By Gloria Nicola

Whether it’s the latest app, the newest video game, athletic shoes, jeans or eyewear, kids love fashion and they love what’s new. They also love to shop, and they have enormous impact on buying power. Selling eyewear to kids can no longer be satisfactorily handled with a small selection of sized-down adult product. It’s a full-blown business with a need for its own specific products—products that are as varied and distinctive as its young customers.

According to respondents to 20/20’s Kids’ Eyewear MarketPulse Survey 2013, the kids eyewear business has experienced a few shifts and the usual number of challenges in the past year, but there were no major growth spurts and no unexpected obstacles. This year’s respondents, who all dispense eyewear to children, report kids from infancy to 14 years represented 20 percent of their customer base in the last year. Although this is an increase from the 15 percent figure reported each year since 2010, children’s eyewear and related products once again accounted for 15 percent of total gross dollar sales for survey participants, a number that has remained the same since 2008. Thirty-three percent of this year’s respondents cited an increase in the percentage of total gross sales from children’s products versus five years ago, similar to the 31 percent cited in both 2011 and 2012. However for 64 percent, the percentage of gross sales remained the same, again comparable to the 65 percent reported in 2012. On the other hand, 46 percent of the 2013 participants said their average children’s complete eyewear retail sale per patient (excluding eye exam fee, but including frames, lenses and lens treatments) has increased in the past year versus five years ago, up from the 39 percent who cited an increase in 2012. In fact, the median retail price for a child’s frame, excluding exams and lenses, was $120, up from $113 in 2012 but still down from $129 reported for 2009 through 2011. The median retail price for children’s spectacle lenses was $100, the same as last year, but down from $110 cited in the 2011 survey.

playpause next

Source: 20/20’s Kids’ Eyewear MarketPulse Survey 2013

Source: 20/20’s Kids’ Eyewear MarketPulse Survey 2013

Source: 20/20’s Kids’ Eyewear MarketPulse Survey 2013

Source: 20/20’s Kids’ Eyewear MarketPulse Survey 2013


In regard to what’s selling in the children’s market, polycarbonate is gaining market share in lens materials—undoubtedly as a result of eyecare professionals’ ongoing efforts to inform parents about the necessity of impact-resistant materials. Of those surveyed, 52 percent reported polycarbonate lenses comprised a greater proportion of total children’s eyewear dollars than they did five years ago, up from 48 percent in 2012. In addition, 54 percent of participants reported a decrease over the past 5 years in the sale of standard plastic lenses for children.

With frame materials we continue to see a shift toward plastic, following the trend in the adult market. Metal is still generally preferred for children because of its easier adjustability. But plastic has been showing substantial gains, no doubt because kids like the bolder color effects available with plastic and the retro look so popular with grown-ups. Of those surveyed this year, 61 percent reported an increase in children’s frame dollar sales attributed to plastic materials in the past five years, slight increases over the 59 percent in 2012 and the 57 percent in 2011, and a substantial increase over the 47 percent indicated  in 2010 (compared to five years prior). Only 18 percent reported an increase in dollar sales from metal frames in 2013.

Another growth area in the children’s market and a very important one is protective sport eyewear—again influenced by several factors including ECPs’ ongoing efforts to inform parents about the necessity of protective eyewear, the increasing interest in sport eyewear among adults and efforts on the part of eyewear manufacturers to offer colorful sport glasses designed specifically for children. The vast majority of retailers surveyed, 86 percent, reported selling protective sport eyewear to children. Additionally, 75 percent said they dispense contact lenses to kids—an option especially for children active in sports.

Although not as dominant as in the adult market, branded names are another category that has impacted the kids’ market. Survey respondents reported branded/licensed products accounted for 25 percent of their total children’s frame dollar sales. Twenty-eight percent of the respondents said the percentage of their total children’s frame dollar sales volume attributed to branded/licensed frames was up compared with five years ago. For 63 percent, the frame dollar sale volume stayed the same. Other findings also confirmed branding does play a role in the children’s market. Of those surveyed, 36 percent said name brands were very important to their child patients, and 29 percent cited brands as being of major significance to the parents, up from only 22 percent in 2012.

An area that would definitely benefit by taking more direction from the adult market is sunwear. Unfortunately. despite the necessity of sun protection for every age group, selling sunwear to kids continues to be the number-one challenge for ECPs. Indeed 57 percent of respondents cited it as a major challenge; an additional 39 percent viewed it as a minor challenge. The main reason for these negative findings is undoubtedly parents’ reluctance to spend money on eyewear likely to be lost or forgotten. The good news is 86 percent of the participants said they sell sunwear to children, and 94 percent dispense frames with photochromic lenses to kids. In fact, photochromics were the favored sun option for children with 72 percent of this year’s respondents reporting it was the sunwear product they sold most to children—unquestionably because it doesn’t involve buying another frame and lenses, and is also at lower risk of being lost since the eyewear does not have to be removed when inside. Only 14 percent of the participants indicated Rx sunwear complete was the sun product sold most to kids, followed by plano sunglasses and sun clips at 12 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

Although dispensing sunwear was far and away the major challenge cited by participants, other challenges specific to the kids’ market exist. Most notably, there are two generations of customers per visit, sometimes three if grandma comes along—frequently with widely varying tastes and priorities. Of those polled, 28 percent saw matching kids’ tastes with parents’ budget restrictions a major challenge; 56 percent reported it as a minor challenge. Catering effectively to the young teen market was another major challenge reported by 16 percent and a minor challenge for 59 percent. However, it should be noted optical manufacturers have been taking steps to address this age group with collections that are just grown-up enough to still appeal to young teens. Getting parents and children to agree on what eyewear to purchase was yet another major challenge for 18 percent and a minor challenge for 66 percent.

In fact, 65 percent of participants reported the major consideration for kids in selecting their eyewear is a broad range of color options. On the other hand, only 34 percent indicated color was very important to the parents. By far, the most important factors for parents understandably are functionality/durability and warranties cited by 85 percent and 86 percent as very important.


20/20’s Kids’ Eyewear MarketPulse Survey 2013 was conducted in April 2013 by Jobson Optical Research’s in-house research staff. The 2013 sample of 171 independent optical retailers, who sell to children as well as other age groups, was derived from the proprietary Jobson Optical Research database. Only the responses of dispensers who sell eyewear to children were included in the report. The 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 studies were conducted online where participants were recruited by e-mail, and the questionnaire was completed online. Respondents were offered the chance to enter a drawing to win a $200 American Express gift card or gift card as an incentive. Six years of data is provided for comparisons where possible. For more information or to purchase the full report, please visit

—Jennifer Zupnick, Senior Research Analyst

Manufacturers and vendors exert enormous effort in helping ECPs build their kids’ business, primarily by offering an abundance of fun and highly functional products sure to please a wide range of kids and their parents. Check out the pages in this issue. And they continue to partner with retailers, offering marketing tools. The most effective method, according to 47 percent of those surveyed, is point-of-purchase materials, followed by special promotions, cited by 34 percent.

Although according to the findings of this survey, children’s eyewear did not show significant growth in the past year, this category certainly held its own. In the optical arena, kids’ eyewear is still a young business. It will take time and effort on the part of the optical community before it’s all grown-up, but it’s worth the effort. Kids are the now and the future of eyewear. ■