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Purchase Intent in the Eyewear Industry

In October 2008, The Vision Council first conducted a consumer survey that examined how the current state of the economy was influencing purchasing behavior for optical goods and services in the US. The results indicated that even though purchases in the optical industry were slowing, other retail sectors were suffering the brunt of the economic slowdown. Every year since then we surveyed an additional group of consumers to see how they are modifying their behavior in response to the weak and recovering economy. In the May 2015 edition we were able to survey 5,099 adult consumers. The results indicate that the accelerating growth of the US economy is having a continued positive effect on the buying habits and intentions of US eyewear consumers during the early part of 2015 (much as it did in the early part of 2012, 2013 and 2014).  Developments with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have not had too much of an immediate impact on the optical industry through 2014 and the first five months of 2014. However, the long-term prognosis on the impact of the ACA on the eyewear industry is still in doubt with many consumers unable to gauge how changes in insurance coverage will impact their eyewear and eye care spending and behavior.

According to the VisionWatch May 2015 Economic Situation Survey, 33.0 percent of all American adult consumers have either decreased general consumer purchases “slightly” or “a lot” over the past year as a result of the economy (down from April 2014 and by far the lowest rate since we initiated the survey in 2008). Conversely, 28.9 percent of all American adult consumers have increased general consumer purchases either slightly or a lot over the past 12 months (again, a significant increase when compared to April 2013 and a 280% increase from 2008 at the peak of the recession).  For the eyewear industry, in particular, consumers are still less likely to slow their purchases of optical goods and services when compared to general retail goods. While only 16.0 percent of consumers have been increasing their purchases of eyewear over the past year as a result of economic changes, just 17.9 percent of American adult consumers are decreasing their purchases of eyewear as a result of economic conditions in the US. Almost two-thirds of all consumers claim that there has been no change in their eyewear buying habits over the past year because of economic conditions.

The results of the May 2015 survey reinforces the notion that while purchasing activity for general retail goods is up sharply from 2009-2011 levels, purchasing activity for the optical industry is only up moderately in response to the recent improvements in the US economy. On the bright side, while the number of people increasing their purchases of optical goods and services has only increased slightly over the past year in response to changes in the economy, the number of people decreasing their purchases of optical products declined in the early part of the year and it is at its lowest level since the beginning of “The Great Recession”. 

With regard to eyewear purchases, consumers still seem to be most concerned with the “balance of their personal savings, retirement accounts or stock portfolio”.  When compared to previous reports, fewer consumers today are worried about rising fuel prices, as well as the unemployment rate, joblessness and the fiscal health of the US government. Simultaneously, as the economy improves and makes steady advances, concern over the health of banks and financial institutions, the stock market, financial markets, and the housing market are still at very low levels and not impacting optical purchases as much as they were a couple of years ago. However, in 2015 (relative to previous years) consumer concern over the stock market, the health of financial institutions and the housing market did become more worrisome among the population, but only to a small degree. Also on the bright side for 2015 is the declining impact of food prices and fuel prices on optical industry purchases.

With both consumer and producer price inflation remaining well within check, the cost of food, fuel and other essentials will NOT have a deleterious impact on optical industry purchases in the near future. Women, younger Americans, residents of the Southeast region, and Americans from lower income households reported that they are more concerned with prices and inflation when considering eyewear purchases.

Recent developments with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014 and 2015 have not had too much of an immediate impact on the optical industry (i.e. only about 4.3% of the US adult population has had any change what-so-ever in their vision coverage as a result of the AOA in 2014). However, the long-term prognosis on the impact of the ACA on the eyewear industry is still in doubt. A significant number of eyewear users (7.0%) plan to cut spending on upcoming eyewear and eye care products as a result of the ACA. Moreover, more than one-third of all the consumers we surveyed admitted that it is still too soon to tell how the ACA might impact their eyewear usage and purchasing patterns.

There are certain optical products and services that seem to benefit more from positive current economic conditions than others. In particular, the improving economy seems to have improved purchase intent for eye exams and OTC reading glasses, while on the other hand, the improving economy has not improved purchase intent as much for Rx eyeglasses or plano sunglass purchases. Contact lenses and LASIK/refractive surgery still continue to be a little more responsive than the recent good news of the spring months and as such, purchase intent for glasses and refractive surgery increased over the course of 2014 almost as much as rising intent for eye exams, Rx eyeglasses and/or contact lenses.  

Data in this article was compiled from VisionWatch, the large scale continuous research study conducted by The Vision Council. VisionWatch contains useful industry data on lenses, frames, sunglasses, reading glasses, LASIK, contact lenses and eye exams. For additional information, please contact Brin Miller at 703-740-2251.

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