Interviewee: Raymond Mok (CEO of Must Eyewear)
The epidemic has changed our lifestyles a lot, with more reliance on digital tools, social distancing, cashless payment, etc. How do you see the impact on the whole eyewear industry?
If you want to say what impact the epidemic has on the optical industry, the first thing to bear is sales. The epidemic itself, the restriction of people’s gatherings, and other uncertain factors have greatly influenced the people’s willingness to go shopping.
And as eyewear are better tried on the face, you can imagine the drop on sales. Optical shops are therefore more conservative to do purchases. Moreover, due to the worry of the epidemic, people are trying their best to avoid face-to-face meetings. This makes it harder for us, the brand owners, to talk about purchasing with the optical shop owners.
Besides, the new product launches have also decreased because of the downturn in retail markets. This is understandable that the brand temporarily reduced production in response to MOQ. However, this leads to another question: if we follow the old pattern, I mean brands normally release collections twice a year, which means dozens of models or hundreds of SKUs, can the market digest them all? Should this be changed in the future?
You experienced both SARS in 2003 and Covid-19. How will you compare these two epidemics?
This is a very good question. Back in 2003, when I was working at the just starting out alain mikli. The sudden SARS made the whole Hong Kong market halt. This was because both the government and the public have absolutely no experience in dealing with the epidemic. The business in Hong Kong did suffer from loss then, however, it was fortunate that SARS was regional to some degree (mainly Hong Kong, Guangdong, and Macau). We were still able to turn our attention to overseas markets like Southeast Asia or Australia. Although we did not need to do a test before going abroad, we still prepared a “hygiene and anti-epidemic report” for the sake of making our customer confident to cooperate with us. Now I would say that SARS “forced” us to accelerate the development of the overseas market which helped us to build the basis for the future of alain mikli in the Asia-Pacific area. SARS lasted for about half a year, plus the introduction of “Individual Visit Scheme” after the epidemic, contributed to the quick reboot of the Hong Kong market.
Compared with SARS, COVID-19 is a global threat. This means we cannot completely copy the experience from SARS, where we take the growth of other markets to make up for the loss of the Hong Kong market. Also, Covid-19 persists a longer time than SARS, and waves of epidemic increase the uncertainty and make people desperate and impact them greater psychologically.
How have the challenges affected you? How do you cope with them?
Mentality determines thoughts. If we cannot change the external factors, we can start by changing ourselves. Personally, 2020 is the year when I had the least business trip. And I have never left Hong Kong since I went to Opti Munich in January. Working from home also give me more time to review the current status and re-plan for the future. Due to the current sluggish retail sales, we have to reduce the scale of new series, meanwhile, we invest more time on upgrading our popular items. We try new materials, different finishing, anything we can do to strive for excellence.
We also have begun to turn our interest to the development of smart concepts in the optical industry. Our German brand MUSTbygrafix has just launched a new 3D Fitting Application, which is different from the normal virtual try-on application. It can scan the user’s head and then glasses will be put virtually on user’s face.With the support of the 3D technique, the improved fidelity makes it possible to show the glasses even when the user is moving his head. In other words, users can see the 360-degree appearance when virtually wearing the glasses with the help of the software.
More importantly, this 3D Fitting App allows customers to design tailor-made glasses. They can choose ring shape, color, and size of the entire pair of glasses. Over 100 kinds of color combinations are offered to customers. It’s not like people have to choose the pair from a limited offering in the store. They can enjoy ample choices and make their purchase a very personal one at home or in the store with the help of the software.
Besides, considering people pay more attention to hygiene due to the ranging epidemic, this software also provides touchless remote-control function. Users can virtually try on glasses of new shapes or colors by simple eye movements. For example, by simply blinking the right eye, the application will automatically change the glasses’ style to the next one. In this way, a truly touchless shopping experience is gained, and customers can even pick up their favorite glasses without showing up in the store.
Also, I believe the smart glasses market is a blue ocean compared to the traditional glasses market. Intelligent electronic products like cell phones and watches will only be more common because they have become an indispensable part of people’s lives. On the other hand, the public pays more attention to health because of the epidemic, so, the usage frequency of apps, smartwatches, and even smart glasses with health-related programs has greatly increased. We have also introduced SOLOS smart glasses, taking into account both indoor and outdoor functions, and providing vector-out radio and surround sound speakers, so that users can enjoy a “theatre-like” sound quality at home.
Moreover, there are nine-axis sensors that can sense the user’s body movement through the center of gravity of the user’s head. They can remind and guide users to do stretching exercises. Besides, with the cooperation of the AIRGO App, user’s exercise habits and health indicators can be tracked. Therefore, SOLOS is a pair of glasses that integrate vision correction, work, entertainment, and health. Additionally, users can have different experiences simply by updating the application and receive new surprises regularly for free. This is what the traditional glasses cannot offer.
What’s your opinion on online optical store?
I have always been paying attention to the online glasses business. The European and US markets are doing pretty well. Amongst them, Warby Parker should be the most successful one. Although the epidemic has accelerated the development of the digital platform, I think the consumption of mid-level to high-level optical products, in Asia, will still be based on the physical stores. It is therefore important that brands work closely with optical stores in order to maintain this important closed loop. Brands should focus on better promotional materials, while physical stores provide professional eye examinations and services. O2O (online to offline), though is not a new concept, brands should still increase investment to work on leading the consumer flow from online to offline physical stores in the future.
How do you forecast 2021?
To be honest, though the vaccine is now available in some countries, there is still a question mark on the actual effectiveness and the mutation of the virus. So, I think 2021 is also a challenging year, and I am not to be too optimistic. However, with the experience from 2020, at least we have learnt how to deal with the difficulties in such hard challenges, and find out opportunities in crisis.