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Massive Growth of Mainland Optical Market Proves Real Eye-opener

The Guangzhou International Optics Fair highlighted the huge potential of the mainland eyewear market, with the existing number of online and offline retailers unlikely to be able to meet growing demand predicted over the next three years.

Photo: Specialist eyewear for the younger generation.
Specialist eyewear for the younger generation.
Photo: Specialist eyewear for the younger generation.
Specialist eyewear for the younger generation.

According to chyxx.com, the website of the Industrial Information Network, the mainland eyewear sector will be worth more than RMB113.147 billion (US$16.3 billion) by 2019. It is currently valued at around RMB80 billion, with a total market of more than 800 million people who need some form of vision correction.

The success of the Internet Plus strategy – a combination of off- and online offerings – has given consumers a far greater choice of eyewear than ever before, while also introducing a new level of transparency to pricing. In a change to previous practices, many mainland consumers now own more than one pair of spectacles, with different glasses favoured for working, reading, socialising, travelling and outdoor activities.

According to the same statistics, even the combination of the current level of e-commerce operators and traditional retailers will not be enough to meet the future mainland demand for prescription eyeglasses. Quite clearly, then, there remains huge potential for new entrants to the sector.

Photo: The Bausch + Lomb stand.
The Bausch + Lomb stand.
Photo: The Bausch + Lomb stand.
The Bausch + Lomb stand.
Photo: Shanghai Lancia’s spectacle range.
Shanghai Lancia's spectacle range.
Photo: Shanghai Lancia’s spectacle range.
Shanghai Lancia's spectacle range.

Against such a backdrop, then, this year's Guangzhou International Optics Fair provided a revealing snapshot of the current state of the sector, highlighting both its strengths and the opportunities that lie ahead. One exhibitor at the event, Guangzhou Oriental Vision Chain, for instance, had more than 500 employees and operates some 50 specialised direct-sale chain stores, including outlets in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan. To date, the company ascribes its success to its championing of professional optometry technology.

According to a company representative, the business has not suffered unduly as a consequence of the rise of the e-commerce sector. In fact, the company believes its commitment to quality has seen it ward off any such threat. In order to maintain market share, the company has imported 6/6 Vision and Near Vision optometry technology from the UK and US respectively.

Similarly looking to maintain a technological advantage was Shanghai Lancia Glasses. According to Pan Qiang, the company's Sales Representative, its Rowaski range of rimless glasses was made utilising diamond-cutting technology. This is said to help tackle one of the most common problems with rimless glasses – the likelihood of the lenses coming loose. Compared with traditional screw-based designs, the Rowaski series features a seamless joint, which is said to noticeably reduce the problem.

Lancia also sets considerable stock by the style of its products. Typically, the company designs more that 100 new styles of glasses every year, but only initially releases a small test batch onto the market. Based on the feedback from this sample, the company then puts 20 styles into mass production.

Other eyewear companies were looking to build their own market share through a combination of value-for-money products and a high level of after-care service. One business championing this approach was Glasses Gotook. The company has outlets throughout Guangzhou and specialises in selling spectacle frames and lenses at a price designed to appeal to the mass market.

Following an initial eye test, each customer's prescription is accessible at any of the company's outlets. This gives consumers considerable flexibility – allowing them, for instance, to choose prescription glasses in one shop and collect them in another.

Apart from High Street optical stores, consumers are also increasingly turning to online vendors. One eyewear company that has adopted the O2O model is Shenzhen-based LOHO, with the business offering a combination of an online shopping mall and an offline experiential store. It also utilises the M2C (manufacturer-to-customer) direct sale model, eliminating the requirement for any third party intermediary and, reportedly, allowing the business to cut costs by up to 85%.

In order to meet the demands of this huge and rapidly-evolving market, the company offers new styles every week. It also offers a refund on the difference in price if a purchaser finds the same glasses available cheaper elsewhere within 10 days. In an additional incentive, it also offers a free lifelong spectacles cleaning service.

Optical Health

According to the National Vision Care Report, China's first white paper on optical health, nearly 500 million mainlanders over the age of five were recorded as suffering from some form of visual impairment in 2015, with about 450 million of them having myopia. By 2020, it is believed that figure will have grown by 51%, with some 700 million requiring corrective eyewear. Inevitably, then, vision restoration and improvement products were widely available at this year's fair.

Photo: Vision correction equipment from Liangshen.
Vision correction equipment from Liangshen.
Photo: Vision correction equipment from Liangshen.
Vision correction equipment from Liangshen.

Guangzhou-based Liangshen, for instance, has a particular focus on the treatment of childhood and teenage myopia and amblyopia, a condition also known as "lazy eye". Of late, the business has partnered with Yanzhixing and is looking to promote the Hong Kong company's range of corrective vision products across the mainland.

According to Zeng Guangsong, a Director of Liangshen, consumers are now paying increasing attention to their vision care and are willing to pay a premium to improve their sight. He said: "Through the Yanzhixing vision correction treatment programme, customers with an eyeglass prescription in the -1.00 range have a 90% chance of restoring their vision. Some consumers have had their sight restored after just one treatment."

Yanzhixing works closely with a number of conventional high street opticians and targets myopia suffers with an eyeglass prescription in the -0.50 to -3.00 range. Its treatment is said to not only helps consumers improve their vision, but to also provide an additional revenue stream for many optical outlets.

A number of high street outlets offering the Yanzhixing vision-correction service also provide prescription glasses. Even when the correctional treatment is a success, many consumers still find they need the sunglasses or reading glasses these outlets provide.

Signing up as a Yanzhixing franchisee costs around RMB128,000, which covers the cost of the required vision-correction equipment and full training on the system. According to Zeng, some outlets have enjoyed a return on their investment within the first month.

Photo: Adlens’ adjustable focus eyewear.
Adlens' adjustable focus eyewear.
Photo: Adlens’ adjustable focus eyewear.
Adlens' adjustable focus eyewear.
Photo: The Belik eye massager in action.
The Belik eye massager in action.
Photo: The Belik eye massager in action.
The Belik eye massager in action.

Guangzhou Yalin Glasses distributes a different take on remedial optic care – the Belik eye massager. According to Su Lihan, the company's General Manager, this particular massager is suitable for use by consumers aged eight and over. It works by warming, vibrating, kneading and massaging the eyes, improving oxygen transportation, strengthening elasticity in the lens and restoring flexibility to the ciliary muscle. Ultimately, this is said to improve blood circulation and relieve eye fatigue.

The company has been distributing the product since 2014, and it is also said to be available in Canada, the UK, Korea, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Stylish Eyewear

With mainland consumers increasingly seeking personalised products, glasses are now seen as stylish fashion accessories in addition to their role as necessary vision aids. This has led to consumers developing distinct preferences when it comes to frame styles and lens colours. At the same time, there has also been a marked upturn in the demand for sunglasses. In some cases, near-sighted consumers now wear contact lenses and sunglasses or order custom-made prescription sunglasses.

Photo: Panx’s virtual spectacle system.
Panx's virtual spectacle system.
Photo: Panx’s virtual spectacle system.
Panx's virtual spectacle system.

Capitalising on the more stylistic requirements of consumers, Guangzhou Panx Software Development chose this year's event to showcase its smart eyeglass virtual sampling system. This allows would-be purchasers to virtually try on a wide range of styles and colours of eyewear before making a commitment to buy.

Explaining the appeal of the system, Cheng Cangbo, the Sales Manager for Panx, said: "For the consumer, this is a whole new shopping experience. In the case of the outlets themselves, meanwhile, it also offers considerable saving on costs. With all the different frame styles stored virtually, this cuts down on the display space required, ultimately reducing rental costs.

"Thanks to precise data capture and face recognition technology, the system can make smart recommendations as to the optimal eyeglasses for any individual. It can also measure and factor in such details as pupillary distance, face width, the space between the eyes and eyebrows and the exact shape of the nose, ensuring that the perfect glasses can be specified."

Although the device is currently only available as a fixture, Cheng said the company was currently working on a more mobile version. There are also plans to combine the system with specialist optometry equipment in order to create a device capable of specifying prescriptions lenses while offering a selection of frames.

Aside from prescription glasses and sunglasses, contact lenses are also increasingly in demand. This is especially the case with female consumers, who particularly favour disposable contact lenses. One company looking to capitalise on this sector is Adlens, which offers adjustable high-tech lenses using the Alvarez Lens technology pioneered in the US. With each lens capable of being adjusted independently to meet the different requirements of the wearer, the technology is said to suit the needs of myopia, mid-range vision and hyperopia sufferers.

Photo: Sunglasses: Bright prospects for new models.
Sunglasses: Bright prospects for new models.
Photo: Sunglasses: Bright prospects for new models.
Sunglasses: Bright prospects for new models.

The Guangzhou International Optics Fair 2016 was held at the Poly World Trade Centre in Guangdong from 6-8 November.

Xing Bin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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