Seeing value in the optical care business

More than 11 million Americans are living with an uncorrected vision problem, according to the Vision Council of America, and 1-in-4 children have a common eye disease or other vision problem that goes undetected.

That void in health delivery is one factor that compels retail giants like Walmart, Sam’s Club and Costco to maintain big stakes in the store-based optical care business. Another is the sheer size of the vision care market: roughly $28 billion in total sales of vision care products and services sold at all optical retail locations in 2010, according to Jobson Publishing’s Vision Monday report — mass merchants captured $2.3 billion of that.

While it has made no definitive announcement that it intends to open optical centers here in the United States, one area of the Alliance Boots business that Walgreens no doubt will watch and learn from is Boots’ substantial optical business, which represents about 5% of the company’s revenues.

Besides their direct sales contribution, optical centers also can be a significant source of prescriptions, both for vision correction and related eye treatments.

No doubt fueled by the aging baby boomer market, “cheaters” were the top-selling optical item last year, up 6.5%, according to the Vision Council. Contact lenses were up 3.9% and eye exams grew 4.9%.

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