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Internet Usage for Eyewear Purchases Among American Adults

This past November, The Vision Council Market Research Team conducted its yearly Internet influence study.  Since 2007 The Vision Council has organized this study as part of its consumer VisionWatch research program.  This year the survey gathered 10,343 respondents that shared information about how American adults in the US are using the Internet when shopping and buying eyewear.  Our consumer survey further asked questions to determine what types of activities American adults are using the Internet for when they shop for and buy new eyewear, their online purchases for eyewear, as well as their intended future use of the Internet for shopping and buying eyewear.

Nearly 67% of consumers surveyed indicated that they use the Internet to some extent when shopping for general retail goods.  Shopping for eyewear is still not as prevalent among consumers. Americans were most likely to use the Internet when buying contact lenses, where 30.7% of recent buyers used the Internet to any extent during their last contact lens purchase. Even fewer Rx eyeglass buyers (22.5%), plano sunglass buyers (20.9%) and OTC readers buyers (9.0%) used the Internet for any assistance during their last purchase. There were certain groups of eyewear consumers (men, younger Americans, relatively affluent Americans, and people who recently bought eyewear from a conventional optical chain).

When Americans do access the Internet to assist with their purchase of eyewear, most only use one or two different types of websites to aid the buying process. While many consumers generally turn to Internet search engines for assistance when buying eyewear, there were some differences in the types of websites used based on the type of eyewear being purchased. For Rx eyeglasses, people tend to use websites operated by known eyeglass retailers. For people who recently purchased plano sunglasses, websites operated by general online retailers or sunglass specialty stores were most often used by consumers. For consumers who recently purchased OTC readers, websites operated by general online retailers (like Amazon.com or buy.com), as well as websites of mass merchant/wholesale club retailers (such as Wal-Mart and Costco) were often visited to perform some basic functions. Only a handful of consumers who recently purchased eyewear visited an eyewear manufacturer when selecting eyewear; however there was a slight increase in the number of people visiting manufacturer websites or an Internet search engine when recently buying eyewear in 2015.

For those who do not use the Internet when shopping for eyewear, they choose to shop in-person because they enjoy being able to physically try on eyewear. For American adults who recently purchased Rx eyeglasses, the trusted relationship they have with their eye care professional or retailer was another factor that limited their use of the Internet when recently purchasing eyeglasses. For many American adults who recently purchased OTC readers, the fact that they knew the exact pair of readers they were going to purchase kept them from using the Internet when last purchasing readers. Less than one-eighth of the American adult population avoided the Internet during their last purchase because of a lack of trust in or belief it is too much of a hassle to use the Internet. These results have not changed much over the past few years; however, since 2012, more consumers are avoiding the Internet as it relates to optical shopping because they cannot physically try-on eyewear in-person and fewer people are avoiding the Internet because of preconceived notions on the exact type of eyewear they want to purchase.

Recent eyewear buyers with ready access to the Internet are most apt to purchase plano sunglasses directly online at some point in the future; meaning that up to an additional 6.0 to 6.5 million pairs of plano sunglasses could be sold online annually in the near future. A slightly smaller number of recent eyewear consumers with ready access to the Internet seem likely to purchase Rx eyeglasses or contact lenses online at some point in the future. Smaller numbers of consumers expressed interest in purchasing Rx sunwear, OTC readers, a single pair of frames (without lenses), or a pair of Rx lenses (without the frames) online at some point in the future. When compared to our 2014 report, online purchase intent has increased slightly for all types of eyewear, except for Rx lens-only purchases (no frame)—in which online future purchase intent dropped by about 8%. Future online purchase intent increased most over the past year for a complete pair of plano (non-Rx) sunglasses and Rx sunglasses.
Data in this article was compiled from the Vision Council 2015 Internet Influence Report, which is part of the overall large-scale consumer VisionWatch research program. For additional information, please contact Brin Miller at 703-740-2251 or bmiller@thevisioncouncil.org.

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