he kids and their purchasing power are phenomenal. Tweens, alone, variously described as ages eight to 15 or eight or nine to 12, independently spend $51 billion annually and have considerable sway over another $170 billion spent on them each year by parents and family, according to 360 Youth, an advertising and marketing company that focuses on young people. Additionally, Wendy Liebmann, president and founder of WSL Strategic Retail, has studied consumer behavior in retail for 17 years and says parents report 75 percent of their children under 13 had influence—always or occasionally—on the purchases of home décor for their own room; 45 percent had some say on skin care products; 58 percent on jeans; and 65 percent on sneakers.

Yes, these are the kids. Whether it’s home furnishings, sneakers, jeans or eyewear, they have enormous impact. The optical industry needs to pay attention to them. Kids love fashion and they love to shop—this includes eyewear. Selling eyewear to kids can no longer be satisfactorily handled with a small selection of sized-down adult product. It’s big business with a wide range of customers of varying ages, wants and needs.

According to respondents to 20/20’s Kid’s Eyewear MarketPulse Survey 2008, children from infancy to 14 years old represented 20 percent of their customer base in the past year and children’s eyewear and related products accounted for 15 percent of total gross dollar sales. Although nearly half (49 percent) of those contacted said their children’s business had stayed about the same versus five years ago, 42 percent did report an increase. More significant, though, 55 percent of the participants indicated their average children’s complete eyewear retail sale (excluding eye exam fee) increased in the last five years. In fact, the average retail sale for kids’ frames has risen steadily from $100 in 2006 to $120 in 2007 to $125 in 2008. On the other hand, the average retail price for children’s spectacle lenses has remained firm at $100 since 2006.


No question, the children’s business is loaded with its own specific challenges—most notably two sets of customers—the child and the parents—often with wants and needs that are at odds. Interestingly, the biggest challenge ECPs face with this age category is in dispensing sunwear, cited by 62 percent of respondents as a major challenge. An additional 29 percent viewed it as a minor challenge and only 8 percent said it was no challenge at all. The main reason for these findings is undoubtedly parents are reluctant to spend money on eyewear likely to be lost or forgotten. Fortunately, because of the necessity of protecting young eyes from the sun, there is a brighter side. Of those surveyed in 2008, 76 percent said they sell sunwear to children. Clearly the most popular sun item dispensed to kids is photochromic lenses. Of the participants, 92 percent indicated they sell photochromic lenses to children and 70 percent said photochromics were the favored sun option for children. No doubt because it doesn’t involve buying another frame and also is at lower risk for being lost since the eyewear does not have to be removed when inside. Sun clips only accounted for 12 percent of the market share, followed by Rx sunwear complete and plano sunglasses at 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

Another challenge retailers face is in matching kids’ tastes and priorities with parents’ budget limitations and priorities. Although only 23 percent of those polled saw budget restrictions as a major challenge, 60 percent reported it as a minor challenge. In regard to what both sets of customers look for in eyewear, though, there are substantial differences. The number-one consideration for kids in selecting eyeglass frames is a broad range of color options, according to 65 percent of those surveyed. However, only 37 percent of the survey respondents indicated color was of major importance to the parents. What is important to parents is durability and functionality, cited by 89 percent as a key concern. Interestingly, though, durability and functionality were also high on the kids’ scale of important features, mentioned by 64 percent of respondents and closely trailing color.

It does appear as if the kids and parents are coming a little closer in their eyewear interests—perhaps each learning a bit from the other generation. And perhaps the parents are getting the message from ECPs who believe strongly that if kids don’t like their eyewear, they won’t wear it. In fact, only 14 percent of the respondents said getting parents and children to agree on what eyewear to purchase was a major challenge and 51 percent said making children feel they are participating in the decision-making process was not a challenge.

What’s selling to this demanding market? In regard to lens materials, polycarbonate is clearly the buzzword—unquestionably a result of eyecare professionals keeping parents informed on the necessity of impact-resistant materials. Of those surveyed, 58 percent reported polycarbonate lenses made up a greater proportion of total children’s eyewear dollars than it did five years ago. And 51 percent of the participants reported a decrease over the past five years in the sale of standard plastic lenses for children.

On another very positive note, the vast majority of those retailers surveyed, 90 percent, reported selling protective sports eyewear to children. And 83 percent said they dispense contact lenses to kids, an option especially for children active in sports.

With frame materials, though, there has been a definite shift, following the trend in the adult market toward plastic. Metal is still generally preferred for children because of its easier adjustability. But plastic has been showing substantial gains in kids’ eyewear sales. Of those surveyed in 2008, 50 percent reported an increase in frame dollar sales attributed to plastic materials in the past five years, up from 29 percent and 43 percent cited in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Only 35 percent reported an increase in dollar sales from metal frames, a sharp decline from 55 percent indicated in 2006.

In one area, however, the kids’ market does not seem to be taking its direction from the grown ups. Although brands continue to be of major interest in the optical world in general, those surveyed reported only 25 percent of their total children’s frame sales was in branded or licensed frames in the last year, a slight decline from the 32 percent reported for the previous year. Additionally, only 36 percent of the retailers reporting in 2008 said the percentage of their total children’s frame dollar sales volume generated by branded names has increased in the past five years. And indeed, other findings in the survey confirmed branding wasn’t top of mind in the kids’ market. Respondents said name brands were of major important to only 37 percent of their child patients and 21 percent of the parents.


What can manufacturers and vendors do to help ECPs take that next step in building their kids’ business into the mature business it deserves to be? As shown on the pages of this issue, it’s apparent a large selection of fun and highly functional kids’ products is available. And manufacturers and vendors continue to partner with retailers to offer effective marketing tools. The most effective method being point-of-purchase materials, according to 44 percent of those surveyed, followed by special promotions indicated by 19 percent. But this category is about more than product and POP. It will take time and dedicated effort on the part of the optical community before the kids’ business is all grown up. It’s clearly worth the effort. Children are the future of eyewear.

20/20’s Kid’s Eyewear MarketPulse Survey 2008 was conducted in May of 2008 by Jobson Optical Research’s in-house research staff. The sample of 194 independent optical retailers was derived from the proprietary Jobson Optical Research database. All participants were contacted via email and asked a series of structured interview questions. An incentive of a chance to win a $200 American Express gift was offered. The 2007 study was conducted via Internet and a chance to win a $300 American Express gift card incentive was offered. The 2005 and 2006 studies were conducted via telephone and no incentive was offered.
To ensure consistency in results, all surveys were conducted during the same May time period and followed the same methodology. In order to avoid skewed findings due to the wide distribution of our Children’s Survey sample, medians (rather than means) were reported for all years. Therefore, all statistics reported in this overview represent a typical, or most frequently encountered, eyewear business. Only the responses of dispensers who sell eyewear to children are included in the report. Four years of data is provided for comparisons, where possible. The analysis presents historical data and might reflect seasonal market fluctuations. For the purpose of this report and given the voluntary nature of the survey, the sample consists of retailers who sell to children as well as other age groups.
—Jennifer Zupnick and Beth Briggs, Jobson Optical Research