Attention Internet Shoppers

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By John Sailer: Senior Editor

 
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Just as digital media is maturing in all categories, such as merchandising and health care, so too is eyeglass retailing. To gain traction with consumers, optical e-tailers are adapting technologies and trying out a number of tactics for selling eyewear online.

While it’s difficult to accurately quantify the amount of eyeglasses sold online and how much revenue they are generating, it’s clear that their numbers are growing. As more optical e-tailers pop up on the web, existing sites draw more traffic and make more sales, with estimates, VM has learned, ranging as far apart as 2 percent of total eyeglass units sold to as high as 14 percent, depending on how one measures and how one gauges “purchases” from “research” and “site visits.”

The 2012 Vision Council Internet Influence Report places U.S. prescription eyeglass unit sales online at 2.0 million pairs in 2012, just 2.9 percent of the total 69.1 million pairs of prescription lenses sold overall. However, industry insiders intimately familiar with this category believe that the actual numbers are even higher. Some online optical retailers themselves place the current size of the market as high as 6 percent or 7 percent of total unit sales of eyeglasses in the U.S.

Based on the number of unique visitors to just the top three or four online optical retailers and a very conservative conversion rate of 0.5 percent (in which conversions represent the number of unique visitors who actually make a purchase), online eyeglass sales could be well over 10 million pairs, representing well over 14 percent of the market.

For another view, VSP Global board member, Matthew Alpert, OD, of Alpert Vision Care estimated that $1 billion was spent online on optical products in 2011, derived from The Vision Council’s Dec. 2011 Consumer Barometer and its 2011 Internet Influence Report as well as from Consumers Digest, Special Investigative Report: Optical Illusion, August 2008.

Optical e-tailers have become so prevalent that peripheral sites and guides have sprung up in reaction to them. For example, consumer website Knoji ( www.Knoji.com), which provides information related to shopping, e-commerce and consumer issues, released a report in February comparing the leading online eyeglasses companies. In addition, www.online-eyewear.com reviews websites that sell eyeglasses online.

Simultaneously, the lines between online and brick-and-mortar are starting to blur, with Coastal in the process of opening a physical store in Vancouver and Warby Parker doing the same in New York.

While the online optical space may still be viewed as a disruptive upstart category, its visibility continues to increase and its influence on traditional eyewear sales is growing, as the following in-depth Vision Monday report shows. For an exclusive listing of the top eyeglasses e-tailers, go to VisionMonday.com for our first ever ranking of online eyeglass retailers.

jsailer@jobson.com