Classical opticians are still the chief place for purchases of eyeglasses in the main European countries, but internet websites, fashion stores and department stores have been growing in importance for the purchase of plano sunglasses, according to the latest results of the semi-annual Optical Monitor (OMO) presented by GfK in October during the Silmo show in Paris.

Commissioned by the Silmo and Mido fairs, the latest survey was conducted by GfK among 6,032 consumers in five countries during the months of July and August, at the peak of the sunglass buying season. It also indicated a slight improvement in the purchase frequency for sunglasses to an average of 2.9 years for a new pair, compared with 3.1 years in 2016.

The availability of new products played a stronger role than before, particularly in the Italian market. However, the most important reason by far was still the loss of the glasses or damages to the lenses or the frame. This reason was responsible for more than 60 percent of the new purchases made across Europe.

The purchase frequency improved in all the major European countries except in France, where it remained steady at an average of 3.1 years. It improved the most in Germany, rising to a still relatively high average of 3.2 years from 3.7 years in 2016. The highest frequencies were recorded in Spain at 2.8 years and in Italy and the U.K. at 2.7 years.

Meanwhile, the internet in general is now being used by 29 percent of the customers in Europe to get information on the available sunglass models before purchasing them. They are using a variety of digital sources, led by the websites of the optical retailers, followed closely by the official websites of the brands and the marketplaces of e-tailers like Amazon or eBay. About 19 percent of the customers are influenced by social media and 16 percent by bloggers.

However, the store remains the main source of information for sunglasses, with 58 percent of the customers reacting to the products displayed inside the store and 46 percent to the products in the shop windows. Traditional sources like catalogs and images in the fashion magazines or on TV are only responsible for 21-22 percent of the purchase decisions.

When it comes to the actual purchase of a pair of sunglasses, European customers have come to use the internet in 16 percent of the cases, up from 12 percent in 2015 and 11 percent in 2016. Increases have taken place in all the major countries except in Germany, where the penetration of e-commerce in the sunglass market declined to 16 percent this year from 17 percent in 2016. It reachd 12 percent in France, 15 percent in Italy, 17 percent in Spain and 19 percent in the U.K.

Comparatively, the proportion of online shopping for prescription frames has risen to a still very low level of 5 percent from 3 percent in 2015 and 2016, with increases in all the major countries in the past year. The penetration of e-commerce for this kind of products has risen to 2 percent in France, 5 percent in Germany and Spain, and 7 percent in Italy and the U.K. Curiously, the previous OMO surveys carried out in Germany had tracked penetration rates of 10 percent in mid-2015 and 4 percent in mid-2016.

Conversely, the proportion of sunglass purchases made in physical specialty stores in Europe has declined to 16 percent from 19 percent two years ago among independent opticians, and to 22 percent from 30 percent in the optical retail chains. It has also fallen from 12 to 9 percent in the department stores and from 8 to 6 percent in the street markets. It has increased from 8 to 10 percent in the fashion stores and from 3 to 6 percent in sunglass specialist stores.

Similar trends could be observed in all the major European markets. The optical retail chains still have the highest market share in France, ending at 30 percent of sunglass purchases this year, but that was down from 41 percent in 2015. Independent opticians are scoring better than the chains only in Italy, but their market share has declined from 29 to 27 percent.

The already weak position of the independents and the chains in the U.K. and Germany has shrunk further, with the chains now commanding only 7 percent of the market in the U.K. and 19 percent of the market in Germany. The share of the fashion stores has risen to 24 percent in the U.K. and to 14 percent in Germany.

In more than 35 percent of the cases, European customers said this past summer that they had preferred to buy a new pair of sunglasses over the internet because of a cheaper or discounted price. The next most important reasons were easy delivery at home, comfortable shopping whenever they wanted, a good comparison base among multiple offers and the fact that the chosen product was not available in a physical store.

Much the same reasons were given by customers for buying sunglasses online in the future, with price coming in first place. However, home deliveries and the possibility to compare the different offers on the internet were seen gaining in importance.

In its presentation at Silmo, GfK provided other data showing that the customers' attention span on the internet is shrinking dramatically, with 40 percent of the online shoppers leaving a web store if the loading time exceeds three seconds and 54 percent complaining that they end up being confronted with too many choices. If they are faced with a new technology that is not simple to use, 54 percent lose interest now, compared with 46 percent in 2010.

On the other hand, experiential shopping is become more important than before for all product categories. According to a survey made by GfK in March, the experience encounted in a retail store was a factor in 50 percent of the shopping decisions on a global scale. Up to 90 percent of the customers globally carry a mobile phone device, and 46 percent of them engage in shopping if it provides them with a positive experience.

Mobile devices have become the most important shopping tool, especially among the new generations, reaching ratios of 72 percent in China and 77 percent in India, compared with 36 percent in Britain or 20 percent in France, but many physical stores are closing down in Europe and the U.S. GfK suggests embracing omni-channel technologies as 41 percent of the customers worldwide have told the market research company that they were more likely to visit a store that offers some kind of virtual or augmented reality experience.

At Silmo, GfK's presenters also indicated that it can help if the sales staff in the physical store provides advice on the properties of the materials used in the glasses and the places where they manufactured, in order to justify the price. Frequently, this type of information is not available on the internet.

The OMO survey of this past summer confirmed the popularity of the “wayfarer” style for sunglasses, which represented 30 percent of the units purchased in the past year across Europe, led by Spanish women with a share of 38 percent. They were followed by French and Italian women with shares of 34 and 30 percent, Among the male customers, the Spaniards, the French and the Italians had shares of 34 percent, 33 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Rounded and aviator styles were also a frequent choice, with more marked differences between the two genders. Rounded shapes were preferred by 27 percent of the women, with peaks of 35 percent in the U.K. and 36 percent in Germany. They were chosen by 21 percent of the male customers, with highs of 27 percent in the U.K. and 29 percent in Germany.

Aviator models were more often bought by men, representing 25 percent of new sunglass purchases across Europe. Italy led with a share of 32 percent of all purchases in the country, followed by the U.K. at 27 percent, France and Spain at 23 percent and Germany at 20 percent.

Cat eye styles were picked by 16 percent of the women in Italy, where they had the same market share as aviator styles. France and Spain came next for cat eye sunglasses, with shares of 11 and 10 percent. Double bridge sunglasses were most popular in Germany, where they garnered a market penetration of 17 percent, followed by 16 percent in France, 14 percent in Spain, 13 percent in Italy and 10 percent in the U.K.

The vast majority of the customers went for full frames. There was, however, a boom in rimless sunglasses in Italy where they took 17 percent of the market, up from 12 percent in 2016.