The picture was brightest for independent ECPs.

The vision care industry generated $40.36 billion in revenue over the year ending in first-quarter 2017, The Vision Council reports.

That represents an increase of 0.7 percent, or nearly $282 million, over the previous year’s totals.

The VisionWatch market research report indicates that 22 million pairs of frames were sold during the first quarter of 2017 — a 0.2 percent decline from the same period in 2016. These Q1 sales resulted in $2.89 billion in revenue.

The quarterly results also indicated:

  • 24.7 million pairs of lenses were sold, up 4.4 percent from Q1 2016; these sales generated $3.71 billion in revenue — a 2.5 percent decrease over Q1 2016.
  • 29.9 million eye exams were performed — 110,000 more exams than the same quarter in 2016.

Looking at the vision care industry market over the past year, from March 2016 to March 2017, the report indicates that eyeglasses accounted for the largest share of the vision correction market at 55.6 percent, representing $22.43 billion in revenue — a decline of 0.3 percent over the past year.

Additionally, for that time period:

  • 74.45 million pairs of eyeglass frames were sold — a unit decrease of 0.1 percent from the previous year, resulting in a corresponding 0.1 percent decline in revenue.
  • 83.53 million pairs of lenses were sold — the same number of units sold in the previous year, with a revenue loss of 0.5 percent.
  • 95.4 million contact lens purchases occurred, up 2 percent, generating an increase of 4 percent in contact lens sales revenue.
  • 104.1 million pairs of sunglasses were sold — a decrease of 0.1 percent from the previous year with a revenue growth of 1.8 percent.
  • 52.09 million pairs of OTC readers were sold — up by 2.5 percent, with a 2.7 percent increase in revenue.
  • 905,000 refractive surgeries were performed — a decrease of 1.9 percent, resulting in a 1.5 percent decrease in revenue.

"We’ve seen a slow-down in growth in the industry as we look at the last year, from April 2016 through March 2017," said Steve Kodey, The Vision Council’s senior director of industry research. "Total dollar revenue for the industry grew by 0.7 percent — a continuation in the slowdown of industry growth that first started in late 2015.

He added: "Similar to the growth observed from 2012-2015, growth in the industry for 2016 and 2017 has been stronger among independent ECPs and online retailers than the growth experienced by conventional chain retailers or mass merchants."

Contact lenses have proved to be the strongest optical market over the year, up 4 percent to $4.89 billion in revenue, followed closely by exams which are up 1.7 percent to $6.05 billion. Plano sunglass sales have also seen growth, equally over the past two years, due to a balanced mix of increasing unit sales and rising prices. All other markets are currently flat or contracting slightly over the past couple years.

The independent side of the optical industry is by far the largest component of the U.S. vision care industry — generating $18.43 billion in revenue over the past year. When compared to dollar revenues from a year ago, the independent side of the industry was up by 1.1 percent. While eyeglass sales — both lenses and frames — make up the bulk of revenue for independent optical outlets, examinations are a close third with over $4.29 billion in revenue.

In one of the most striking figures coming from this quarter’s VisionWatch report, 45.4 percent of the U.S. adult population received an eye exam in the last year — a total of over 115 million exams generating $6.05 billion in dollar revenue. Older Americans were more likely than younger Americans to have received an eye exam during this time frame, and Americans with managed vision care coverage were more than twice as likely to have had an exam as Americans without coverage. What’s more, 57.5 percent of those adults getting their eyes examined made an eyewear purchase as a result of that exam. That amounts to about 66.1 million transactions.

"Maintaining growth in exams has been a major factor driving growth in the industry, but an even bigger factor has been the willingness of consumers to go out and make a purchase after getting an exam," Kodey said. "That 57.5 percent 'purchase after exam' ratio is down slightly from 2015 and 2016 but it is still as high as it was before the recession in 2008."

He continued: "Over the past year, certain groups of consumers (those from relatively lower-income households, people who have been using vision correction for less than five years and people without any form of managed vision care coverage) have all been slowing their purchases of optical products in response to uncertainty in the market. Conversely, the market has remained in positive growth territory thanks to stable and slightly rising purchases of optical products among people between the ages of 35 to 54 years old, people from relatively higher-income households and people with managed vision care coverage."

The report indicates that 83.5 million pairs of lenses were sold in the U.S. during the past year — 29,000 more pairs than the same period a year ago. Similar numbers are found for frames, with 74.4 million pairs of frames sold in the U.S. during that period, generating close to $9.71 billion in sales revenue. Sales of OTC readers grew 2.5 percent, generating $876 million dollars with 52.09 million unit pairs sold.

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