Market Watch

The opportunity in this industry is hiding in plain sight

Like Clark Kent, opportunities in the eyewear industry are hiding in plain sight 

If someone had told me in 2017 that a pair of glasses starting at £30 (41 USD) will help me look stylish, promote better eye health and create jobs in the UK at the same time, I wouldn’t have believed them. But that is what Specscart has been doing for the past 4 years. No matter which frames you buy, they come fully loaded with free protective coatings, free shipping all over the world and such a wide choice of designs that will put Netflix’s content library to shame. With all these features, Specscart is a rising Manchester startup that wants to revolutionise the eyewear industry. 

The same industry that grew by around 6% in 2020, with around 500 funding rounds and more than 100 acquisitions. It was valued at USD 147.60 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 8.5% every year till 2028. Though lockdowns in various countries led to a decrease in revenue, online sales continue to remain robust. In fact, eyewear companies continue to invest in brick-and-mortar stores, to promote omnichannel retail, increase their branding and create a direct connection with customers. And not just sunglasses, spectacles are leading this march. I used to think that glasses are a sleepy, slow-moving market, but this rapid growth has made me clean my spectacles and take a closer look. 

The rise of Direct-To-Consumer companies 

That the eyewear industry is dominated by one big, Italian giant is no secret. Apart from that, a few retail chains and lots of small, independent optometrists dot the landscape. With more awareness among people, Direct-to-Consumer companies have cropped up around the world in the last 10 years, which offer designer quality glasses at a fraction of the cost of high street labels. But not all of them make the cut. What sets apart the successful ones, like Warby Parker in the US and Specscart in the UK? 

They recognise the true opportunity that this market has to offer. There is no other product in the world that fits such extreme categories as glasses – an unwanted optical device for some, a sought-after fashion accessory for others. The same product helps us drive at night, work on computers for long hours, create a strong impression on the first day of work and start a conversation at a bar (and even help disguise superheroes). The success of your brand lies in understanding the perception of your product among the customers. Whether it is lifestyle changes, widespread use of social media, or usage in popular culture – glasses are a statement of style now. 

The role of the pandemic 

But for most, the road to glasses starts with a need. In the past few years – and especially during the pandemic – people’s screen times have gone up. From work to endless scrolling on social media, from binge-watching shows to gaming, everything is done looking at some digital screen or the other. According to a study by Bloomberg, this might be leading to more vision problems among people, including both near- and far-sightedness. Then there’s the recent debate about LED blue light which is apparently harmful to the eyes. Startups like Specscart even offer free eye tests for everyone at their stores. 

Sid Sethi, its 26-year-old founder says, “We always wanted to promote prescription glasses as a fast fashion accessory, which is sustainably produced. If people can express themselves through sneakers and watches, why not glasses – which might be the most personal accessory you can own? We do this by making the glasses-buying experience simple and pleasant. With free eye tests and protective coatings, we also want to promote better eye care. Most of the time people wait till things get worse, but regular eye tests can detect most vision problems – even other body diseases like diabetes – in their early stages.”   

Its free protective coatings, including anti-scratch, anti-UV and anti-glare, are usually sold at big markups by retail chains – another source of profit. It has its own lab and 2 stores in Manchester, and the e-commerce website allows it to ship all around the world – even as far as the Falkland Islands and Malaysia. It is through initiatives like these that Specscart and other D-T-C companies around the world are paving the way for a more honest, consumer-conscious market while creating a name for themselves. Although fake brands do plague the market, disciplined, sustainable and well-founded brands with quality services will continue to thrive.  

By 2028, the industry is expected to touch USD 278.95 billion. New style trends and evolving technology continue to mix and create the latest glasses – flexible glasses for sports lovers, gaming glasses for gamers, eco-friendly wooden glasses, etc. As the industry grows, so will revenue and profits. 

Just what the (eye) doctor ordered.