DOSSIER Covid-19 and the optical sector: Impact & consequences
Covid-19 is still here. However, in two years, many things have changed. Our approach to the disease and its evolution in particular. Far from public debate, the optical sector, like many others, has been hit hard. The impact and consequences of Covid-19 on the optical industry have begun a profound transformation. Autopsy of a phenomenon in progress.
Confinements: from closed to essential
The health crisis that started in 2020 is of course the confinements that have followed one another in France (three in one year). With one noticeable difference. The first confinement, we remember, was the most marked. Very limited outings and a short list of essential businesses. Among the latter, opticians. However, faced with the urgency of the situation and the shortage of protective equipment, many will be closed. They offer services via click and collect or drive. But also by appointment.
We understand then, there will be a before and an after confinement. Above all, despite the right to remain open, opticians find that the public is not there. At first, we only go out for emergencies and basic necessities. The consequences of Covid-19 will have repercussions on the optical sector as on all other sectors.
For any company, the blow is hard. Especially since two other confinements will follow. Less strict, but which will leave a lot of uncertainty and the conviction that a need to reorient oneself is important.
Solutions to recover
To do this, opticians and manufacturers will sometimes show originality, often agility. First of all, the mask is a real problem for spectacle wearers. Anti-fog products exploded. All-inclusive kits are even given never-before-seen promotional campaigns for optical accessories. This is the case of the anti-fog kit from Zeiss Vision which will take place even in the Paris metro. But the reflection goes further than the possibility of making additional sales.
Indeed, this problem calls into question the priorities while exacerbating the contradictions of the optical sector. While we see the most sophisticated equipment flourishing on the market, smart glasses and high tech optics on the front line, the lenses have not yet integrated anti-fog treatment?
Of course it is. And even since 2011. But here is a very little used segment. The Covid-19, again, changes the situation. Optics by appointment is one of these consequences. The impact of digitalisation, the use of telework, has made it possible to support these solutions so as not to remain waiting with folded arms. Moreover, the promotion of online optical tests, if not as relevant as those of a specialist, have the merit of keeping in touch with its customers.
A recovery in the form of a rebound
The crisis has had other collateral effects on the sector. Business closures and multiple restrictions on travel or family reunions have left users with choices. Since it was becoming complicated to travel, why not focus on other items of expenditure?
Glasses are one of them. And then, faced with the uncertainty of the evolution of the situation, and the risk of seeing other administrative closures or shortages of raw materials, we make sure that the whole family is better equipped.
Spending a lot more time at home, in front of screens in particular, played a major role in clients' approach to risk. Anti-blue light coatings have become even more important.
All of these factors have led to a considerable rebound in the optical industry . Logically, it was glasses that led to this rebound, while contact lenses and sunglasses lagged behind. The fact of going out less, again, played a role.
Eco-responsible optics have a role to play
We have seen the materialization, especially in the early stages of the crisis, of a strong questioning of our way of life. Public opinion, increasingly sensitive to environmental issues, could only note the beneficial effects of a virtual halt in the production of industrial goods. But also the significant drop in use of transport networks.
Optical manufacturers who already had this fiber in them saw it as an opportunity to strengthen their values. Market ecology then took another turn. Although there are still many steps to take, eco-responsible optics is no longer a niche segment, but an imponderable of the sector.
Faced with the approach, there is the need to go against the usurpers. Highlighting its ability to use renewable materials is useless if they have to be imported from the other side of the world. Using a local or responsible label is not necessarily a guarantee of quality, as the rules are sometimes incongruous.
Indeed, it is possible to obtain certain labels while having manufactured only one element of a mount according to its criteria. The health crisis will have contributed to creating a new horizon for actors who integrate responsible ecological and social values.
For the moment, if awareness is present, government initiatives are lacking to push manufacturers and traders to fully integrate these elements into their commercial and production chains. The optical sector may be one of the driving forces, as it has become aware of the problem.
The health crisis has, as a whole, redefined the bases of trade. The consequences of Covid-19 on the optical sector have been numerous. If we can expect to have to live with the virus, let's hope that this experience does not remain without follow-up in the face of the rules which can impact, upwards or downwards, a sector of activity. But nothing is less random.