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Where Consumers Shop for Eyewear

March 2021

COVID-19 severely hit sales of eyewear in 2020, an industry traditionally reliant on physical stores. Due to their higher e-commerce penetration, contact lenses fared better than other categories, but the pandemic has turbocharged the whole industry’s shift to e-commerce, spurring a boom in virtual try-ons and tele-optometry, which will change eyewear distribution. Moreover, post-pandemic M&As and the suburban trend are set to further reshape eyewear retail.

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Key Findings

Global eyewear demand fell sharply in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic

Globally, retail sales of eyewear products fell by 12% in 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and forced store closures in various parts of the world. Sunglasses was the worst hit category, due to the product’s discretionary nature and the double impact of retail and travel disruptions. Deemed more essential, spectacles fared better, but contact lenses proved to be the most resilient eyewear category, thanks to higher e-commerce penetration.

Store-based channels remain dominant, despite a surge in e-commerce

Eyewear is still reliant on store-based retailing, with store-based retail accounting for 87% of eyewear sales globally in 2020. The industry continues to be overly reliant on physical stores, first and foremost on optical shops, which accounted for 67% of total value sales. E-commerce sales accounted for just 12% of global value in 2020, but are accelerating at a rapid pace, jumping by three percentage points from 9% of global sales in 2019.

The shift to e-commerce is here to stay

Prior to the pandemic, e-commerce posted steady growth over 2015-2019, supported by demand for convenience, as epitomised by the proliferation of contact lenses subscription schemes in various markets. In the post COVID-19 era, embracing digitalisation will be crucial for all eyewear categories, as market players need to maintain consumer engagement, despite social distancing measures, increased time at home or in case of other major disruptions.

The adoption of digital tools to mimic the in-store experience will accelerate

To support e-commerce expansion, more digital tools to mimic the in-store experience and expert service, such as virtual try-ons and online consultations, will be adopted, especially in markets with high e-commerce penetration in Asia, Europe and North America.


Key findings

Industry Snapshot

Global eyewear demand fell sharply in 2020
Contact lenses have fared better than spectacles and sunglasses
Asia Pacific to catch up with North America by 2025

Impact of Coronavirus

COVID-19 has revealed the imbalances of the eyewear supply chain…
…and accelerated digitalisation and automation of operations
The rise in e-commerce has not offset the severe store-based losses

Channel Shifts

COVID-19 has turbocharged eyewear’s shift to e-commerce
Contact lenses has eyewear’s highest e-commerce penetration
Asia Pacific had the largest e-commerce sales increase over 2015-2020

Store-based Channels

Optical shops still lead but hypermarkets overtake department stores
Only essential stores reported positive CAGR 2015-2020
Optical stores severely impacted by COVID-19 restrictions
Is this the death of the department store?
Will COVID-19 slow down the pace of M&As in eyewear retail?
Online operations to become the key criterion for acquisition targets?
Private label is negligible in all regions except Western Europe
Private label set to benefit from depressed economy

Non-store Channels

COVID-19 has fuelled a surge in e-commerce
Eyewear players are investing heavily in their digital strategy
Spectacles e-commerce still lags behind but takes off with COVID-19
Asia Pacific set to drive global growth in eyewear e-commerce

Future Developments

Eyewear industry expected to bounce back from 2021
Contact lenses and solutions to see the fastest recovery
Suburbia to reshape the retail landscape…
…while sales through e-commerce will be continually growing
The surge in virtual try-ons will continue
Digital health and remote eye care will become more prominent
Key takeaways: rationalisation, digitalisation and consolidation


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