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As a continuation of an earlier opinion article on branding for eyewear manufacturers, this article takes a similar look at the retailers. Amidst a changing retail landscape for eyewear, it is important for eyewear retailers, particularly optical goods stores, to project a strong brand image to consumers. As eyewear is traditionally considered a healthcare industry, the power of consumer choice is usually underestimated relative to that of eye care practitioners (ECPs), which are perceived to hold a significant influence over a consumer’s eyewear purchases.

“Non-traditional retailers” intensifying competition

The retail landscape for eyewear is witnessing a significant amount of change. Currently, the optical goods stores channel accounts for 76% of. However, “non-traditional retailers” (ie retail channels other than optical goods stores) are making inroads into this industry, by retailing eyewear in addition to their usual product portfolios. For example, major drugstore Watsons has been selling cosmetic lenses in Taiwan for the past few years; and, in recent months, began to sell non-prescription computer glasses in Singapore. More significantly, beauty and personal care player Japan Gateway has launched its very own line of circle lenses under the brand Envie in Japan.

It is a widely observed trend that has led to eyewear being perceived today as much less of a medical device than in the past. As a result, eyewear is growing into a fashion and lifestyle product, purchased for aesthetics and functionality and not solely out of necessity. Convenience, affordability and brand affinity have become key factors influencing consumer purchases, underscoring the importance of branding and consumer loyalty in optical businesses.

“Specialist” branding adopted to gain consumers’ trust

While the standard optical goods store typically stocks a broad range of products – from spectacles, sunglasses, contact lenses to eye care products – there are many other types of speciality eyewear store that are being set up to provide greater depth of stock catering to a narrower target audience.

In 2014, JINS opened a speciality sunglasses store called Fujiyama JINS located on Mount Fuji, stocking almost 100 types of sunglasses to target Mount Fuji climbers. The unique store concept attracted a large amount of interest from both consumers and international press. Another Japanese spectacles chain retailer, Aigan, opened the new retail store Aiphy Aigan, which sells children’s eyeglasses, in Osaka. Similarly, AEON in Japan has opened the retail store Opt Valu, which sells prescription .

In Singapore, contact lens player Menicon has opened its first Miru Contact Lens Store. The speciality store has introduced a unique monthly payment membership system for wearers and carries Menicon soft and hard contact lenses, as well as a full range of lens care solutions and accessories.

As these stores offer specialist product knowledge valued by consumers, pricing is usually not the sole priority for consumers deciding upon a speciality store; factors such as brand image, range of choices and value-added services are more important.

Brand engagement via “store-in-store” retail layout

Based on the same principle, the store-in-store concept, where a retailer rents part of its retail space to be run as a separate and independent store, is beginning to be adopted by optical chains in Singapore. Brands such as Acuvue, Essilor and Hoya, in particular, have set up booths in retailer EyeChamp, where consumers can handle their products and compare them with competitor products. Such collaboration efforts between manufacturer and retailer helps to educate consumers as brand awareness gives them a greater say in purchasing decisions.

Picture 1: Acuvue store-in-store

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Source: Euromonitor International

Picture 2: Store-in-store advertising by retailer EyeChamp

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Source: Euromonitor International

Up until recent years, eyewear has been a relatively homogeneous industry – in terms of product, there is little or no meaningful brand differentiation; while, for retailers, product and service offerings are relatively standard. Branding, therefore, helps to create space for more players to compete sustainably. As a conclusion to both the current and preceding opinion article, branding ultimately benefits both retailers and manufacturers, not least because of the potential for higher prices and consumers’ willingness to pay.

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