Weather Patterns and its Effect on the Optical Market

From early December 2013 through March and part of April 2014, the weather in the eastern portion of the US created a difficult retail shopping environment in the US.  Heavy snow, heavy winds, intense cold, flooding and other conditions led to treacherous travel conditions and in many cases closed offices. In the DC metro area, the federal government closed for 5 days and was delayed for an additional 12 days. Due to this federal government shutdown, many retail locations followed suite and many cities east of the Mississippi lost several sales days because of inclement weather.  As a result of the bad weather and closures, there was a notable impact on the optical and eyewear sales across the eastern portion of the country.

When assessing eye exams, the market saw a 3% increase in procedures during the 6ME period Mar’14 on a national scale (October 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014).  However, just about all of that growth occurred due to an increase in exam activity in the western region of the US.  We estimate that for the areas affected by bad weather, eye exams grew by only  1.1% for the 6 month period ending March 2014.  For the remainder of the country (not impacted as much by bad weather), exam growth was 4.8% — four times as much growth.  Rx eyeglasses also saw a similar trend as eye exams.  For contact lenses, however, weather conditions had almost no impact on sales and buying habits. Intrinsically, this makes sense for two reasons: (1) it is easier to shop for and buy contact lenses without having to travel to do so and (2) contact lenses are unlike eyeglasses (where you can simply extend the use of an older pair of glasses until it is convenient to replace them).  Many contact lenses users have to obtain new lenses on a regular schedule in order to see clearly and use the product.  Consequently, inclement weather conditions did not hurt contact lenses as much as other optical products.

In regard to sales of OTC readers and plano sunglass these products were also adversely affected by inclement weather conditions.  OTC readers sales patterns were similar to Rx optical sales; unit sales were up 1.2% in the Northeast and Southeast while the Midwest and Mountain-Pacific region grew by 3.9%.  For plano sunglasses, weather conditions had a significant negative impact on sales patterns. Unit sales for plano sunglasses declined by 1.0% in the Northeast and Southeast but rose by 3.0% in the Midwest and Mountain-Pacific.  The split in unit sales by region was similar for both the premium plano sunglass market and the popular-price / value plano sunglass market.  However, popular-price / value plano sunglasses saw slightly larger sales declines because of the weather.

Unfortunately, many business and economics experts are predicting that these difficult winter sales seasons may continue over the next decade as the world deals with the challenges and implications of global climate change.  On the other hand, we are also expecting a solid and strong summer and fall sunglass sales season in the Southeast as the 2014 hurricane forecast suggests only two storms will make it to landfall this year.  This will allow for more sunny weather days which will increase the number of possible shopping days.  Consequently, better weather will have a beneficial impact on eyewear sales—particularly plano sunglass sales.

The chart above was developed from a custom analysis of VisionWatch data and forms the basis for an upcoming consumer study that will occur in October 2014.  This study will attempt to learn more about the seasonal nature of eyewear purchases and how certain circumstances influence those purchase intentions and habits.  The Vision Council Market Research Team plans to examine how weather patterns, holidays, school closures, job loss, and other seasonal patterns that affect optical sales.  It is our hope that this study will give us a better understanding of how future weather seasons will impact sales activity and buying patterns.

Data in this article was compiled from VisionWatch, the large scale continuous research study conducted by The Vision Council. VisionWatch contains useful industry data on Rx lenses, ophthalmic frames, plano sunglasses, OTC reading glasses, LASIK, contact lenses and eye exams. For additional information, please contact Steve Kodey at 703-740-1095.


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