Consumers and retailers are turning their attention to a spurt of activity in the burgeoning eye and ear segments.
In fact, a push towards self-care, as well as a continuing focus on more natural products and the rise of e-commerce and omnichannel, is helping the segments get more attention on retail shelves and drive a simmering need to innovate by a number of manufacturers.
The result, many said, is a strong uptick in interest in the category among consumers, who are eager for more quality and variation from the categories and seem willing to pay for it.
Yet it is self-care, a hot topic in the OTC space even before anyone had heard of COVID-19, that is starting to play a major role in eye and ear segments and taking relatively staid categories and adding some excitement to them.
A February report from L.E.K. Consulting, a global agency with its largest office in Boston, took a look at the top consumer health trends brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its authors, Adrienne Rivlin and Geoff Parkin, said that a major trend is a focus on self-care solutions.
L.E.K.’s report cited European research from GSK Consumer Healthcare, which found that 65% of consumers in Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom are more likely to consider their health when making day-to-day decisions, and 80% said they would pursue self-care offerings to help unburden health systems that have been stretched thin by the pandemic.
For executives at companies playing in eye and ear care, this trend comes as no surprise.
“Avoiding doctor visits through self-care was already a strong trend before the pandemic. Consumers had no other choice during the shutdown,” said Marsha Garcia, CEO of Doctor Easy, whose flagship product is the WaxRx Ear Wash System. “Even with increased access to medical care these days, as retail reopens, the trend toward self-care will remain the driving behavior of consumers.”
In fact, it is consumers who seem to be catching up to Garcia’s company. She said WaxRx was introduced as a way to offer an at-home solution for a common problem that sent people to the doctor’s office.
“Prior to the introduction of WaxRx, consumers often could not find relief from ear wax impaction with OTC treatments,” Garcia said. “This led to more than 8 million doctor visits a year. With its history of first inventing spray ear wash technology in 1997, and then supplying ear washers to medical professionals for 25 years, Doctor Easy welcomed the opportunity to meet consumer demand for professional-grade ear cleaning with its WaxRx Ear Wash System.”
The L.E.K. report noted that vitamins and dietary supplements are positioned to see particularly strong growth as prevention-focused consumers prioritize their health. This is an area where eye care suppliers have been making big inroads, in particular industry leader Bausch + Lomb.
Brick-and-mortar stores also offer an opportunity for cross merchandising, according to Dr. Easy’s Garcia. “I love seeing innovative cross promotions in stores, such as when grocers stock the bananas, pudding and cookie wafers in one display, prompting consumers to buy all three,” she said. “Pharmacies can mimic this strategy by placing WaxRx not only in the ear care aisle, but also near the hearing aid batteries. A simple reminder that earwax is the No. 1 killer of hearing aids can prompt consumers to purchase WaxRx along with the batteries.”
The company also recently introduced Earvana Ear Rinse for dry ear skin itch that also is recommended for use as an after-swim ear rinse. “Placing Earvana near the suntan lotion would be another idea for cross marketing of products often used in tandem,” Garcia said, noting that an e-commerce offering that includes “frequently bought together” callouts would be an effective way to cross merchandise as well.
As the online/in-store dichotomy continues to be subsumed by the rise of omnichannel, TRP’s Hanson said both will offer their own benefits for consumers. “Once clearly defined, the boundaries between traditional retail locations and e-commerce platforms continue to blur,” she said. “The differences between brands will become more apparent to the consumer in this digital space, ultimately influencing the consumer’s decision-making process. For retailers, the goal is to create a user-friendly online experience coupled with effective ways of cutting cost and delivering orders quickly, as same-day and next-day delivery are the new standard.”
The L.E.K. report offered some advice for the road ahead: “Consumer healthcare companies could educate their customers more effectively, both in disease awareness and management, as well as about their own brands. They could improve their education sessions with pharmacists and enhance their social media and other digital channels for end consumers.”