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Online Access Used As A Shopping Tool 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 10,165 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 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.

Despite a relatively high number of consumers using the internet to some extent when shopping for general retail goods, the practice is still not as prevalent when consumers are shopping for eyewear. Americans were most likely to use the internet when buying contact lenses, where 28.4% of recent buyers used the internet to any extent during their last contact lens purchase. Even fewer Rx eyeglass buyers (19.1%), plano sunglass buyers (19.5%) and OTC readers buyers (8.0%) used the internet for any assistance during their last purchase. There were certain groups of eyewear consumers (women, younger Americans, relatively affluent Americans, and people who recently bought eyewear from an conventional optical chain that were more likely than other consumers to have used the internet when last purchasing eyewear. After increasing significantly in 2011, the number of consumers using the internet to shop for and buy corrective eyewear continued to grow in 2012 and 2013 before falling somewhat in 2014 for contact lens users, plano sunglass wearers and OTC readers users. Usage of the Internet to shop for Rx eyeglasses has been increasing steadily from 2007 through 2014.

When using the internet to search for eyewear, most Americans are usually window shopping online. In other words, they are conducting research and activities that are utilized to help them purchase eyewear in-person at a future date. People most often compare prices of eyewear. They also look to the internet to examine possible brands, and to examine possible retail locations where they might eventually make a purchase in-person. People are somewhat less likely to use the internet to select the exact brand of eyewear they will buy, or to select the exact retail location where they will make a purchase. Finally, a small number of consumers are using the internet to review customer ratings/satisfaction relating to eyewear or eyewear retailers. Over the past year, the number of people using the Internet to determine the exact brand of eyewear they want to eventually purchase increased considerably. On the other hand, the number of consumers using the Internet to benchmark prices, search for potential eyewear brands, and / or potential retailers of eyewear all decreased slightly. Over the past couple years; recent eyewear buyers are using the internet for more than one function when shopping online. About 55.6% of recent eyewear buyers reported using the internet to complete multiple tasks, up from 2008 through 2013. Moreover, using the internet for customer reviews of different retailers and direct eyewear online buying activity has surged over the past couple of years.

Approximately 24% of people using the internet to assist in their last purchase of eyewear actually made the purchase directly online – mostly contact lens purchases. Specifically, about 3.3%-3.7% of all recent eyeglass buyers used the internet to directly purchase eyeglasses. Only 3.1% of recent OTC readers buyers used the internet to directly purchase their readers, and 5.7% of recent plano sunglass buyers used the internet to directly purchase sunglasses. In terms of contact lens buyers, about 17.7% purchased their lenses online directly over the internet. The groups that were more likely to use the internet for different functions when shopping for their last pair of eyewear were also the groups that were more likely to directly purchase eyewear online. In particular, women, younger Americans, Americans with relatively high incomes, and Americans that use the internet when shopping for general retail goods were all more likely than other groups to have directly purchased eyewear online within the past six months. The rate of growth in online eyewear purchases has rebounded in 2014 after slowing somewhat in 2013. In 2014, the largest increases in online optical buying behavior occurred among adults from higher-income households ($75K+ annually) purchasing optical products online, as well as an increase in the number of people between the age of 35 and 44purchasing eyewear online.

About 37.3% of recent eyewear buyers with easy access to the internet claimed that they will not use the internet for any assistance or functions when purchasing eyewear in the future. Those consumers that are receptive to using the internet in the future will most likely use the internet to examine possible brands and types of eyewear, or search around the web to compare and benchmark prices. A considerable number of consumers reported that they will also use the internet to examine customer reviews and satisfaction. Only a few consumers reported they will use the internet to locate the exact pair of eyewear that they will buy, or to locate the exact location where they will buy eyewear at a later date. Finally, about 27.0% of recent eyewear buyers with easy access to the internet indicated that they may possibly or probably use the internet to directly purchase eyewear in the future. These results are consistent with what was found in previous studies; however, in 2014 intended future use of the Internet for future eyewear purchases stalled out, with fewer consumers reporting “probable” future online eyewear purchases and more consumers reporting “possible” future online eyewear purchases.

Data in this article was compiled from the Vision Council 2014 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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