What a year 2017 turned out to be. Where the new normal was anything but normal and the crystal ball was cloudy, at best.
Fortunately for the optical market, however, it doesn’t take a clairvoyant to see that some clear trends are emerging. What it does take is ongoing, insightful research, and that’s where EB comes in.
Throughout the year, we conduct surveys on the business of optical, what’s trending in every product category, and, most important, what you are experiencing. The result? Our informative and incisive Annual Market Trends Study.
From that, we pinpoint the market’s Top 8 Trends for 2018 to help you plan for and profit from what’s ahead.
1 ONLINE COMPETITION
When it comes to perceived threats, managed care reigned supreme until 2016, when online competition topped the bad-boy list. Today, 45% of ECPs say online sellers remain their knottiest nemesis.
To compete with online sellers:
57% of ECPs say they discount products more often.
24% have lowered prices overall.
21% offer more BOGO promotions.
2 Rx SUNWEAR
Prescription sunwear experienced a huge jump in 2017. Nearly half of the ECPs surveyed (43%) tagged it as their fastest-growing category. That's up an impressive 14 percentage points from just a year earlier.
WHAT IS ECPs’ ONE
(up from 29% in 2016)
A testament to ECPs’ selling smarts, 52% of those surveyed report second-pair sales are up. Though Rx sunglasses continue to top the most-offered list of second-pair options, 74% of ECPs say they’re now offering more Rx frames than previously as a second-pair option.
2018’s HOT PRODUCTS
The key upward-trending optical product categories include:
Digital/blue light products—they even surpass sunwear in some regions.
Polarized sunwear has grown in popularity over the past two years, according to 82% of ECPs.
High-end frames are big, especially in the Northeastern U.S.
Premium PALs account for 57% of ECPs’ progressive lens revenue.
AR coatings are now recommended to all patients by 87% of ECPs.
Equipment that is eco-friendly is important to 81% of practices.
Advanced tech earns an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of importance.
3 BLUE GOES BIG
Blue-light-filtering products continue to gain speed when it comes to outpacing the rest of the specialty eyewear field. Between 2015 and 2017, these products jumped 13 percentage points nationwide and an impressive 27 points in the Northeast.
Blue light product sales now surpass sunwear sales in some of the practices we surveyed, especially in the South. One reason for its explosive growth is that ECPs surveyed now report offering blue-light-filtering protection to an average of 50% of patients. That’s up from 41% in 2016.
4 SOCIAL MEDIA BOOMS
As the new year begins, 73% of ECPs surveyed report using social media to help build business. Social media also ranks second only to staff training as the area in which ECPs surveyed say they need to devote more time to better communicate with patients.
Eyecare professionals’ platforms of choice? 85% use Facebook, followed by Instagram (31%) and Twitter (20%).
Most ECPs are posting no more than a few times a week, and many only a few times a month. Most agree they’re not posting often enough.
5 MERCHANDISING SHIFTS
High-end eyewear will see even more popularity in 2018, as it continues to grow as a business-building differentiator for all ECPs. Still, more than half of ECPs’ frame mix (51%) falls into the midrange category.
The most popular style in all price ranges? Full-rim acetate eyewear outpaces other options by a wide margin.
ECPs remain steadfast on the most essential frame features—construction quality, styling, and performance remain the Top 3.
MOST-IMPORTANT FRAME FEATURES
- Construction quality
- Return policy
- Proven popularity
- Innovative designs/materials
- Rep recommendation
6 PREMIUM LENSES SETTLE IN
Free-form lenses and the latest high-tech PALs are definitely on ECPs’ radar for 2018. In fact, survey respondents report 57% of their PAL revenue results from premium-priced lenses, while only 14% of sales come from value product.
It makes sense, therefore, that 70% of ECPs report they are likely or very likely to take additional measurements to process free-form/digital lenses. And, a growing number (23%) use an app to take those measurements.
What reference points do savvy ECPs like you use to recommend custom lenses? First, they communicate the benefits, and, second, they share their own personal wearing experience of the product.
7 CL UNCERTAINTY
Nearly 7 out of 10 respondents (67%) have seen an upward tick in overall contact lens sales during the past year, but when asked how much CL sales will change over the next six to 12 months, there’s less optimism than a year ago. Though 6 out of 10 (57%) believe sales will rise, that’s down from 71% in 2016. Certainly, online competition plays a role here.
Looking ahead, nearly three-quarters (74%) of ECPs surveyed see multifocals as the soft contact lens category with the most potential for 2018.
8 THE 2018 PRACTICE
What does the typical practice look like as we step into 2018?
More than half have annual sales of at least $500,000. Boomers still fill most of the slots in the appointment book, though Gen X is closing in.
Less than 3% of sales come from online/website sales. The frame buyer is likely to purchase mostly midrange frame product, accompanied most often by polycarbonate lenses.
For the contact lens patient, monthly disposable contacts are the probable pick.
What’s ahead for optical, looking beyond 2018?
LENSES: ECPs say sales of PALs and “anti-fatigue/digital device lenses” will increase the most over the next two years.
TECH: Measurement apps will become a given.
CONTACTS and SUN: In contact lenses, 40% of ECPs believe more patients will be wearing daily disposables over the next year or two. And, in sunwear, the most promising up-and-comer will be blue-light-filtering product.