Because of the economic downturn and consumer uncertainty about the future—exhibited in a reluctance to buy and spend—the sunglass business has suffered in the past year. Some of these concerns are reflected in the findings of 20/20’s 2009 Sunwear Survey of Independents conducted in October/November 2009.

According to survey participants, sunwear products accounted for only 8 percent of gross retail dollar sales in 2009, edging down from 10 percent the previous year. But even more telling, although the majority, 59 percent, report their Rx sun business is on the rise, this is down substantially from the 72 percent that dited an increase in 2008 and the 80 percent that saw a gain in 2006. Further, 58 percent of respondents say their customers/patients are more knowledgeable about sunwear than they were five years ago, down from 70 percent in 2008 and a high of 83 percent in 2005. Although it is unclear what this means, this finding could be the result of consumers doing less research on sunglasses because they are reluctant to make purchases.


But despite the previously mentioned statistics, there’s still sizzle in the sunglass business. What’s especially significant is the vast majority of respondents (nearly 82 percent) said their Rx sunglasses retailed for more than $200 in 2009 and almost 13 percent sold Rx sunglasses for in excess of an average retail price of $450, very similar to the findings in 2008 for sunglasses and very similar to the 2009 findings for Rx eyewear. In 2009, the average price quoted for slightly more than 82 percent of respondents for eyeglasses complete sold (includes frame, lenses and lens treatments, but not exam) was in excess of $200 and 14.5 percent of respondents said their average eyeglasses complete sold for more than $450.

Additionally, survey participants say Rx sunglasses accounted for the majority (58 percent) of total retail sunwear only dollar sales in 2009, significant because Rx product commands the highest price points in the sunwear category. Also those polled report 41 percent of their patients requested plano sunwear they purchased be fitted with Rx sun lenses, similar to 43 percent indicated in 2008.

Although clip-ons represented only 16 percent of retail sunwear dollars in 2009 (comparable to the previous two years—15 percent in 2008 and in 2007) they contribute substantially to the bottom line. Nearly 62 percent of survey respondents sell clip-ons at an average price between $21 and $60. Thirty-five percent say their average clip-on retail price is over $60.

Another element that contributes significantly to the bottom line is premium lens materials. Findings for the 2009 survey indicate polycarbonate and plastic each accounted for 41 percent of Rx sun lenses and high-index for another 14 percent. In 2008, standard plastic and polycarbonate each represented 39 percent of market share. Prior to that, standard plastic was the clear leader; e.g., in 2005 standard plastic accounted for 61 percent of market share and polycarbonate for only 23 percent.

Customized Rx sun lens programs also contribute positively to market share. Of those surveyed, 43 percent say they participate in prescription programs offered by name-brand sunwear/sport glass companies. However, this number should be considerably higher. Retailers need to follow the direction of vendors, who have dedicated their effort to creating programs that duplicate proprietary performance-oriented features in prescription lenses.

Despite the bright spots, there are clouds scattered about in the sunglass business and many aren’t the result of a struggling economy. It’s apparent ECPs need to continue reinforcing the fact that everyone needs sun protection every day of the year.

Fifty-four percent of respondents thought adults (age 35 to 44) are buying more Rx sunwear. No respondents thought kids (under 16) were buying more Rx eyewear.

As for the gender buying more Rx sunwear, women were cited as the winners by 58 percent of the respondents. Only 14 percent say men bought more sunwear and 28 percent cite equal representation from both sexes.

In regard to selling sun year around—although the sun knows no season—the majority of respondents characterize sunglass sales as high during July and August (64 percent) and May and June (51 percent) and tumbling for the rest of the year to 4 to 12 percent.

Another area in which optical is falling far short of its potential is in dispensing sunglasses to contact-lens wearers. Less than half of the retailers surveyed (49 percent) claim they always recommend their contact-lens patients buy sunglasses and 4 percent never suggest sunwear to these customers. Even more disturbing, only 10 percent say their patients make a sunwear purchase at the time they are fitted for new contact lenses even though they will need sunglasses the moment they step outside.

What is clear is the sun shines on. The product is exciting and abundant as witnessed by the 20/20 photo feature in this issue. And every one of your customers, regardless of age or gender, needs sunwear everyday of the year everywhere. The challenge—and the opportunity—is yours. It’s time to turn up the heat and add even more sizzle to the sunglass market.