European consumers have reacted to the economic crisis by delaying sight tests and purchases of new eyewear, and also by driving down the average price of frames and lenses, said Antoni Olivella, president of Indo and of Eurom 1, at the Vision Business Forum in Rome a few days ago. He said, however, that suppliers and retailers will benefit in the longer term from some mega-trends such as personalization, specialization and the advent of new materials, new technologies and new services.

According to the figures compiled by Eurom 1, the optical retail market increased gradually in France and Germany over the past three years, but declined in Italy, Spain and the U.K., where the impact of the global economic situation was felt more. Between 2008 and 2009, it fell by 1.9 percent to €3,206 million in Italy, by 12.6 percent to €1,417 million in Spain and by 4.8 percent to €1,350 million in the U.K., while growing by 3.1 percent to €5,321 million in France and by 3.4 percent to €3,945 million in Germany.

The definition of the market is probably different from one country to the other, but the trend is significant. Largely in tune with the evolution of the individual countries, the number of optical shops increased in France and Germany in the last three years, but it declined in Italy and Spain. No figures were available for the British market.

The turnover per store declined in Spain, where it remains at a much lower level than in the other countries analyzed by Eurom 1, but remained relatively steady in the other countries. It fell last year to €161,000 per shop in Spain, compared with €498,000 in France, €392,000 in Germany and €318,000 in Italy.

Out of the stores operating in the different countries, 55 percent are affiliated with buying groups in Italy, 62 percent in Spain and 68 percent in France. On the other hand, 18 percent of the doors belong to integrated retail chains in Spain, 16 percent in Germany, 10 percent in France and 7 percent in Italy. Furthermore, 9 percent of the French stores are controlled by the country's strong mutualities.

Naturally, the farther south you go, the more revenues flow into the optical store from sunglasses. This product group represents 24.7 percent of the average optician's sales in Italy, 16.2 percent in Spain and 13.7 percent in the U.S., but only 9.5 percent in France and 3.4 percent in Germany. No figures were available for the U.K.

Prescription frames make up 26.8 percent of sales in France, 25.4 percent in Germany, 15.5 percent in Italy, 21.1 percent in Spain and 33.7 percent in the U.S.

Lenses represent percent of 54.8 percent of the optician's sales in France, 61.6 percent in Germany, 46.7 percent in Italy, 47.5 percent in Spain and 37.9 percent in the U.S.

Contact lenses have shares of sales of 8.9 percent in French optical stores, 9.6 percent in Germany, 13.1 percent in Italy, 15.2 percent in Spain and 14.7 percent in the U.S.

The growth in sales of contact lenses declined sharply from 2008 to 2009 throughout Europe, and it moved into negative territory in France and Germany, where they fell by 0.2 and 2.5 percent, respectively. In other countries, the growth rate slowed down to 7.0 percent in Italy, 4.3 percent in the U.K. and 3.8 percent in Spain.

Opticians sell more than 10 million prescription frames per year in France and Germany, but only 6.5 million in Italy and 4.8 million in Spain. Conversely, Italian opticians sell 10.3 million sunglasses and their Spanish colleagues 4.8 million units. French opticians sell 5.1 million sunglasses, and the Germans 4.5 million.

This is because opticians control an estimated 60 percent of the distribution of sunglasses in Italy, compared with 16.7 percent in Spain, 16 percent in Germany, 30 percent in France and only 2.7 percent in the U.S. Specialty shops have 7 percent of the sunglass market in Germany, 5 percent in Spain and 8.2 percent in the U.S.

Between single-vision lenses and progressive lenses, the latter have the highest share in France and Germany, at 31 percent and 30.8 percent of all units sold. Their share is only 23 percent in Spain and the U.K., and 15 percent in Italy, where the potential for development is the highest. Bifocal lenses have a marginal share of the market everywhere except in the U.K., where it amounts to 7 percent. Comparatively, bifocal and progressive lenses have 23 and 27 percent of the market in the U.S., with single-vision lenses taking up the remaining 50 percent of the market.

More than 80 percent of the lenses sold in all the European countries are made of plastic, with a peak of 91 percent in France, but mineral glasses still have a little share in Germany and Spain ? 14.5 and 9.2 percent, respectively. Polycarbonate, which represents 40 percent of the market in the U.S., probably has less than 10 percent of the market in every major European country, although figures are not available from Italy or the U.K.

The collection of statistical data is one of the objectives of Eurom 1, an organization that groups the national eyewear industry associations of eight European countries, representing an estimated 85 percent of the European industry.