Still working through GfK, the organizers of the Mido and Silmo trade shows have decided to explore four smaller European markets – Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and Hungary - through their Optical Monitor, in addition to the five major countries already covered by the online consumer survey. The results of the new study were presented at the Mido fair in Milan one month ago.

Conducted among 4,842 consumers in the four countries, the new survey showed among other things that only 79 percent of those in Hungary and 88 percent of those in Poland own an optical product, as compared to an average of 91 percent already measured in the first half of 2015 across the five major markets. Interestingly, 31 percent of the Hungarians and 37 percent of the Poles use ready readers, compared with an average consumption of 23 percent in the major markets.

The reason for the trend is probably the fact that readers are cheaper than regular optical glasses, where the ownership ratio stands at 42 percent in Hungary and 54 percent in Poland. The ratios of 57 percent in Belgium and 59 percent in the Netherlands for optical glasses are closer to the 63 percent average of the five major markets. In fact, reading glasses are singled out as the most important type of equipment for vision correction by 29 percent of the Hungarians and 25 percent of the Poles, compared with an average of 11 percent in the main markets.

Hungarian and Polish consumers also use fewer sunglasses with corrective lenses: 7 and 20 out of a hundred compared with ratios of 27 percent in Belgium, 31 percent in the Netherlands and 34 percent in the five major European markets. Plano sunglasses are owned by 51 percent of the Poles and 41 percent of the Hungarians, closer to the ratios of 49 percent for the Dutch, 48 percent for the Belgians and 56 percent for the other previously surveyed European customers.

As progressive lenses are more expensive than single-vision lenses, here again the balance is slightly different in Poland and Hungary from the rest of Europe. Progressives are used by 20 and 15 percent of the wearers in these two countries, respectively, compared with 36 percent of the Dutch, 33 percent of the Belgians and 31 percent of the users in the major markets.

Preferences for plastic or metal frames are not particularly different from those already encountered in the main European markets. The majority tends to choose plastic full frames. However, 15 percent of the Hungarians and 16 percent of the Poles own half frames, compared with the 10 percent average of the main markets.

The purposes for which optical products are used are also similar. On the other hand, the Dutch use glasses and contact lenses more than other nationals to watch television, read and work at home. They and Hungarian customers use contact lenses more frequently than others for office work, driving, outdoor or evening activities, formal events and sports. Only 7 percent of the Hungarians and 5 percent of the Dutch wear sunglasses as a fashion product for night events.

When it comes to the sources of information used by consumers to guide their choices of optical products, it is interesting to discover the increasingly important role played by the internet. It's used by 20 percent of the respondents in Poland and 14 percent of those in Hungary for the choice of a pair of glasses, compared with only 5 and 6 percent in the Netherlands and Belgium, and 15 percent in the five biggest European countries. The internet usage ratio rises to 28 percent in Poland for the choice of a pair of sunglasses, compared with 10 percent in the Netherlands and Belgium, and 24 percent in the rest of Europe.

The advice of friends, acquaintances and other family members is more or less as important as the internet for choosing both kinds of products. Nevertheless, the recommendations made by the sales staff at the store and the products displayed inside the store or in the shop window remain the most frequently used source of information for both kinds of products in all the countries.

Belgium stands out as the country where opticians are rated most positively for their advisory functions, even for fashionable products. On the other hand, owners of optical glasses consider them mainly as health care professionals, indicating that they could perform better in terms of after-sale service. Polish opticians were given a much better rating than those in Hungary or the Netherlands for the explanations and the advice that they give customers who wish to purchase a pair of sunglasses. Hungarian consumers feel that their opticians must improve their image.

The quality of the lenses, the advice of the eye doctor and price are more important criteria in Poland than in other countries for the purchase of a pair of eyeglasses. The weight of the frame, its color and its fashionable aspect are more important in the Netherlands than elsewhere.

People buy sunglasses spontaneously in the Netherlands and Belgium more often than in other countries. Here again, the Dutch pay a lot of attention to the color and the aspect of the sunglasses. The Poles pay attention to the quality of the sun lenses. The fitting is important everywhere. The price is important, too, but less so in the Netherlands than in the other European countries surveyed by GfK for the Optical Monitor.

The researchers were unable to determine the recent rates of increase or decrease in consumption for the new countries, but they found that Polish consumers bought more products than others in the six months prior to the survey. No less than 53 percent of the Polish respondents said they had bought an optical products during that period, compared with ratios of 25 percent in Hungary, 22 percent in the Netherlands and 31 percent in Belgium. A year ago the ratio stood at 44 percent in the main European markets with peaks of 53 percent in Italy and 51 percent in Spain.

Poland and Hungary were found to be potentially more dynamic markets than the others. Asked about their future intentions, 8 percent of the customers in both countries indicated that they were planning to make more purchases of sunglasses in the future, compared with ratios of one percent in Belgium, flat results in the Netherlands and an overall decline of one percent in the rest of Europe.

The trend was slightly more muted when it came to optical glasses, showing increases of 4 percent in Poland and 6 percent in Hungary compared with a drop of one percent in the Netherlands and increases of one percent in Belgium and two percent in the rest of Europe.

On the other hand, Polish and Hungarian customers declared that they had spent on average lower amounts than those in other countries during the last six-month period. Hungarians spent the equivalent of €161 on optical glasses and €29 on sunglasses. The Poles spent €102 on glasses and €31 on sunglasses.

Conversely, Belgian customers turned out to have the highest average spending for glasses per capita at €394, higher than the average of €369 in Germany, €365 in the Netherlands, €337 in France, €246 in Spain, €224 in Italy and €173 in the U.K. At €84 per capita, the Belgians' average spend on sunglasses was higher than the average of €57 in the Netherlands and €79 in the five major European markets, close to the Spanish average but below the averages of €102 in France and €100 in Italy.

While Belgian customers got an average discount of 28 percent of their sunglasses, the Dutch got a discount of 36 percent, compared with averages of 25 percent in Poland, 26 percent in Hungary and 30 percent in the rest of Europe. The average discounts for optical glasses were more similar across Europe, revolving around 30 percent, but with a low of 23 percent in Poland, where most of the price cuts came from bargaining.

Independent opticians were singled out as the most important sales channel for optical glasses in Poland, but many local customers were not sure which retail channels will become more important in the future. Optical retail chains came in second place in that country and in first place elsewhere (considering the five major European countries as a single unit). Dutch customers felt that independent opticians will play a more important role in the future.

Independent opticians lead the market for sunglasses in Belgium and Poland. In the Netherlands, department stores are the most important sales channel for this type of product, followed by the optical retail chains. In Hungary, the chains and department stores have a similar market share for sunglasses, and customers feel that independent opticians are losing importance as a sales channel for eyeglasses because they are too expensive.

The proportion of online shopping for sunglasses varies from 9 percent in Belgium to 13 percent in the Netherlands among the four new countries surveyed, compared with an average of 12 percent in the five major European markets. The share is highest among customers aged 36 to 55 in the Netherlands and Belgium, where customers bought sunglasses at more expensive prices online than offline – probably because they had more money to spend and less time to go shopping. The same had been found to have been the case a year ago in Germany and the U.K. The prices of sunglasses bought online was lower in Poland or Hungary, where price is the most important reason for online purchasing, as well as in the other countries.

Naturally, brick-and-mortar retailers are becoming concerned about the practice of showrooming, whereby customers come into the store only to look at all kinds of products and to try them on before purchasing them elsewhere. In presenting their research, officials of GfK said that this pattern should not be overestimated, citing figures showing that 26 percent of European customers use smartphones in the store to compare prices, 25 percent to photograph products and 24 percent to show them to friends. Only 12 percent use them to buy products via an app and 8 percent from a mobile website.

The incidence of showrooming was found to range between 7 and 32 percent in the 23 countries studied by GfK in February 2015. On the other hand, higher ratios of 19 to 43 percent were found for “web-rooming,” i.e. finding products on the smartphone and going to a physical store to purchase them. The conclusion is that the general trend is a seamless shift to omni-channel retailing.