Everybody expects an upward trend in vision care between August and December every year. With back-to-school and end-of-summer prep in August and the end-of-year health savings account usage in December, these are traditionally the busiest months in most practices. Business managers and savvy optical managers plan marketing budgets, inventory management, and staffing considerations around those peak months. With the disruptions of recent events, consumer patterns and preferences may be changing, not least because many patients have developed a better appreciation for the importance of keeping their eye care and eye wear up-to-date. In this article, we’re looking at how those seasonal patterns have shifted in the face of the unique pressures of the past two years.
We reviewed the monthly activity among 1,600 eyecare providers spread across the US, who provided continuous reporting over the past 6 years. We measured the monthly units sold across four major categories: eye exams, frames, lenses, and contact lenses.
Over the 2 years 2016-2017, exams and contact lenses peaked in August while frame and lens units peaked in December, edging out August volume. In 2018, all categories peaked in August, and while this pattern continued in 2019 for exams and contact lenses, 2019 saw a January peak for frames and lenses, edging out December for frames and August for lenses. A significant disruption to the traditional August exam peak occurred in 2020, with January amassing the largest share of the annual volume of eye exams and contact lenses just before the pandemic swept in. And, 2020, saw frame and lens sales peaks in December. In 2021, exams, frames and lenses peaked in March while contact lenses had maximum monthly unit sales in August.
Seasonal sales patterns of eye exams, contact lenses and eyeglasses have been disrupted. While we can’t definitively say that COVID-19 is the cause, and there are clearly other variables at play, there appears to be a correlation between the positivity rate and the changes in peak months. The volume was inversely linked to COVID risk in 2020, but that pattern vanished in 2021. A new normal is yet to be established and we will continue to monitor these trends.