How ZEISS Vision Care India continued to develop its business beating COVID-19 disruptions
ZEISS India is headquartered in Bengaluru and its Vision Care lenses are retailed out of approximately 5,000 stores. The company has three production facilities, R&D center, Global IT services and about 40 Sales & Service offices in almost all Tier 1 and 2 cities in India. With nearly 900 employees and continued investments over 20 years in India, ZEISS’ success story in India is continuing at a rapid pace. Their Vision Care division is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of eyeglass lenses and ophthalmic instruments. The unit is allocated to the Consumer Markets segment and develops and produces offerings for the entire eyeglass value chain that are distributed globally under the ZEISS brand.
Like many other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic had a strong impact on the eyecare services industry across the globe. The industry saw many changes, with the consumer hesitant to step out due to health & safety, as well as the restrictions brought about by social distancing norms, decontamination protocol pre-requisites, etc. However, ZEISS has worked around the challenges that the pandemic threw and kept the wheels of the company moving.
In conversation with Adgully, Sunil Gopinath, Head - Marketing, ZEISS Vision Care India, speaks about how Zeiss Vision Care India navigated through the pandemic challenges and how they engaged with their business partners and the customers across the country.
The pandemic hit many industries. How did you navigate as a company and how did the optic and eye lenses industry face the challenges? What steps were taken to ensure that customers did not suffer during that time?
Like many other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic had a strong impact on the eyecare services industry across the globe. The industry saw many changes, with the consumer hesitant to step out due to health and safety, as well as the restrictions brought about by social distancing norms, decontamination protocol pre-requisites, etc.
At ZEISS, we have tried to work around the challenges that the pandemic threw at us. In the initial days of the lockdown, we tried to ensure that our products were being delivered to our customers despite the challenges of logistics and restricted movements of goods and services.
Another challenge that we faced was at our optical partners’ end, wherein their footfalls had dried up and they couldn’t convert customers as fast as was the case in the pre-COVID-19 era.
Over the successive months, we tried to support our optical partners with their business continuity efforts by supporting them with “Stronger Tomorrow” initiatives. The initiatives were aimed at ensuring safety and health of all people stakeholders first, ensuring service and supply at all time to all customers and preparing our company and our partners for the post-COVID-19 world.
Our partners are of utmost importance and their safety and functioning is always a top priority for us. We reached out to all our customers with the ‘Stronger Tomorrow’ initiatives, which offered the following support to them:
- Webinars on product training and understanding the consumer behaviour post-COVID-19: These were organised during the lockdown so that our customers are ready for a strong recovery
- Initiatives on safety and hygiene: Hygiene boxes with high-quality PPE, training on how to maintain safety and hygiene in stores post COVID-19
- Launching relevant products: Launch of ZEISS protective glasses and ZEISS AntiFOG spray in the Indian market
- Starting relevant technology: Contactless consultation – most of the optical instruments that we offer can be operated by keeping a safe distance between the patient and the examiner. Tele-optometry solutions also allow the devices operations and consultations to happen remotely
- Digital marketing support: We work with our customers to further advance their digital presence through consultation on their online presence and partner with them on digital campaigns to increase customer footfalls
- ZEISS Business Partner Programs: We launched the ZEISS Vision Expert program to facilitate the optical store to provide their consumers with an elevated and holistic retail experience from the moment they enter the store till the spectacles get handed over
What is driving the eyewear and lenses market in India? With the unorganised market contributing 80% of the market, how are branded lenses like ZEISS, which contributes 15%, planning to grow and capture a bigger pie in this growing market?
We at ZEISS Vision Care focus on innovations such as offering clear and healthy vision in the digital era, on digitalisation over the entire consumer journey and in the optical store as well as combination of solutions for ophthalmology and vision care. In all that we do, we focus on making our customers more successful with ZEISS and this strategy is paying off.
As per recent studies conducted by Deloitte and Euromonitor, it has been determined that eyecare in India is underpenetrated, with an estimated 450+ million of 1.3 billion Indian population needing vision correction, out of which only an estimated 25% wear spectacles. Lifestyle changes impact the quality of vision of young adults and elders alike. Most people like to keep a separate fashion and spare pair as well as a growing number of consumers are replacing their spectacles frequently and hence, looking for affordable luxury. Omni channel experience is another factor contributing to the growth of our partners. Consumers’ preference towards convenience is contributing to the growth of home eye checks and online shopping. Consumers are now looking for good quality eyewear with UV and blue light protection. Consumers are slowly shifting from unbranded to branded lens segment; but having said that, lenses are a low involvement segment, leading to ‘price’ being the key differentiator. Consumers are spending more time on frame selection as compared to lens selection.
We at ZEISS want to offer a premium brand and product experience by being the best in quality throughout the consumer journey from awareness to post-purchase phase. The World Economic Forum states in its “Future of Consumption in Fast-Growth Consumer Markets” study that India will be the 3rd biggest consumer market in the world by 2030 with consumer spending to increase from the current $1.5 trillion to $5.5 trillion. 50% of the incremental consumer spending is expected to be in the premium segment. This is expected to have a positive impact on our business as well in the long run.
The premium segment is estimated to grow faster than the overall lens segment in the next few years, driven by higher consumer spending, increased brand awareness and health consciousness in the segment.
There are a lot Chinese and Korean lenses that are easily available at affordable prices. How do you plan to combat the Chinese brands and what brand differentiation is Zeiss providing, which will push the end customer to go for your brand?
With our strong market position, innovation strengths, and the power of the ZEISS brand as well as with our global network, we continue to develop our business, always in true partnership with our customers.
Do ophthalmologists play an important role in recommending the lenses? In most cases, the customer trusts the optician and buys what he recommends. Is this scenario changing and is the customer conscious and aware of what lenses to buy today to maintain a healthy vision?
Typically, ophthalmologists in India limit their role to eye screening and prescription of lenses. In a few cases, they may recommend functional aspects like UV or blue protection. So, the responsibility of recommending the right design and functional benefits rests with an optician.
Today, customers have become more brand conscious about everything they use in their day to day lives, from clothing to shoes to even their homes. However, when it comes to their eyes, they aren’t as educated about the lenses that are right for their eyes. This lack of knowledge comes from the difficulty in understanding the technicality.
We at ZEISS aim to educate not only our customers, but the opticians and ophthalmologists at the stores as well, because they are the first point of contact for consumers.
We make it easy to understand, to prescribe and to wear ZEISS eyeglass lenses. For instance, ZEISS DriveSafe for car drivers, ZEISS BlueProtect for protection eyes from energy-rich blue light and other innovations are easy to understand and – consulted by the eye care professionals – consumers can make a decision on what’s best for their eyes, their life and what fits their preferences.
Our partners play a crucial role throughout the process of sale. One, they are the first and direct point of contact for customers, thus their recommendations are taken as engraved in stone. Secondly, the feedback they receive from customers is shared with us and that helps us create products/ services that satisfy the demands of our customers.
We have noticed a growing trend that consumers are increasingly becoming assertive about the functional benefits they may desire out of a product, but detailed aspects like the lens design, choice of coating are proposed/ recommended by the optician on the customer lifestyle.
Penetration of branded players in Tier 2-3 towns is limited. There is a huge potential here. How is ZEISS planning to enter these smaller towns to tap the market and get a strong foothold?
With the growth in Tier 2 and 3 cities leading to increased consumer spending, consumers in Tier 2 and 3 cities are slowly moving towards the branded segment as well, even though the number of customers opting for premium brands is limited.
Our products start at Rs 1,800 per pair, which is quite affordable from a superior consumer experience that is associated with our products.
The pandemic has given a big boost to the e-commerce business. How much have you leveraged through online sales? Will buying of lenses shift majorly towards e-commerce during the new normal?
Some companies in the eyewear industry initially made their presence in the market through e-commerce, but ended up opening stores for smoother and easier consumer transaction. We are in such an industry where online presence is helpful only for the selection of frames. Consumers prefer to walk down to a physical store to try on frames in real time. They anyhow would have to go to the store to have their eyes tested for the lenses to be made; therefore, our lens industry works on more one-on-one basis.
As a brand, we at ZEISS do not sell products directly to our consumers. Instead we enable our customers to build and fortify their online presence. We do this by offering to train and enable their Google My Business page, support them with My Vision Profile builder tools and in setting up their online store.
We believe an integrated omni-channel approach works best with the online presence connecting with brick & mortar stores at a single point of convergence, thereby giving a holistic experience to consumers. We continue focusing on digital innovation, always taking consumer needs and customer needs as the starting point to develop compelling solutions for them.
A lot of education is needed in the lens care category to educate the customers. What has been your marketing and communication strategy here and how do you plan to raise awareness of branded lenses backed by best quality?
The process of lens selection is highly technical by nature and it needs a lot of education as far as the consumers are concerned. Consumer information and education goes through eyecare professionals at the store – and to create awareness and reach, this information must be interlinked with online, social media interaction, providing consumers with options and educating them on the importance of quality eye and vision care. And with the reputation of ZEISS as reliable, innovative, high-quality brand, we offer easy-to-understand solutions for all requirements.
In India, we have started a program called as ZEISS Paathshaala to engage with the graduating optometrists and train them on advanced dispensing practices.
In parallel, we carry out consumer awareness campaigns from time to time on social media to build awareness on functional categories like SmartLife, DriveSafe, UVProtect, etc.
What kind of customer engagement program are you following currently to generate awareness? What’s been the overall media strategy employed to stay engaged with your audience?
This year, we launched the ZEISS Vision Expert Program in India, designed to support our optical partners in growing their business by delivering a better vision experience to their consumers. We carry out retail health check, to analyse relative gaps in the business process and offer tailor-made solutions with regular trainings, marketing support, community update and much more.
We sponsor the ZEISS ‘YOU & EYE’ awards from Vision Plus magazine. These awards are the first and only awards for Retail Opticians across India, and offer an opportunity to the opticians to get recognised for their achievements.
We provide customers with co-branded product videos en-masse to enable them to promote the innovative ZEISS products on their social media pages. We also carry out joint marketing activities with some of our customers.