The latest statistics show that the German optical market declined markedly in the first 9 months of this year, scoring more poorly than the country's overall retail trade, which fell by 4 percent over the period. According to the GFK panel, which doesn't include Fielmann's stores, they fell by 10 percent in units and by 5 percent in value. Comparable data for the whole period are not yet available from the quarterly retail audit conducted by ZVA, the German opticians' association. ZVA had estimated a drop in the market of 7 percent in volume and 5 percent in value for the first 6 months, including Fielmann.

The recession of the German optical market has lasted for a while now, making industry officials hope that it's going to recover sometime soon. Based on ZVA's quarterly figures, the market had started to decline slightly in the 4th quarter of 2001, when it recorded a year-on-year drop of 1.1 percent in value. Excluding Fielmann, it continued to drop year-on-year by 7.9 percent in the 1st quarter of this year and by 3.9 percent in the 2nd quarter.

According to ZVA's quarterly surveys, sales of eyewear frames have been declining in volume and value steadily for the past couple of years. This year, they recorded drops in volume of 12.5 percent in the 1st quarter and 7.2 percent in the 2nd one. With their average price going down, they were off by 18.4 percent in the 1st quarter and by 15.1 percent in the 2nd one. In the various price segments, only those carrying a retail price of less than 50 euros increased. Metal frames represent about two-thirds of the German market.

Indicating a higher proportion of re-lensing of old frames, sales of eyewear lenses have been performing better, with drops in volume of 11 and 7.1 percent in the first two quarters of 2002. Lens sales rose in value by 3.4 and 0.5 percent, respectively, although sales of mineral glasses continued to go down at double-digit rates. In the 2nd quarter, there were even stronger increases in opticians' revenues from special treatments, particularly anti-reflective coatings and tinting, but polycarbonate lenses still represented less than 1 percent of the total market. Sales of unifocal polycarbonate lenses grew by 69.4 percent in value, multi-focal polycarbonate lenses were off by 25.7 percent.

Sales of contact lenses rose by 66.7 percent in volume in the 2nd quarter. Soft contact lenses increased by 73.5 percent, with 14-day-wear items recording the strongest growth, followed by monthly replacement lenses. Sales of toric lenses doubled.