L&T Special Report

The U.S. optical retail market is slowly regaining its momentum, with increases in spectacle lenses sales providing much of the push. Total retail sales for all optical products inched forward from $16.2 billion to $16.3 billion in 2003, according to the Jobson Optical Research. However, Jobson projects optical retail sales will rise to $16.5 billion in 2004. 

A clear indication of the spectacle lens influence can be seen by the increase in Rx lens pairs sales from 73.3 million in 2002 to 76.1 million in 2003, according to Jobson Optical Research’s VisionWatch, a continuous consumer study involving 100,000 consumers throughout the U.S. age 18 and over (see Chart 1). Looking at the total optical retail market, sales of spectacle lenses generated 53 percent of all dollar sales, up from 52.2 percent in 2002 and 50 percent in 1998, according to Jobson Optical Research (see Chart 2). In contrast, sales of Rx frames generated only 31.5 percent of the total, down from 32 percent in 2002 and 33 percent in 1998. Sales of plano sunglasses and sun clips as well as contact lenses also decreased as a proportion of the total market in 2003. 
—Andrew Karp

Charts 1,4,5,6: VisionWatch
Charts 2 and 3: Jobson Optical Research
Charts 7 to 11: Premium Lens Study of ECPs

The trend is expected to continue in 2004. Spectacle lens sales are projected to climb to 54.5 percent as sales of Rx frames, plano sunglasses and sun clips, and contact lenses continue to decline, according to Jobson Optical Research.

While there were no surprises in the spectacle lens market in 2003, several important trends continued to exert influence over consumer purchasing patterns. Jobson Optical Research showed standard plastic lenses still dominated the lens material category. Standard plastic lenses accounted for 56.6 percent of all lenses sold; polycarbonate remained the fastest growing lens material (see Chart 3), with 31.9 percent market share, up from 30.7 percent in 2002.

Among lens designs, progressive addition lens (PAL) unit sales climbed to 23.7 percent of all lenses, up from 23 percent in 2002 (see Chart 4). Predictably, PALs exerted a disproportionate influence on retail sales, accounting for 53 percent of 2003 total retail dollar volume for lenses (see Chart 5). Custom-coated anti-reflective lenses and photochromic lenses also experienced growth in 2003 (see Chart 6).


Complementing these findings, 20/20’s Premium Lens Study 2004 examines spectacle lens sales trends among independent eyecare practitioners. Although based on a small sample that cannot be projected nationally, the 20/20 study showed how some independents are managing the spectacle lens portion of their business.
Computer/Office Lenses
Computer vision lens sales have stayed about level, with 52 percent of respondents saying that their sales in this area have remained unchanged. Most retailers surveyed (87 percent) say that computer/office lenses make up an insignificant percentage (10 percent or less) of their total lens pair sales.

Aspheric Lenses
Forty-seven percent of retailers surveyed say that aspheric lenses made up an insignificant  percentage of their total 2003 lens pair sales. A nearly equal amount (44 percent), say that aspheric lenses made up a moderate proportion of their 2003 lens pair sales. For most people (59 percent), aspheric lens sales were flat in 2003 versus 2002.

Short-Corridor Progressives
For 40 percent of respondents, short-corridor progressives made up a significant percentage of their total progressive lens pair sales (see Chart 7). However, for another 36 percent, short corridor lenses accounted for a moderate percentage (11 percent to 49 percent) of their progressive lens pair sales.

Lens Materials
Respondents ranked standard plastic lenses as their highest-selling lens material (on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 indicating the best-selling product, they ranked an average of 1.9), while polycarbonate and high-index lenses tied for second place at 2.5 (see Chart 8). Mid-index lenses had an average ranking of 3.5. Glass (5.2) and PPG’s Trivex (5.4) were sold by far the least.

Fifty percent of respondents said that their standard plastic lens sales stayed about the same as a proportion of total lens pair sales compared to 2002. Sixty-three percent also said that their mid-index lens sales had stayed flat, while 54 percent said Trivex sales had remained the same.

Fifty-seven percent said that their sales of high-index lenses had grown this year, but the big gainer was polycarbonate lenses, for which 78 percent of respondents had experienced an increase in sales over the past year.

Glass was the worst performer; 68 percent said it made up a smaller proportion of their total lens sales in 2003 than in 2002.

Among high-index plastic lenses, respondents ranked 1.60 lenses as their highest-selling high-index lenses (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 indicating the best-selling product, they ranked an average of 1.2), while 1.67 (2.1) and 1.70 (3.4) were not far behind (see Chart 9). 1.71 lenses scored an average ranking of 4.1, with 1.74 lagging behind at 4.9.

Lens Treatments
Eighty-three percent of retailers surveyed said that they had experienced an increase in AR lens sales as a proportion of total lens sales in 2003 as compared to 2002 (see Chart 10). A smaller 52 percent of respondents said that scratch-resistant coating sales had increased. For 42 percent of retailers surveyed, tinted lens sales stayed about the same versus the year before. Meanwhile, photochromic lens sales have increased for 66 percent of respondents.

Polarized lens sales have increased for 68 percent of respondents, with only 1 percent saying that polarized lens sales have decreased.

Lens Treatment Performance
Over half of respondents (53 percent) say that AR lens performance has improved significantly in 2003 versus 2002 (see Chart 11). Only 2 percent think that AR lens performance has decreased over this time period.

Only 28 percent of retailers surveyed believe scratch-resistant lens performance has improved significantly over the past year. Forty-eight percent see no improvement at all.

Lens Tints
The five best-selling lens tint colors for 2003, according to respondents to this survey, are gray, brown, rose, blue and green.

20/20 Premium Lens Survey

20/20’s Premium Lens Study 2004 reports on the premium lens sales practices and offerings of 156 independent optical retailers. This sample was derived from the propriety Jobson Optical Research Database. All participants were contacted by phone by Jobson Optical Research’s in-house staff and asked a series of structured interview questions. No incentive was offered for participation. While the sample was tailored to reflect the national makeup of dispensing locations, the results of this survey cannot be projected to the entire optical universe.

Developed by Jobson Publishing and FSA International, VisionWatch is a continuous measurement of U.S. consumer purchases and attitudes in the eyewear and eye care industy. VisionWatch is based on a sample of 100,000 respondents annually. All data is re-weighted demographically to accurately represent the total U.S. population. VisionWatch continuously tracks awareness and attitudes in the vision correction industry as well as brand and outlet shares in many product sectors.