Summary: Summer is coming, and its prime time for vacations – and beach sunglasses. Maybe your customer is a surfer, and needs shades that can take constant action. Maybe that customer is a parent trying understand UVA ratings because the family is headed to the beach. Or maybe that customer is a college kid who just wants to look cool while flirting with lifeguards at the ocean.
Do you have the answers for all of them?
Customers want sunglasses that look terrific, but they find problems – this pair of frames is too large, that pair is too small; the aviators fit, but the blue lenses seem weird. They look at the UVA ratings, though they aren't sure exactly how to interpret them. And they probably wonder if $150 sunglasses are better for their eyes than the $12 ones.
You have a lot of competition when it comes to selling beach sunglasses: free-standing stores in the mall, round kiosks in drugstores, dozens of online web sites, even ebay and craigslist. But some key information can help you win the sale.
UNDERSTAND THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR: EYE HEALTH
The National Eye Institute wants consumers to know that just as excessive sun exposure can damage your skin, it also can damage your eyes over time, causing photokeratitis or contributing to cataracts, macular degeneration or pterygium. The culprit is ultraviolet radiation (UV).
"If your eyes are exposed to excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time, you will likely experience photokeratitis, says the American Optometric Association. "Like a 'sunburn of the eye,' photokeratitis can be painful. Its symptoms include red eyes, a foreign body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing. Fortunately, these symptoms are usually temporary and rarely cause permanent damage to the eyes. The longer the eyes are exposed to solar radiation, the greater the risk of developing cataracts or macular degeneration later in life."
Skin cancers of the eyelid also occur, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, and are another reason to be sure the eye is protected. Skin cancers of the eyelid, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, account for 5 to 10 percent of all skin cancers.
The sun's UV radiation breaks down into three types: UV-A, UV-B and UV-C. We needn't worry about UV-C rays; the earth's ozone layer absorbs them. But both UV-A and UV-B rays penetrate that layer and can cause damage.
You can choose sunglasses that screen out most of the damaging UV rays, but the tag or label needs to say that they "block 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B rays."
"Skip sunglasses that neglect to offer details about their UV protection," says the Mayo Clinic. "Keep in mind that the color and degree of darkness sunglasses provide have nothing to do with the sunglasses' ability to block UV rays. Also, opt for wraparound sunglasses or close-fitting sunglasses with wide lenses that protect your eyes from every angle."
SAND, WIND AND WATER CAN INTENSIFY THE SUN AT THE BEACH
It's not surprising that going to the beach is such a favorite activity for people of all ages. But the same things that make it beautiful can make it harder on the eyes. The long, white strips of sand and the water stretching to the horizon reflect the sun's light (and therefore its UV rays), while an offshore breeze can blow grains of sand into a person's eye, causing irritation.
Sunglasses with polarized lenses are most often recommended for the beach, cutting the glare from the sand and water. The American Academy of Ophthalmology notes that polarization isn't connected to UV light absorption, though many polarized lenses are now combined with a UV-blocking substance. Check the tag or label to be sure.
Polarized sunglasses "are manufactured to enhance your vision and clarity on the water, allowing you to focus the way you need to focus," according to Olympic Eyewear. "Polarized sunglasses have special benefits for fishermen too – while it cuts away the glare, it adds more depth and clarity to water, so that fishermen get help seeing fish swimming beneath the water surface and underwater structures that impact angling choices."
Don't forget that your eyes need protection on overcast days, too. The sun's UV rays easily penetrate the cloud level and damage your eyes if you are outside for a significant length of time and you aren't wearing sunglasses.
Sunglasses magazine asked "beach pros" – professional and champion beach volleyball players and surfers – whether sunglasses are important in their sports.
"Sunglasses are essential to both my profession and my lifestyle," said Olympics beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh. "The right pair of sunglasses provides me with amazing fit, protection, functionality, and style. I need to deal with a lot of elements when I compete, and my sunglasses allow me to focus on my game and not on "dealing" with the sand, wind, sun, etc."
Pro surfer Fred Patacchia feels the same. "The sunglasses I wear are very important to my day-to-day life. I'm constantly outdoors and exposed to the sun," he said. "Every morning, I grab my surfboard, surf shorts, sunglasses, and I'm out the door. When I'm not surfing, I like to fish off my kayak or jet ski; I never go fishing without my sunglasses."
PRICE DOESN'T NECESSARILY REFLECT VALUE OF BEACH SUNGLASSES
Sure, there's a certain cachet with designer sunglasses. And consumers have been trained to think that "you get what you pay for," meaning that in general, the more you pay, the better a product you will receive. But that's not necessarily the case with sunglasses.
A Wall Street Journal columnist wants consumers to know these things:
- Most sunglasses are made by the same company. The Italian manufacturer Luxottica makes sunglasses for Prada, Burberry, Chanel, Polo Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana, Tiffany and Donna Karan, among many others.
- In many cases, the same company is also selling you the glasses, which builds profit into multiple levels. Luxottica also owns LensCrafters, Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut.
- The markups are as big as they seem. In the article, Luxottica says it makes a gross profit of 64 cents on each dollar of sales. Even after deducting sales and advertising costs, overhead and brand licensing royalties it's still making 52 cents.
- Those expensive sunglasses may not be any better for your eyes. "A significant chunk of what you pay for isn't the quality of the lenses, it's the brand," said Reza Dana, director of the cornea and refractive surgery service at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. He notes that making lenses that offer protection against harmful ultra-violet rays "isn't very expensive technology."
To try to determine whether there's a difference in UV protection between expensive and inexpensive sunglasses, Good Morning America purchased a variety of sunglasses at different price levels and asked Dr. Dennis Fong, clinical faculty at the School of Optometry at the University of California, Berkeley, to test the sunglasses for UV protection. Fong used a spectrophotometer to measure the UV light going through the lenses. His result? That the 11 pairs of inexpensive sunglasses tested performed just as well as the more expensive pairs.
SO HOW SHOULD YOUR CUSTOMER CHOOSE BEACH SUNGLASSES?
First, of course, you want to steer customers toward sunglasses that have 99-100% protection against UV-A and UV-B light. Then you might discuss the different types of lenses available for different conditions.
In addition to polarized lenses, there are many other characteristics that might appeal to certain consumers. Blue-blocking lenses, for instance, make distant objects easier to see; photochromatic lenses darken or lighten depending on how bright the surroundings are. Active beach-goers might benefit from polycarbonate lenses, which offer impact protection. Mirror-coated lenses reduce the total amount of visible light, while gradiant lenses (dark on the top and lighter on the bottom, a setup that acts almost like a sun visor in the car) reduce glare from above while allowing clearer vision below.
Does the tinted color of sunglasses matter? In some cases, yes. AllAboutVision.com offers a chart of lens colors and the circumstances for when each is most effective, compiled by senior editor Gary Heiting, OD. Lens tints come in yellow, orange, amber, rose, red, dark amber, copper, brown, green and gray; the colors do such things as heighten contrast, reduce brightness, block blue light or preserve normal color recognition. Amber, copper or brown lenses, for example, block high amounts of blue light, which heightens contrast on grass and against blue skies; it makes them particularly effective on golf courses and in water sports.
After those considerations, selecting sunglasses comes down to style and personal preference. The NPD Group, which tracks sales data through retail partners and consumers, did a recent analysis of the continued success of the sunglasses market. According to NPD's analysis, the industry grew 2 percent to $4 billion in the 12 months ending in June 2015, led by consumers in the Millennial and Baby Boom demographics. Younger buyers and women tend to focus on fashion styles, while older buyers and men tend more toward function.
"Male or female, the Millennial generation is increasing its spending faster than any other group," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the company. "But as consumers age, style and feature preferences change – fashion-focused sunglasses become less popular, while sporty, and basic/classic options gain share."
And finally, consumers who want the high style of designer sunglasses without the high price will often be drawn to high-quality designer lookalikes for their beach holiday.
WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS AND BEACH SUNGLASSES?
Children need eye protection even more than adults do, according to Christina Moon, MD, Director of Cornea and Refractive Surgery in the Division of Ophthalmology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in an interview with Boston's WCVB5. About 50 percent of actual eye damage occurs before the age of 18.
"The natural lens in your eye blocks out more UV light as you get older," Moon says. "So the younger you are, the more important it is to protect your eyes from UV rays."
And don't think that a cloudy day negates the need for sunglasses. Even though it seems odd, "You can get as much, or even more, sun exposure on an overcast day than you can on a bright day," Moon says.
The sunglasses market is thriving, and sunglasses are one of the most common items that consumers take to the beach. But buyers need to understand the importance of ultraviolet light protection, and will benefit from knowing the differences between types of lenses. It is a myth that the more expensive sunglasses are always better, and consumers appreciate this information. And when it comes down to style, there's virtually no limit.