Sunglasses have long been vital to project your personality and stating your style. And the future looks bright for eyewear manufacturers and retailers, with the global market in glasses sales set to grow to more than £19 billion by 2026.
The pandemic hit bricks and mortar retailers as footfall dropped, but online sales partially offset the setback. However, virus outbreaks, movement restrictions and travel bans had a negative effect across the board in 2020.
Many brands suffered a sharp decline in sales as stores closed their doors and customers cancelled summer holidays. But growth is back as restrictions lift and industry watchers report significant shifts. Eyewear brands compete for attention, with retailers in the UK reporting a more substantial market thanks to this year's summer heatwave.
The global market in eyewear is massive, with around £133 billion in sales at today's estimates. The figure includes sunglasses, spectacles, contact lenses and all eyewear products. But sunglasses top the table in terms of sales volume and profits, with Luxottica the biggest eyewear manufacturer and a vast portfolio that includes market-leading brands such as Ray-Ban and Oakley. The COVID pandemic negatively hit sales, with many top brands suffering a significant drop in sales as customers cancelled holidays. As people's social life, outdoor recreation and sports activities were curbed in strict lockdown and quarantine measures, there followed a decrease in demand for sunglasses.
The lifting of COVID travel restrictions and the reopening of shops brought a rebound in sales of sunglasses, but the rise has not been significant. Sunglasses sales are driven mainly by fashion trends and healthcare, especially protection against strong sunlight, hence the strong seasonal variations propelled by increased outdoor activities, the more robust demand in summer and the links to sports, tourism, and the recreational markets. The pandemic boosted online sales as consumers banned from shops looked for alternative channels, but sales are nowhere near pre-pandemic levels. Sunglasses play a significant role in fashion houses. They are the perfect pick-up product and typically top the sales charts in the market for accessories. Online retailers push hard to promote sales because margins are high, and sunglasses are an easy, impulse purchase for fashion-conscious customers. Experts say sunglasses sales are unlikely to recover to pre-COVID levels until 2025.
Although sales have been depressed in recent years, almost 80,000 customers in the UK paid more than £200 for luxury designer eyewear in 2020. The trend for expensive eyewear in the UK is upward. The numbers opting to spend less than £25 on the latest shades more than halved to 1.4K in the same year, down from a heady 3.9K in 2015. The growing demand for designer sunglasses is attributed mainly to rising disposable incomes. Customers want branded, well-designed, quality products. To meet the demand, a wave of new brands is pushing at the door to challenge the fashionable heavyweights. Many niche manufacturers now price their glasses at £100 to £150 as this is considered the 'sweet spot' for sales, expensive but affordable. Consumers are also opting for sunglasses with different styles for different occasions. At the same time, younger customers push the boundaries with their demands for more exciting products.
But global players are fighting back, increasing investment and expanding their footprints to leverage opportunities in the fast-developing markets of Asia-Pacific, South America and Africa. Top-selling brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley focus on social media platforms and online distribution channels to attract more customers. High-end manufacturer Safilo has launched a new e-commerce platform to boost its core brand Carrera. At the same time, giant producer Luxottica unveiled a string of travel-based styles for Oakley and Ray-Ban with frames designed specifically for the Asia-Pacific market. Meanwhile, Facebook recently announced its long-forecast bid to promote smart glasses in partnership with eyewear giant EssilorLuxottica.