The Supply Side: Walmart partnership offers sustainable eyewear options

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 601 views 

Eyewear sales are big business at Walmart, with 64% of U.S. adults wearing glasses. That’s one reason the retail giant partnered with Karün to sell sustainable eyeglass frames made from recycled fishing nets, metals and other plastics from the South American coasts of Patagonia.

“Shopping for eyewear is personal, and everyone’s checklist looks a little different,” said Ericka Thumbutu, a Walmart optical merchandiser. “If sustainability and waste reduction are on your list, know that we are helping to make the more sustainable choice the everyday choice at Walmart.”

The Karün collection is available in 1,400 of Walmart’s U.S. optical centers with 18 different styles that range in cost from $114 to $132. Walmart plans to expand the offering to all its vision locations in the U.S. in the coming months.

Karün means “to be nature” in Mapudungun, the native language of the ancestral indigenous people of Mapuche in Chile.

“At Karün, our mission is to create eyewear that helps protect nature. Through our Karün Traceability System, we enable customers to learn where their eyewear materials were collected, how far they traveled and where they were produced,” said Thomas Kimber, Karün founder and CEO. “We chose to work with Walmart as our U.S. national retailer to expand access to more sustainable eyewear options.”

Walmart has made other changes in eyewear, including developing the Elton John Eyewear brand in partnership with the pop music icon. Walmart also acquired Memomi, an augmented reality company that provides technology to enhance virtual try-on experiences. Walmart also partnered with Drew Barrymore for her Flower eyewear line of frames for prescription glasses and a newer lens that blocks 40% of blue light from phones, computers and TV screens and ultraviolet rays linked to vision loss over time.


Walmart Eyecare Evolves

Walmart has continued evolving its optical business from its early beginnings in 1991. The retailer partnered with National Vision for more than 30 years to supply contact lenses and operate vision centers in select Walmart stores. Still, the partnership ends in February 2024, according to National Vision CEO Reade Fahs.

He said the partnership with Walmart has helped National Vision grow over the three decades. While the decision was unexpected, he looks forward to beginning a new chapter as a more streamlined company.

Walmart has partnered with Waldo to make contact care more affordable and accessible. The Waldo contact lenses are enriched with vitamins, including B12, to help refresh and rejuvenate eyes, the retailer reported in July 2022.

In 2015, Walmart invested $10 million to upgrade its eyeglass manufacturing facility in Fayetteville, where thousands of eyeglasses are made daily. The retailer also operates a comparable production center in Crawfordsville, Ind., and a distribution center for eyewear and lens crafting center in Dallas.

Walmart operates about 3,000 optical centers in its U.S. stores, employing more than 4,000 opticians. In Arkansas, Walmart operates 40 vision centers where independent optometrists operate next to the Walmart Vision Centers. In other states, Walmart said some optometrists are employees, and some are independent contractors.

Also in May, Walmart announced a new program to help vision employees obtain national licensure and certification from the American Board of Opticianry and National Contact Lens Examiners.

David Reitnauer, vice president of health & wellness, optical at Walmart, said the program will allow access to higher-paying jobs and is covered 100% by Walmart, including reimbursement for fees associated with licensure.

Eyewear Market Share

Walmart said 157 million U.S. adults wear corrective lenses to improve their vision. The retailer is also the nation’s largest manufacturer of finished prescription eyewear, with a share of 27% of the U.S. glasses purchased over the past year, according to Statista Marketing Insights.

Statista reports that U.S. consumers spent $33.83 billion on prescription eyewear such as contact lenses, frames, eyeglass lenses and sunglasses in 2023. Frames and lenses for eyeglasses make up the lion’s share of consumer eyewear spending at roughly $29 billion annually. Statista expects U.S. spending on frames and lenses to grow 5.26% in 2024 and 5.5% in 2025.

Statista also reports online eyewear sales are growing, with Amazon taking 14% of the online share and competitors like Warby Parker garnering a 9% share of the online eyewear sales over the past year. eBay took 5%, and wholesale clubs like Sam’s Club and Costco took 3% of the online eyewear sales from December 2022 to December 2023.

Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Firebend.