spectacle lenses, which represent 60.9 percent of the market in the country. As a result, the entire French eyewear market moved up by 2.2 percent, recovering from a drop in the first half of 2015.

Italy was the only country where each segment showed positive growth in the first half, leading to an overall increase of 2.4 percent for the entire market. Purchases of spectacle frames grew by 5.4 percent in Italy – more than in the three other countries.

Taking the four countries together, sales of lenses and frames rose by 3.9 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively, taking shares of 58.8 percent and 21.0 percent in the overall market. However, after a year of growth, sunglasses plunged into the negative zone, declining by 1.8 percent, due especially to poor weather conditions at the beginning of the season.

GfK officials noted that purchases of premium-priced sunglasses declined by one percent in the first half of the year, with women's models representing 60 percent of the market. In contrast, premium-priced spectacle lenses and frames - meaning products priced at €200 or more - fared relatively well. They grew by 9.6 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively, accounting for 17 percent and 8.8 percent of opticians' sales.

The positive performance of the premium market for lenses was mainly due to a 12 percent increase in sales of progressive lenses across the four countries. When it comes to the higher-priced prescription frames, combinations of plastic and metal, lighter materials and thinner shapes are the favorites at the moment.

Sales of contact lenses and care products fell by 0.2 percent overall in the four countries analyzed by GfK, representing 9.7 percent of opticians' sales. Sales of contact lenses were positive overall, however, driven by a 14.4 percent increase for daily silicon hydrogel lenses during the period.

Weekly and monthly replacement lenses have shown growth only in the low-cost segment. GfK has analyzed the contact lens market more in-depth, focusing on brand retention and fitting activities at optical retail stores in several countries.

Focusing more on the French market at the request of Silmo, GfK noted that it is undergoing fierce competition with more than 1,300 brands operating in the market, more than 100 of which were launched in the past two years. Specialization is essential under these conditions, a GfK official noted

Optical designers' brands have been the most dynamic segment of the French market lately. Pure optical brands, which remain the biggest segment, saw their retail sales advance by 3 percent in the first six months of this year. The second-biggest segment – luxury and couture brands – returned to growth.