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In optical retailing, personal interaction with a vision expert remains necessary in order to, for example, administer eye tests and examinations, and to fit prescription eyeglasses. This represents a barrier for pure online retailers to penetrate the market on a broad scale.
Nevertheless, consumers around the world increasingly prefer to efficiently and effectively conduct at least parts of their customer journey online. They therefore expect retailers to provide more flexible forms of retail interaction and service. To serve this demand, GrandVision is establishing an omni-channel route to market and is offering a range of services through the websites of its retail banners. These services include store locators, appointment booking systems and the pre-selection of frames. Some of our retail banners also offer customers the ability to purchase sunglasses or contact lenses online, thereby competing directly with online players. In addition, in-store features are also being enabled with new technologies.
To facilitate the development of omni-channel activities in different markets and ensure consistency across the group, GrandVision is developing a single global omni-channel platform. In 2015, China became the first GrandVision market to go live. A seamlessly integrated customer journey is now being enabled across all channels in that country, which has served as an important incubator for GrandVision's omni-channel innovation. This innovative retail approach will be further enhanced in the years ahead and rolled out globally.
GrandVision's retail banners are active in social media. As media consumption of customers is shifting online, nearly all retail banners interact with their customers through social media in addition to traditional advertising on TV, radio and print. The total number of social media followers of GrandVision's retail banners on channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram was 1.5 million at the end of 2015.