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Being online 'essential' for optical businesses.

AN ONLINE presence is essential for all optical businesses, the Federation of Manufacturing Opticians (FMO) was told by two experts. At one of its best-attended meetings for years, 70 company representatives visited the NEC last week for the event which had the topical theme of addressing the tough trading conditions.

Internet penetration has reached nearly three quarters of adults, highlighted the FMO statistics adviser, Mark Honeywell (pictured right). He reported that Broadband penetration rose from 61.5% in 2008 to 74.1% in 2012.

"This has massive implications for the way that consumers look for information and access," he warned.

Internet sales as a percentage of all retailing rose from just over 2% in 2006 to 11% in 2012. Presenting a 'snapshot' of optical online activity, he said that in August 2012, Specsavers had 342,000 unique online visitors while Optical Express had 250,000.

"Opticians should definitely embrace the possibilities of having an online presence," he said, highlighting that practices also need to drive up awareness of their services and aftercare to convince browsers of the benefits of opting to go to the opticians for goods, rather than to look for discounts online.

The current poor state of the High Street, with one in nine units standing empty and the creep of pound shops and charity outlets, echoed the figures presented of optical appliance renewal rates stretching to three to four years. Some 20 million people are failing to have regular eye examinations and 10% of the population have never visited an optician, he reported.

However, with a population expected to be in excess of 67 million, and with the 45+ age group market growing from 26.2 million to 29.6 million from 2010 to 2020, there was some cause for optimism.

"The underlying growth in the whole size of the population is positive news for opticians," said Mr Honeywell. "In the five years from 2012-2017, there will be a 4% growth in overall numbers in the UK. It is forecast by Mintel that consumer spending on optical goods and services will grow by 14.3%. We expect innovation, fashion, branding and underlying growth of the population to influence this growth"

He encouraged independents to focus on "traffic building" differentiation and to trade up, improving "the product mix to stay ahead of the game while offering prestigious brands and personal advice"

With the present optical scene set, respected management consultant Jean Pousson (pictured left) stressed the need for optical businesses to have a good strategy and a clear business plan. He warned that the dynamics of industry are changing and that the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' mentality was not one for a business of today.

"Word of mouth has been replaced by word of mouse," he warned. Giving an example, he said that when Becks beer began being brewed in the USA instead of Germany it sparked "an online Tsunami wildfire" which resulted in a 14% drop in sales. "The use of technology is changing behaviour," he said, pointing out that the Internet is "open all hours"

"Your online presence is very important," he reiterated. "You need to be smart in business and to look at the changing dynamics. Sometimes competitors are not who you think they might be and new people coming into the market tend to break the rules."

Robina Moss
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Title Annotation:NEWS EXTRA
Author:Moss, Robina
Publication:Optometry Today
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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