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May 31 2012
The blossoming contact lens market was focused on as an area which could help practices boost business at the joint AGMs of the AOP, FODO and the ACLM, earlier this month. Emily McCormick reports
Higher visibility, increased promotion and more information on contact lenses could help independent practices buck the recession and boost profits, practitioners attending the AGMs of three optical bodies heard last month.
Speaking to delegates at the joint meetings of the AOP, FODO and the ACLM, senior account manager for marketing research company GfK, Stephan Lamouroux, revealed that, despite the economic situation, the contact lens market ‘shows signs of solidity’, recording an £80m growth since 2007.
While frame sales have reported a decline since 2010, with a 4% fall in 2011, the contact lens sector has reached a value of £456m, increasing steadily by 5%.
A strong growth of 3.4% in the first quarter of 2012 is reinforced by a continuous increase in the sales of contact lens care products – 5.5% in 2011, with growth confirmed for 2012.
Reflecting on the positive figures, Mr Lamouroux said: “These statistics show you how the contact lens market has been behaving over the last couple of years, and how it is still behaving in the current economic slowdown. It shows you the opportunity that is available through the contact lens market.”
ACLM chairman, Nigel Mallinson, showed strong agreement with this point of view when he addressed delegates.
Mr Mallinson, who is managing director of CooperVision in the UK and Ireland, told delegates: “Despite the significant economic challenges, the contact lens industry is in great shape in the UK, experiencing around double the growth rate we are seeing across the rest of Europe. A consistent grow rate of around 5% is a good place to be in.”
Research, which saw 200 interviews conducted across Europe with people pre and post contact lens shopping, found that a number of misconceptions, fears and concerns were, however, still present among consumers. Another observation reported that potential wearers were really dissatisfied with the lack of visibility and general lack promotion of contact lenses in many practices.
Mr Mallinson explained: “A lot of potential wearers don’t feel that their needs are being understood; that they are not being listened to when they are shopping for lenses instore. This can lead to quite a lot of frustration if you are a potenital wearer.”
It is estimated that patients spend, on average, £155 on spectacles biennially, giving practices an annual revenue per spectacle wearer of £77. Whereas a contact lens customer spends £82 annually, and “this is not one or the other,” Mr Mallinson commented. “It’s a complimentary offer.”
Expressing agreement, Mr Lamouroux confirmed that: “80% of contact lens wearers are wearing spectacles.”
Floating the idea of a direct debit scheme as a sure-fire way to boost patient retention, the ACLM chairman explained how it brings patients back into the practice more regularly, which can prove to be difficult with spectacle wearers.
“What direct debit schemes do is create a tie between the customer and the practice, and brings a patient back in for sight tests. It also creates more opportunity for cross-selling; perhaps a pair of sunglasses or another pair of spectacles,” he said.
“Think of the power of direct debit,” Mr Mallinson urged. “How many of us say to ourselves that I must review my utility bill? But because it’s done by direct debit and you are getting a good service, you simply don’t bother.”
While some practitioners worry about losing patients to online retailers – with this being a popular argument for failing to advertise contact lenses in practice – Mr Lamouroux provided some comfort, stating Internet sales of contact lenses have become flat at 6%.
As statistics confirm that the contact lens sector is still a very female dominated one, with 64% of wearers being women, verses 36% male, this is an area that practitioners could try to tap into during their testing routine, it was suggested.
Contact lens choices
With a wide range of contact lenses available on the market, GfK data reports that all types of contact lenses achieved an increase against the previous year (2010-2011). Figures show that the multifocal sector appears to be the fastest growing, increasing 21% year-on-year, with a market value of £40m.
Reiterating the benefit that is to be had by raising the profile of contact lenses, Mr Mallinson concluded: “The opportunity of the contact lens sector remains a big one. Penetration is only around 8% of those needing sight correction.
“We need to better understand the wants and needs of the consumer, and aim to satisfy them, and contact lenses as part of an overall vision care solution.”
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