Consumers in Twin Cities have a low score for eyewear providers for the service

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Ever-changing fashions mean an ever-changing selection in eyewear stores.

Today’s eyewear is lighter and available in more styles than ever before. The new contact lenses are more comfortable and the disposable lenses do not require any maintenance. Despite these innovations, purchasing specifications and contacts can be a problem.

Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook surveys of thousands of local consumers found that many vision centers score very low on staff advice, timeliness and other issues. And our undercover purchases indicate that many stores are priced far too high.

Dozens of stores received “superior” ratings for overall service quality from at least 80% of their customers surveyed, others received equally favorable ratings of less than 50%. In general, chains and franchises were rated lower than independent businesses, but there was variation between each type of outlet.

The lion’s share of eyewear on the market – including those sold under popular designer brands – comes from a few Italian companies with names you probably won’t recognize: Luxottica, Marcolin, Safilo.

Luxottica does not just manufacture millions of pairs of glasses each year; it markets and also sells them in more than 7,000 retail stores that it manages. While the Luxottica name doesn’t appear on their signs, when you walk into LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Target’s optics department, Sunglass Hut, and many other outlets, you are shopping in a space or store that they own or control.

Luxottica owns several brands, including Ray-Ban and Persol. Other brand specifications are created by the eyewear giants through licensing agreements. With only a few companies controlling both the manufacturing and distribution of most executives, it’s hard to determine if you’re getting a good deal.

The way to assess value is to buy from a store that offers great advice – where you’ll be told if more expensive frames justify their higher prices, or you would do just as well with a lesser-known brand. Many independent retailers stock a wide variety of frames.

Some companies do not sell any Luxottica products. For example, Warby Parker offers $ 95 single lens glasses in trendy frames. It started out as an internet-only business, but the company has opened more than 130 physical stores in the United States and Canada.

Undercover Checkbook shoppers collected prices for 18 models of glasses (with single prescription lenses) and found that some Twin Cities outlets were charging twice as much as others. For example, for a pair of Coach HC6127U glasses, the prices in the stores surveyed ranged from $ 294 to $ 659.

The best news: You don’t have to pay more for quality advice and service. Checkbook buyers often found low prices at top rated stores. Unfortunately, for glasses, because the stores do not sell the same products, it is impossible to compare prices between the larger chains for the exact same frames. But we’ve found that Costco, Walmart, and Warby Parker have very low prices for the products they offer.

The checkbook researchers also collected the prices of six brands and models of contact lenses and found even greater price and charge differences between stores. For example, for a one-year supply of Biotrue ONEday Daily Disposable Contact Lenses (plus exam and fitting), prices ranged from $ 542 to $ 1,256. Among vision centers, Checkbook found that Costco, Kennedy Vision Health Center, and Sam’s Club offered the lowest prices for contacts.

You can save a lot by buying from certain online retailers only. Checkbook bought glasses and contacts at a sample of Internet stores. For eyewear, prices at almost all online retailers were significantly lower than those of the stores surveyed – several sites were offering prices less than half of those offered by local stores. Online sellers not only tend to offer very low prices, but they also offer a much wider selection of frames.

As with glasses, Checkbook found that online contact lens retailers were cheaper than local outfits – charging about 30% less than local brick-and-mortar retailers. But some well-known online sellers were offering above-average prices for the cheapest outlets in the region.

Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a non-profit, consumer-backed organization and does not take money from the service providers we review. Star Tribune readers can access Checkbook reviews from local eyewear retailers for free until February 5 at Checkbook.org/StarTribune/Eyewear.


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