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Under the Sun

Sun sales are sizzling

Under the Sun

Sun sales are sizzling but at lower price points

By Gloria Nicola

“The times they are a changin’.” Bob Dylan has always known a thing or two about the climate of the times AND shades. His words continue to ring true especially about the current sunglass market. As a product category, sunglasses are still hot and getting hotter, according to findings in 20/20’s Sunwear MarketPulse of Independents 2002, a survey conducted nationwide among 139 independent opticians, optometrists and dispensing ophthalmologists.

Survey respondents report sunwear products now represent 11.9 percent of total gross dollar sales, a jump from 7.9 percent cited in the 2001 survey. But what’s especially interesting about this finding is much of the sun activity in the past year has been at lower price points and in lower price products than previously. Consumers obviously recognize the need for sunwear, but fueled by a cooling economy and an uncertain global mood, they are spending cautiously. As a result, the average retail price for each of the three product categories covered in this survey—prescription, plano and clip-ons—was considerably lower in 2001 than in 2000. The average price for Rx sunglasses complete (frame and lenses) fell from $220.97 in 2000 to $205.46 in 2001. Plano sunglass prices declined from $105.80 to $96.92 in the same time period. And clip-ons dropped from $49.56 to $44.87.


Within the plano category, too, lower price products generated more activity in 2001 than in 2000. In the past year, 54.5 percent of fashion-oriented sunglasses sold for $99 or less, with 14.5 percent selling for $50 or less, respondents report. This is a decrease from the 44.1 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively, cited for the previous year. Only 13.7 percent of plano sales were in the $150 and above category in 2001, compared with 21.4 percent in 2000.

In sports-oriented plano sales, the trend toward lower prices was similar. Products priced at $99 and less represented more than half of all sales (50.3 percent) in 2001, up from 39.8 percent in 2000. Sports products priced at $150 and above accounted for 15.2 percent of sales in the past year, down from 21.6 percent in the previous year.

Another area in which price appears to be a factor is lenses. The survey shows a strong movement toward CR-39® away from more expensive premium lens materials in both Rx and plano sunglasses. Current participants report 69.4 percent of prescription sunglasses dispensed in 2001 were equipped with CR-39® lenses and only 6.9 percent with high-index lenses, compared with the 59.4 percent and 15.3 percent, respectively, in 2000. In the Rx category, sunglasses featuring polycarbonate lenses edged down to 17.2 percent in 2001 from 19.5 percent in 2000. Glass lenses accounted for 5.8 percent of Rx sunlenses dispensed in both years. In the plano category, CR-39® lenses made even stronger gains in 2001, representing 75.6 percent of all sunlenses dispensed, up from 59.3 percent in 2000. For the same time period, the percentage for polycarbonate dropped to 16.7 percent from 29.3 percent and for glass to 6.8 percent from 11.4 percent.

Sales in photochromic lenses also seem to reflect a more conservative economic approach. In 2000, two-thirds (66.9 percent) of all respondents said they sold photochromic lenses as sunwear. That figure fell sharply to 33.1 percent in 2001.
Still another survey finding further supporting price-conscious buying patterns is the growing interest in clip-ons. In the most recent survey, Rx sunwear complete accounted for 46.4 percent of all retail sunwear dollar sales, down from 56.5 percent the previous year. On the other hand, market share for clips-ons rose to 31.9 percent in 2001 from 23 percent in 2000. Additionally, 2002 respondents say 26.3 percent of the Rx frames they sell are dispensed with clip-ons, up from 20.9 percent in the previous year.


In one area, however, premium product continues to gain momentum. Consumer interest in polarization has not waned—in large part because vendors have been adding polarized options to designer and clip-on products. And manufacturers are offering interactive displays, which clearly demonstrate the benefits of polarization. In fact, survey respondents report Rx sunwear dispensed with polarized lenses rose to 40.8 percent in 2001 from 34.2 percent in 2000. The percentages are similar for plano sunwear—42.3 percent in 2001, up from 32.7 percent in the previous year. And surprisingly, 62.1 percent of all clips dispensed in 2001 were polarized, participants say. The question about clips was not asked in the previous year’s survey.

Another segment of the sunwear market that strengthened in 2001 was sports-oriented product. Survey respondents say unit sales for both plano and Rx sports eyewear, in contrast to fashion  eyewear, accounted for 41.1 percent of sunwear dispensed, up from 28.8 percent in 2000. This change probably reflects not only the growing interest in an active life style, but also the movement toward casual, more sporty looks for street fashion in general.


Although the 2001 survey reflects healthy activity in the sunglass business, there is still plenty of potential for growth. Independents do not capitalize on the advantage they have over their competition (department, sporting goods and sunglass specialty stores) in dispensing plano sunglasses to their contact lens customers. A mere 15.3 percent of those interviewed say their customers make a sunglass purchase at the time they buy their contacts. Although admittedly this is better than the 12.4 percent cited in 2001, it’s nowhere near as good as it should be. And only 34.5 percent of the respondents report always recommending sunglasses to their contact lens clients.

Also optical retailers need to realize sunwear is not a seasonal business. According to respondents, sunglass sales are at their highest in July and August followed by May and June, accounting for 59.7 percent and 51.8 percent, respectively, of their total sunglass business. These numbers fall to a range of lows from 3.6 percent to 11.5 percent for the remaining eight months.
What’s apparent from this survey is sunwear has not lost its sizzle, even in a slow economy. It’s equally true it has not yet begun to reach its boiling point. The product is there. Manufacturers are offering an enormous array of designs, hot names and lens options in all price points. The potential for the optical community is limitless. But it requires a focused and constant commitment on the part of retailers throughout the year. 

SOURCE: 20/20 Sunwear MarketPulse of Independents 2002

SOURCE: 20/20 Sunwear MarketPulse of Independents 2002

SOURCE: 20/20 Sunwear MarketPulse of Independents 2002

SOURCE: 20/20 Sunwear MarketPulse of Independents 2002

SOURCE: 20/20 Sunwear MarketPulse of Independents 2002

SOURCE: 20/20 Sunwear MarketPulse of Independents 2002