Lighting the Spark How Retailers Plan to Rekindle Consumer Spending

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Download a PDF of the cover story: Lighting the Spark

NEW YORK—The recent recession and current business landscape have been accompanied by a big change in customers’ attitudes about how, where and when they purchase eyewear.

What’s emerging, VM has learned, from the latest research about consumer purchasing as well as from conversations with retailers, large and small, around the country is a new appreciation for what’s distinctive and unique—and delivering that via merchandise, marketing and technology to today’s eyecare patients and eyewear consumers.

In fact, the rise of individuality and distinction as priorities for many of today’s customers is driving what will be fall 2011’s most significant business trends. Today’s consumers are searching for personalized service, they are relating to specific “stories” about brands, to help them better understand and appreciate the investments they’re making. Digital media is arming them with increased product information and questions to help them make buying decisions.

Just-released numbers from VisionWatch, the large-scale consumer eyewear buying study conducted by The Vision Council, reflect that, during the 12-month period ending in June 2011 (July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011) the vision care industry in the U.S. generated $32.2 billion in revenue. When compared to sales revenue from the previous year, the market increased by 1.2 percent (representing an aggregate gain of $388 million at the retail level).

Most sectors of the vision care market increased during the 12-month period ending June 2011 when compared to the previous year. Second quarter 2011 sunwear sales were 2 percent higher than the same period a year ago. Frames, lenses and contact lenses have also seen sales increase over the past year (1.3 percent, 1.2 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively).

While it’s encouraging that eyewear sales are up even slightly in such a challenging business climate, eyewear’s fashion impact is a growing and important factor. According to The Vision Council’s recent Fashion vs. Function report and survey, most eyeglass wearers, 66.9 percent, recognize that eyeglasses are more fashionable now than they were five years ago. And, many, 46.8 percent, say they are willing to spend extra money for a pair of eyeglass frames that are produced by a top-name designer, while one-third say they would “possibly” pay more.

So, what does that mean for your business this upcoming season? VM asked a series of detailed questions about year-to-date business performance and what was in the planning stages for this fall to four diverse types of optical retailers. A small, independent boutique in the Midwest, an upscale independent boutique group in the Northeast, a sizeable 50-plus regional chain in the heartland and a national retail chain. The common phrases among them all—unique, distinctive, individual, customized, personalized—are the groundwork of the four key business trends that we see driving a successful fall 2011 season.

VM Identifies Four Trends Igniting Business for Fall

 
Personalize
Everyone wants to feel special. As such, the perception of individualization during the eye exam and fitting process goes a long way toward impressing the consumer. It’s a trend we see finding success in all aspects of the eyecare practice from machines like the Optos retinal imager, the i.Terminal by ZEISS and LensCrafters’ AccuFit Digital System during the exam; customizable lenses thanks to digital surfacing and freeform technologies and even in the frames category with mix and matchable three-piece mounts and bespoke eyewear, interchangeable lenses and swappable or rotating temples. All of these developments help ensure that the patient has an experience unique to them.



 
Get Specific
Sport performance eyewear is nothing new but today’s busy, active consumer no longer just needs an everyday pair of glasses and a pair to hit the fairway. Today, activity-specific eyewear is a necessity for day and night, casual and formal events and computer and digital device use. There is no such thing as a “one pair fits all” kind of eyeglass and more and more patients are realizing this. When these patients come in asking about computer glasses or driving glasses or colored polarized lenses and the optician can’t offer them the options they are looking for, they will most likely take their business elsewhere.



 
M-squared
It is clear, based upon feedback from retailers who continue to see growth despite the economy, that when customer spending is down the last thing that should be cut is your marketing program. Marketing & Merchandising are the only things someone unfamiliar with your business has to go on. The catch is making sure you’re talking to them in ways they are receptive to. Today’s consumers are looking for an integrated brand identity that reaches in-store, online and in advertising. An informative website that reflects the feel and tone of your business will go a long way toward getting them in the door. Investing your marketing budget here is guaranteed to have a measureable R.O.I.



 
Be Distinct
Much like niche, up-and-coming eyewear brands are finding success by offering something new to consumers who feel like they’ve seen it all, retailers who can stand out from the pack and grab their attention also stand to do well. Be it by becoming known in your area for carrying hard to find or emerging brands, by holding regular in-store events or by organizing a community outreach program that rallies several local businesses together, anything that makes you relevant to the consumer and sets you apart from the mainstream is how you get (and more importantly stay) on their radar. But be warned, there is a fine line between
                                                       being unique and being bizarre.

dcarroll@jobson.com