Retail in Asia


The eyewear industry opportunity in Southeast Asia

The eyewear industry in Southeast Asia is on a growth trajectory. The market for eyewear is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.98 percent between 2021-2025. In 2021, revenue in the eyewear market in Southeast Asia was US$2.96 billion.

In particular, Singapore’s eyewear market is booming. Revenue in the Singapore eyewear market amounted to US$348 million in 2021 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.13 percent in the next five years. By 2025, Singapore’s market is expected to be flooded with 38.8 million pieces of eyewear products.

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The pandemic thrust

Awareness around eyecare and regular use of prescribed lenses is big among Singapore residents. A regular person owns two to three spectacles. One for daily use, the other for occasional use and the third for office wear. This attitude towards better eyecare existed even before the pandemic.

Being a small country area-wise, most eyewear shops are also located within a kilometre of residential areas. This proximity to brick-and-mortar optical stores means most Singaporeans prefer walking over to the nearest store and buying their choice of eyewear.

However, this preference towards buying eyewear offline underwent a fundamental shift when the pandemic hit. Although optical stores were allowed to operate as an essential service, most avoided the physical stores and opted to shop online for their next eyewear. Fear of contracting the virus and social distancing measures kept people from venturing out and purchasing from physical stores.

Different waves of COVID-19 also impacted the supply chain for eyewear. The impacts were felt across the whole value chain. Manufacturers of eye frames and contact lenses were impacted by prolonged closures and lack of labour. Witnessing this, eyewear retailers buckled under pressure – with most either cutting down operations or liquidating completely.

But eyewear companies such as Lenskart were quick to pivot. Lenskart—one of the top three eyewear players in Singapore—launched its proprietary Virtual AR tool that allows customers to try hundreds of eyeglasses and sunglasses from the comfort of their homes. It was an instant hit among customers.

Lenskart now has 35 percent of its regular customers purchasing online, while 65 percent are experimenting with both online and offline channels for their next eyewear purchase.

How Singapore is setting an example

Singapore is paving the way for the entire eyewear ecosystem to grow and setting standards for the region.

Awareness and on-time treatment against vision loss is a prominent fact witnessed among Singaporean residents. More than half (57 percent) of the surveyed parents in Singapore correctly identified the prevalence of myopia among secondary school-going children.

Additionally, efforts by the Singapore government to tackle the rise of vision impairment is commendable. Singapore’s Health Promotion Board has set up the National Myopia Prevention Programme which has been running since 2001. The programme runs annual vision screening in pre-schools, primary and secondary schools.

Research is also a critical area, which can help deliver better care for people living with myopia. The Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) has been conducting research in myopia since 1996, and been successful in developing the protocol for low dose atropine eye drop usage to retard myopia progression in children above the age of six.

In 2018, SERI and Singapore National Eye Centre’s Myopia Centre launched a collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Vision to better understand the causes of myopia as well as develop prevention and treatment modalities. This collaboration has yielded successful results.

Opportunities in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is quickly emerging as a strong market for the eyewear industry. Companies like Lenskart have plans to further expand in the region. Lenskart presently has 20 brick-and-mortar stores located in Singapore, which is a lot considering the size of the country. And by 2022, Lenskart plans to open around 60 stores in Indonesia and Vietnam.

The region also has an estimated 95 million people suffering with vision loss as of 2020. Singapore in particular has the highest prevalence of myopia (the inability to see things clearly when they are far away) in the world. Singapore is often labelled as the “Myopia Capital of the World” as 65 percent of its children and 83 percent of its young adults are myopic. And it is projected that 80 percent to 90 percent of all Singaporean adults above the age of 18 years old will be myopic by 2050.

A lot of this is due to the prevalent lifestyle among Singaporean residents. Main causes of myopia are due to less sunlight and increased time spent in front of mobile and laptop screens. Almost nine out of ten (87.7 percent) parents in Singapore agreed that outdoor activity and natural light exposure are effective strategies in preventing the onset and progression of myopia among school-going children.

The region is also dogged by a fast-ageing population. An estimated 15 percent of the overall ASEAN population will be older than 65 by 2040. And nearly three out of ten people (29.1 percent) in Singapore will be above the age of 65.

Future of eyewear in Southeast Asia

The region looks primed for acceleration of the eyewear industry. There are many reasons for this. First are the growing investments in research and development of emerging technologies in the region. This has led to the development of the eyewear ecosystem and success stories for advanced technologies such as AI, IoT and VR/AR can be found across the region.

Second is the favourable policies being developed by governments in the region. For instance, Singapore encouraging increased collaboration among private players and institutions in the fields of science and technology.

Third is the growth in incomes and spending power of Southeast Asian people. This increased income has brought with it increased spending power coupled with rising health awareness, which is proving a strong accelerator for the industry.

Finally, companies such as Lenskart are both revolutionising and pioneering the use of technology and their omnichannel capabilities to cater to the diverging and changing demands within the region. Lenskart was the first to launch a dedicated eyewear app in Singapore. The app allows users to try a virtual 3D try-on tool with AI-powered facial mapping and frame recommendation features for a seamless shopping experience. The app also allows users to order their eyewear online with the benefits of free doorstep delivery.

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As consumer habits change rapidly across the region, it is necessary that companies evolve in tandem. The eyewear industry is no different. Innovation will remain key to delight customers and it is essential that companies adapt to changing realities to remain relevant. At the end, the opportunity in the eyewear industry in the region is immense.

Author:  Anantha Nayak, Chief Business Officer, Southeast Asia at Lenskart

Disclaimer: The views and opinion expressed in the article belong solely to the original author and do not represent the views, opinions and position of Retail in Asia.