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New Data Sheds Light on Sunglasses Assortment

In the land of retail, a heated contest is underway as summer approaches. We recently pulled a two-month sample of data from our assortment analytics platform to learn how sunglasses retailers measure up. The following are a few interesting takeaways:

  • Many outdoor/activewear retailers surpassed traditional department stores in product assortment. Consider switching sunglasses categorization from fashion to activewear.
  • Between March and May, Backcountry and Macy’s had the largest sunglasses assortment for two popular brands, but then there was a large drop. If this is their main time to clear inventory before summer styles come in, competitors should try increasing their promotions next year around the same time.
  • Together, Ray-Ban and Oakley were strongly associated with Backcountry (which carried the largest amount of their combined products in the sample data), even though the two brands’ target markets are quite different. Big-box stores should take stock of their major brands and see if they align with their intended customers.
  • There was a white space in the sunglasses market in the $50 to $99.99 range. Retailers who jump in could have a distinct advantage, as that pricing tier is currently being underserved.

Summer Spotlight on Sunglasses

If style, functionality, and luxury could all be brought together neatly, they would most likely take the form of a pair of designer sunglasses. Whether worn during vacation or while on a hike, the upcoming summer means more hours spent in the sun, and sellers of premium eyewear are poised to benefit. In fact, the market is worth almost $13 billion, according to one fashion industry source. The same article also noted that the product’s nature (being one-size-fits-all and compact) makes it especially suited for online retail, creating further opportunity for growth.

To better understand this lucrative product category, a good way to start is by considering the variety and distribution of sunglasses for sale among retailers and price ranges. In essence, a retailer’s assortment is the number and type of products offered for purchase. It has two main aspects: breadth (the range of product categories) and depth (the number of different versions of the same product). The goal of assortment strategy is to find the right combination of products to maximize market share and profits.

Assortment optimization is a process that requires a review of historical data about competitor behavior before making decisions about which products to carry and in what amounts. In this case, the following questions, along with some responses based on data from our platform, will shed light on how the sunglasses vertical is doing as we gear up for summer.

Which Retailers are Competing on the Quantity of Sunglasses They Offer?

The first step is to get an overview of the assortments for all brands of sunglasses across retailers. That establishes the top players in the market for this particular product and serves as the baseline for more analysis.

Product counts across time for all brands of sunglasses (men’s and women’s) by retailer

Based on individual product SKUs over the two-month window, there seem to be two groupings. First, those sunglasses retailers that had assortment sizes of approximately 2,000 or fewer, which maintain relatively stable levels. Second, the top four retailers by assortment quantity in this period—a list that included Nordstrom (a typical large department store), but also a few surprises. Groupon and Zappos are best known for discounted local services and online shoe sales, respectively, while Backcountry specializes in outdoor gear.

In terms of sheer volume, Nordstrom’s assortment rose most aggressively to outdo those three competitors associated with other spaces. However, this cross-competition was evident in the lower-quantity tier as well, with Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, and Macy’s facing off against Bass Pro and Cabela’s (both outdoor gear suppliers). This could mean that sunglasses are trending toward being marketed more as activewear than purely a fashion accessory.

How Do the Assortments of Popular Sunglasses Brands Compare Across Price Levels and Retailers?

Ray-Ban is one of the most well-known brands of shades, having originated iconic styles such as Aviators and Wayfarers. Another is Oakley, which sells not only sunglasses but sportswear as well.

Product count over time for Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses by retailer

For these two brands specifically, Backcountry and Macy’s had the biggest assortments in the two-month time frame. However, the assortment levels for both declined somewhat, which could indicate a clearing of inventory before introducing new lines for the summer. That observation could lead to a few follow-up questions: what are the corresponding promotional discounts currently being run (to verify if clearance is happening), and what did this picture look like in mid-spring into early summer of last year?

Product Assortment for Ray-Ban and Oakley Sunglasses by Price Range and Retailer (week of May 1, 2017)

This set of charts shows a more detailed one-week breakdown of sunglasses assortment by price range for retailers in different segments of the market (note that the size of the bars indicates the relation to the average, not the actual SKU count). Although Backcountry, Bass Pro, Macy’s, and Nordstrom all have their highest SKU counts in the $100 to $199.99 range, the two department stores also have a small portion of their assortment in the range of $250 or higher. Macy’s, in particular, is over-represented in that regard, meaning it offers more high-end, expensive sunglasses than most competitors (29 SKUs, or about 50 percent more than Backcountry).

From a brand standpoint, it’s important to have alignment between consumers’ impressions of these high-volume retailers and perceptions of the brands themselves. In other words, for Ray-Ban or Oakley, does it meet branding goals to be strongly associated with Backcountry as a point of sale? Historical assortment data helps address such concerns and is evidence for pivoting if that association was not the goal.

What Are the Implications for Expansion or Differentiation?

From this data, there might be an opportunity for sporting goods retailers to add sunglasses to their assortments since outdoor recreation outlets seem to be doing so and are a closely related market. This is worth keeping an eye on as the season continues. Also, there may be room for a retailer with a lower quantity of SKUs for this product type to make a leap up by experimenting with other offerings priced between $50 and $99.99 (which had a more limited assortment among the brands and retailers reviewed here), to see if the demand for premium quality is sustained.

Contributing Writer: Eric Chuk

Min-Jee Hwang

Min-Jee is the former Director of Marketing at Wiser. She has extensive experience working with SaaS companies and holds a BA from Carnegie Mellon University and an MBA from NYU Stern.

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