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August/September 2010

Eyewear’s top performers:

What buyer's value

A fashionista trying on different styles to find the coolest pair of shades is a far cry from the techno savvy sport or outdoor enthusiast looking for performance eyewear. BEVAN FRANK canvassed some retailer opinions about the features that buyers of performance eyewear value

Eyewear developed for a specific sport or activity is high on the shopping list of customers looking for eye protection when participating in sport or outdoor activities. You can expect that your customers will most likely be aware of the specific eyewear requirements of their sport — for example, wind protection when cycling or windsurfing, glare protection when fishing, etc. And they will expect you to sell them performance eyewear best suited to that specific activity.

That is the opinion of sport and outdoor retailers catering for customers participating in a variety of activities.

“As with any other technical equipment you need to choose the correct amount of eye protection for your sport,” says Duncan Pattenden of Orca Industries, who caters for outdoor customers who enjoy climbing, diving and adventure sport activities. “You would not climb Table Mountain in your Nike running shoes — no matter how good you look or how expensive they were — likewise you would not run a half marathon in a pair of Croc's. Eyewear is the same and a retailer should provide professional assistance and advice to help customers to select the right product.”

“Customers now purchase their eyewear according to the requirements of their sport, whether it is for snow, sea or sand… for example, some lenses are photochromatic and will darken proportionately to the light they are exposed to,” adds Pattenden.

Lens technologies

Performance features, like sophisticated lens technologies, have become the main selling points for people buying sports eyewear.

Fly fishing customers of Mark Yelland’s Fly Shop would, for example, not buy anything but polarized eyewear. The same applies to mountain bikers, adds James Mostert of Sport Unlimited, a Western Cape chain of sport and outdoor stores. “With the introduction of transition lenses you can have a lens that will adapt to the various light conditions encountered in mountain biking, from riding in the shadows of trees to the bright sunlight.”

Cyclists will also want impact resistant lenses, adds cycling specialist retailer Bruce Reyneke.

Most customers are well-informed and “I’d go so far as to say that our customers expect our products to offer these performance features as a minimum requirement,” remarks Evan Torrance of Cape Union Mart.

But not all customers are equally well informed. Many customers shopping at their Sports Horizons sport store are not aware of the technology available in the sports performance lenses, comments Dale Hermanson. It is therefore the responsibility of the retailer to educate enquiring customers about the technology available, and discuss which lenses would suit their sport and needs.

This would include alerting them to the fact that even when a customer asks for a feature like polarized lenses, they would not be suitable for all activities, cautions Pattenden. “These days many bikes, microlites, cars, yachts and even road runners have digital instruments such as GPS’, cell phones and computers with LCD screen displays — the polarized lenses can reduce the visibility of the LCD screens, thus making split second decisions a problem.”

Brand affinity

Many performance eyewear brands are closely associated with a specific sport or activity and this has the benefit that the retailer knows that he can rely on the brand’s expertise when asked to recommend eyewear for a specific sport.

“What’s great is that the various brands are designing performance eyewear tailor made for specific sports,” comments Mostert. “You wouldn’t want to make the mistake of selling a pair of fashion sunglasses to a runner needing something that would help him or her feel comfortable on the road.”

While stockists of fashion eyewear would offer a wide selection of brands, specialist and sport retailers tend to stock eyewear from one or a few brands associated with a specific activity.

This stock selection would partly be driven by demand from customers who know which brands are associated with their sport. But it would also be influenced by the brands offered by trusted agents. A surf store buyer will, for example, be more inclined to trust recommendations from the surf brand agents who regularly call, than an agent from a cycling brand offering eyewear.

Other retailers, like Greg Bing of AP Jones in Fish Hoek, a general store that caters for a wide selection of sports and outdoor activities, prefer to stock only one eyewear brand with a wide enough variety in its range to cover most requests, offers protective technology and is reasonably priced.

In shopping malls, where you would find occasional as well as destinational shoppers, customers generally fall into one of two categories, remarks Torrance. “There are those who are searching for a product based on a particular activity and don’t care about the brand provided that it a) looks good, b) does a particular job, and c) meets their requirements from a cost or budget perspective. And then there are those that are loyal to a specific brand of eyewear.”

Requests for a specific brand name is often influenced by research the customer did that told him that a specific brand is recommended, or highly rated, by people participating in a specific sport or activity. Most customers are getting pretty clued up with regard to eyewear as it is becoming an expensive purchase to make, says Mostert. “It’s a more calculated purchase than an impulse buy.”

Not all customers, however, are equally brand conscious — and the degree of affinity to a specific brand is often tempered by the price. “For the price sensitive customer, brand is less important,” believes John Black of Outland Distributors, who has experience buying equipment for major chain and department stores.


Retailers disagree about the importance of price for customers buying performance eyewear.

In the fishing industry, for example, customers do look at pricing, Yelland found. Others found that pricing is not such a clear-cut factor: according to Black price sensitivity depends on the customer, although even customers who are looking for a specific brand will very often look at price points within that brand.

“You will always get customers asking about price first and that will determine their selection of eyewear brand, but the majority of serious customers are looking for eyewear with a specific function and are not too worried about price, but more about the function of the eyewear,” adds Mostert.

Frame style

There is also a difference of opinion about the importance of frame and lens styles in performance eyewear. While some customers would be more inclined to browse by style or look than price point, others found that performance features are more important than shapes and colours.

“I can't speak for the image conscious sportsman,” says Pattenden, “But I get the impression that as long as you look cool and not like grandma, shapes and colours come second to features such as strength, UV protection, polarization and floating frame (i.e. for kite surfers).”

While frames and colour will always play a part when choosing eyewear, as the wearer also wants to look good, it’s not the main specification when a customer walks in, adds Mostert. Although many customers are aware of the various frame technologies that are available, there does not seem to be much interest in them. “Frame technologies do not tend to be as important as the lens technology,” says Hermanson.

“Comfort is the most important feature available from the frame.”

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