VisionWatch Survey Shows Nearly $300 Million Growth for $40.4B Vision Care Industry

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ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The latest numbers from The Vision Council’s VisionWatch survey released today, reflect that the overall vision care market grew 0.7 percent, or nearly $282 million, in the 12 months ending March 2017, compared to the same period the prior year. Results from VisionWatch, the largest continuous survey of consumer purchasing attitudes toward eyewear and eyecare, indicated that the total vision care industry has generated $40.36 billion in revenue for the 12 months ending March 2017.

The Q1 VisionWatch market research report indicates that 22 million pairs of frames were sold during the first three months of 2017—a 0.2 percent decline from the same period in 2016. These Q1 sales resulted in $2.89 billion in revenue. The quarterly results also indicated:

• 24.7 million pairs of lenses were sold, up 4.4 percent from Q1 2016. These sales generated $3.71 billion in revenue—a 2.5 percent decrease over Q1 2016.
• 29.9 million eye exams were performed—110,000 more exams than in the first three months of 2016.

Looking at the vision care industry market over the past year, from March 2016 to March 2017, the report indicates that eyeglasses accounted for the largest share of the vision correction market at 55.6 percent, representing $22.43 billion in revenue—a decline of 0.3 percent over the past year. Additionally, for that time period:

• 74.45 million pairs of eyeglass frames were sold—a unit decrease of 0.1 percent from the previous year, resulting in a corresponding 0.1 percent decline in revenue.
• 83.53 million pairs of lenses were sold—the same number of units sold in the previous year, with a revenue loss of 0.5 percent.
• 95.4 million contact lens purchases occurred, up 2 percent, generating an increase of 4 percent in contact lens sales revenue.
• 104.1 million pairs of sunglasses were sold—a decrease of 0.1 percent from the previous year with a revenue growth of 1.8 percent.
• 52.09 million pairs of OTC readers were sold—up by 2.5 percent, with a 2.7 percent increase in revenue.
905,000 refractive surgeries were performed—a decrease of 1.9 percent, resulting in a 1.5 percent decrease in revenue.

“Similar to the growth observed from 2012 to 2015, growth in the industry for 2016 and 2017 has been stronger among independent ECPs and online retailers than the growth experienced by conventional chain retailers or mass merchants,” according to Steve Kodey, The Vision Council’s senior director of Industry Research.

Contact lenses have proven to be the strongest optical market for the 12 months ending March 2017, up 4 percent to $4.89 billion in revenue, followed closely by exams which are up 1.7 percent to $6.05 billion. Plano sunglass sales have also seen growth, equally over the past two years, due to a balanced mix of increasing unit sales and rising prices. All other markets are currently flat or contracting slightly over the past couple years.

The independent side of the optical industry is by far the largest component of the U.S. vision care industry—generating $18.43 billion in revenue for the 12 months ending March 2017. When compared to dollar revenues from the same period a year ago, the independent side of the industry was up by 1.1 percent.

While eyeglass sales—both lenses and frames—make up the bulk of revenue for independent optical outlets, examinations are a close third with over $4.29 billion in revenue for the 12 months ending March 2017.

In one of the most striking figures coming from this quarter’s VisionWatch report, 45.4 percent of the U.S. adult population received an eye exam in the last year—a total of over 115 million exams generating $6.05 billion in dollar revenue.

Older Americans were more likely than younger Americans to have received an eye exam during this time frame, and Americans with managed vision care coverage were more than twice as likely to have had an exam as Americans without coverage. What’s more, 57.5 percent of those adults getting their eyes examined made an eyewear purchase as a result of that exam. That amounts to approximately 66.1 million transactions.

Kodey said, “Maintaining growth in exams has been a major factor driving growth in the industry, but an even bigger factor has been the willingness of consumers to go out and make a purchase after getting an exam. That 57.5 percent ‘purchase after exam’ ratio is down slightly from 2015 and 2016 but it is still as high as it was before the recession in 2008.”

“Over the past year, certain groups of consumers (those from relatively lower-income households, people who have been using vision correction for less than five years and people without any form of managed vision care coverage) have all been slowing their purchases of optical products in response to uncertainty in the market,” Kodey said.

“Conversely, the market has remained in positive growth territory thanks to stable and slightly rising purchases of optical products among people between the ages of 35 to 54 years old, people from relatively higher-income households and people with managed vision care coverage,” Kodey concluded.

The report indicates that 83.5 million pairs of lenses were sold in the U.S. during the 12 months ending March 2017—29,000 more pairs than the same period a year ago. Similar numbers are found for frames, with 74.4 million pairs of frames sold in the U.S. during that period, generating close to $9.71 billion in sales revenue. Sales of OTC Readers grew 2.5 percent, generating $876 million dollars with 52.09 million unit pairs sold.