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Women driving demand for branded sunglasses

Suneera Tandon, MINT (A Wall Street Journal Partner)
April 16, 2013

Radio jockey Alisha Anand, 26, is ready to spend Rs.26,000 on a pair sunglasses from American luxury label Tom Ford this summer. The Delhi-based Anand, who works for 94.3 FM, budgets for a pair of new shades every summer, although she agrees that this year, “it’s a bit expensive”.

Women like Anand are driving up sales for companies such as Luxottica India Eyewear Pvt. Ltd. The local subsidiary of the Luxottica Group, which sells brands such as Ray-Ban and Oakley, has seen the number of women consumers double in the last four years, spurring demand for branded sunglasses.

“It’s largely an urban-centric consumption, driven by lifestyle changes, exposure to media and higher disposable incomes. Women are gaining more economic independence and can afford multiple ownership of products such as sunglasses,” said Amitabh Sehdev, head of marketing at Luxottica India, which also retails sunglasses branded Prada, Burberry and Vogue through 600 outlets across 90 cities.

Currently 40-45% of the collection in terms of volume is devoted to women’s products by Luxottica. The category is growing at 30% compared with 20% for men’s sunglasses, the company said.

According to a March 2012 report on the sector by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham), the sunglasses market was estimated at Rs.2,200 crore in 2012. The report suggested that premium sunglasses—brands such as Esprit, Giorgio Armani, Cartier, Tommy Hilfiger, Ray-Ban, Dolce and Gabbana, Calvin Klein and Police—are growing at 40% a year and that high-end eyewear accounts for about 30% of the market.

Maui Jim, the American eyewear brand that has been present in India since 2009, has increased the proportion of women’s sunglasses to 30% from 5%.

“We are seeing a big demand from women consumers coming from cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore,” said I. Rahumathullah, managing director, Maui Jim India. Higher disposable incomes and the need to match occasion and ensemble are among the reasons for this, he said.

While women are adding to the growing consumer base, the availability of multiple brands and a marked shift towards them are driving growth in the category, according to experts.

The availability and visibility of such products in retail areas such as malls is helping boost demand for sungalsses, said Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of New Delhi-based management consulting firm Third Eyesight. The difference in the growth rates is also because men generally go with one look that combines style and practicality, while women have a keener eye for style.

“Men would buy shades for protection and quality while women would go for multiple brands to suit different occasions,” Dutta said.

The availability of branded products has helped push sales, said Ravi Kant, chief executive officer, eyewear business at Titan Industries Ltd, which operates 220 Titan Eye+ stores in 72 cities that sell brands such as Vogue, Cabana, Esprit, Fastrack and Ray-Ban, among others.

“Earlier, the optical outlet was the brand, but today consumers differentiate one brand from another,” he said, adding that people who come into the stores now ask for brands by name.

Preferences differ by region, according to the trade. In the north, women like glasses with logos prominently emblazoned on them. Consequently, luxury labels such as Armani and Dolce and Gabbana are popular there.

Kolkata-based retailer GKB Opticals has seen demand for brands at its 60 stories across the country, with customers seeking out sunglasses carrying names such as Jimmy Choo, Vogue, Ray-Ban and Prada.

Over the past two years, women sunglasses buyers have doubled at GKB, according to Dibyendu Roy, national sales manager, who feels that the presence of dedicated multi-brand retail outlets have improved the sales scope of the item.

The growing number of women consumers is good news for companies as they tend to spend more than men, according to Amit Chaudhary, co-founder and chief operating officer at Lenskart.com, the online retailer that said it gets up to 2,000 orders per day for products such as frames and sunglasses.

He said the average price of sunglasses bought by women is higher than that purchased by men. “They spend more time reviewing the product and are more focused on quality. Men are impulsive buyers,” he said.

The site sells brands such as Prada, Burberry, Ray-Ban, Maui Jim and Vogue. The proportion of women online shoppers has risen to 35% from 25% about two years back.

“Consumers are spending more on the category overall,” said Roy of GKB, which also witnessed a rise in average price tags of sunglasses sold, especially to women.

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