Interview with HOYA | Traditional Optical Stores Should Upgrade to Eye Care Professionals

Interviewee: George Kwan (HOYA Managing Director)

The epidemic has changed a lot our lifestyle, such as relying more on digital tools, social distancing, cashless payment, WFH etc, how do you see the impact to the whole eyewear industry?  
For the overall eyewear market:
Everyone has to stay at home due to the epidemic and has to reduce outdoor physical activity. The sunglasses and contact lenses are going to suffer from a relatively big decline. Because of the recurrent epidemics, people’s desire of buying a new pair of glasses also decline. The annual peak season for glasses has disappeared. This made the consumer put off their purchasing plan till the epidemic is under control. Besides that, more customers would like to go with the old frames for new lenses to reduce the expenditure, which was because of the poor economy.

In terms of lens business:
During work, entertainment and study, due to the epidemic, everyone is interacting with the world through digital devices such as computers or mobile devices, which puts much more burden on eyes. The demand for functional lenses therefore has increased enormously. Each generation need to deal with the new eyesight needs under the “new situation” of lives.

– The number of myopia children has increased sharply, because children have to take online courses, where it shortened the reading distance and reduced outdoor activities;

– Working people are using digital device for WFH (work from home) or online shopping. And this led to the increase of the demand for the lenses for digital products or the anti-blue lenses that can help relax eyes;

– People with presbyopia symptoms (i.e. Progressive lenses users) also found that the near-and-far progressive lenses is not good enough for their long-time indoor life. However, they need to prepare dedicated indoor progressive lenses.

The pattern of consumption has changed:
As it has entered the fourth stage of the epidemic, everyone has already been accustomed to the new life pattern. Consumers go to optical shops more purposefully and they mostly come with a real need and an appointment in advance. The optical shops can therefore make a higher success rate for sale. This however brings a new opportunity for the optical shops where they can try to recommend some more functional products to the customer and make the deal. It matters now that whether they can seize this opportunity to make themselves more professional to the customer and increase the price of the products at the same time. The optical shops can hardly survive by only selling the normal products like myopia glasses, with the reduction of customers. They should hold the opportunity and try to sell more functional products to survive from this special situation.

What’s the biggest challenge for the lenses company and retailer? How do you / your company cope with these?
For lenses retailers, the biggest challenge under the epidemic is the severe reduction of customers which has drastically reduced sales. Meanwhile, the decline of income because of the epidemic has led to the reduction of the overall consumption power, this left the retailers even heavier pressure of paying the rent. For the first ten months of this year, the eyewear retail sale has experienced an even greater year-to-year decrease than the overall retail sale, which was mainly because of the policy of restricting the amount of use of medical vouchers. However, as the glasses are semi-necessities, consumers still need to go to the optical shops.

For lens manufacturers, the biggest challenge is the reduction of orders and consumers. Consumers currently would like to change the lens because of the function of the lens rather than the change of glasses.

During this hard time, in order to attract consumers and thus maintain the order volume, retailers are making discount promotion. In terms of lenses selling, HOYA has also launched an unprecedented buy-one-get-one-free discount for progressive lenses to stimulate consumer desire and thus increase the sale.

I also realized that customers are willing to spend more time on buying prescription glasses. We should focus more on delivering a better shopping experience to them. Especially, due to the reduction of walk-in consumers, staff can spend more time on each consumer and provide more detailed choices for them. Traditional optical shops should upgrade themselves to eye care professionals who can offer trustworthy and comprehensive information and services to customers. It is thus a big challenge for the optical shops to make a brief but effective enough introduction about the various functional lens and introduce to customers multiple pairs of glasses with different functions. Hopefully, the industry can tap the consumer’s needs through more communication with them.

What’s your comments about the online purchasing of lenses?
Currently, most of the eyewear-related products online are ready-made products, i.e. sunglasses or optical glasses without prescription. Afterall, professional services such as eye examination and other services from the optometrists are still necessary when buying a pair of glasses. In a small city like Hong Kong, physical optical shops still have advantages even during the epidemic time. But with the development of online shopping, online shops can sell products at a relatively lower price as they do not have the pressure of rent. The increase of price transparency in the meantime also trigger price competition.

Sales performance of online eyewear shop is gradually increasing, and it will be more thriving in the future. Many traditional optical stores have also opened online sections using the OTO (online to offline) business model, to attract consumers online and lead them to the physical shops for other services like eye examination. Therefore, traditional physical stores need to enhance professionalism and put more focus on eyecare services at this critical moment in order to emphasize the advantages of a physical store.

How do you forecast 2021?
It is estimated that in the first half of 2021, the overall retail sales may not have a big breakthrough. The dawn might not be seen until the second half of the year but we may have already passed through the worst time. We believe that life and the market can be back to normal by 2022 when more people are vaccinated.