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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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