The AR Mystery Shopper - Who's Selling AR and for What

By Seth J. Bookey
Today’s AR lenses are delivering more than just anti-reflective properties to the wearer. They might offer hydrophobic qualities and oleophobicity, but to the average consumer, that simply means water rolls off the lens better and fingerprints wipe away more easily. AR products come in a variety of strengths, prices and brand names, but these things don’t matter as much to the average American consumer. While Essilor is making the Crizal brand better known through TV advertising, consumers either trust their optometrists or opticians to advise them, or they are watching their pennies and want to know how much it’s going to cost them. To help your customers, the independent eye care professional, it's important to understand how their competition is selling the product.

To find out how the big-box retailers are selling AR, LabTalk sent me out as a Mystery Shopper. I asked the opticians or optometrists at Costco, J.C. Penney, Lenscrafters, Sears, Target, and Wal-Mart how much AR would set me back. I also found a Cohen’s Fashion Optical (number 12 in VisionMonday’s Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers for 2006) at a mall.

Additionally, I went to an independent eye care practitioner to see how that store would compare to the chains. To avoid a hard sell, I informed each person I met that I had just gotten a new prescription, which I forgot to bring with me, and that I was curious about AR lenses. I always made sure to ask if it was part of a package, and if there were different types of AR products.

For the most part, AR was not offered as part of a package. While two retailers promoted Crizal by name, most did not, and most didn’t offer literature on AR lenses and different types of AR products, even though many of them had more than one tier of AR product offerings. Also, only one store, Lenscrafters, made AR an automatic part of a lens purchase, requiring a consumer to specifically ask not to have it. For the most part, AR lenses are add-ons, and often somewhat expensive compared to the all-in-one pricing for frames and prescription lenses without AR included.

Goin’ Shopping

I chose to start at Woodbridge Center, a mall in Woodbridge, N.J. that offers consumers four optical retailing locations: Lenscrafters, Cohen’s Fashion Optical, Sears Optical, and J.C. Penney Optical. This allowed me to shop at several stores easily as any consumer might. I then found several other optical retailers nearby.

The most expensive AR proposition among the chain retailers was at Cohen’s Fashion Optical. The store featured a consumer information kiosk that explained a variety of lens features and their benefits, but not prices. Included among the “lifestyle choices” were anti-reflective lens treatments. An optician said that their AR choices were Essilor’s Crizal and Crizal Alize lens products, costing $90 and $125, respectively, in addition to the price of the lenses. The store also made product literature available, explaining the benefits of the Crizal and Crizal Alize lenses.

Sears Optical was the next stop. The optician on duty told me that AR would cost $75 in addition to the price of the lenses. The store was offering a promotion of $99 for any pair of frames with single-vision, flat-top bifocal, or progressive addition lenses. The store also offered an $88 “extreme value package” that included AR lenses, a protective hard case, and a cleaning kit with a cloth and fluid.

My third stop in the mall was Lenscrafters. An optometrist offered a lot of information, but it was clear that the store wanted people in AR lenses, as it was hard to discern how much more AR would cost. Pricing tended to offer AR lens treatment as part of a package, requiring a customer to ask how much lenses would cost if AR was not included. The optometrist I met indicated that a pair of glasses costing $280 would cost $75 less without AR, and that a lower-quality AR treatment would be $40 less. The retailer uses 3M Scotchguard for scratch resistance and anti-reflective coating. The optometrist also noted that different lenses automatically came with AR; for example, high-index lenses (like the pair I was wearing in the store) would cost $349, including AR. The optometrists also made sure to compare the AR product used at Lenscrafters to Crizal, noting, “You might have seen Crizal advertised...” The store also offered a lens-purchasing guide that included an insert on Scotchguard that touted the product's qualities: easy-to-clean, anti-reflective, thin, scratch resistant, resists water and dirt, lightweight, 100 percent UV protection.

My final stop in the mall was J. C. Penney. Similar to Sears Optical, the store was promoting an all-inclusive package; theirs was $96 for frames and lenses (single-vision, flat-top, or PAL) with scratch-resistance and UV coating. If a customer wanted AR, it would normally cost $60, although during a promotion in late July, it would only cost $35. When I asked the optician if there were different kinds of AR available, he said there were, but that J.C. Penney only offers one kind, and it was not a top-of-the-line AR lens.

A Wal-Mart within three miles of the mall also had an optical department. The optometrist on duty greeted me personally and told me AR would cost $40 on top of the prices for lenses, which were all fixed. When I asked about different kinds of AR treatments, he said that while there were several kinds, Wal-Mart uses Zeiss Platinum Finish AR for all its AR work. A lens mat showed the fixed prices for lenses in a grid, with columns topped by the categories “single-vision,” “flat-top bifocal” and “no-line bifocals” across the top, and the rows showed different types of lenses (plastic, aspheric and spherical polycarbonate, and high-index). Prices ranged from $68 for single-vision plastic lenses (the least expensive) through $275 for high-index progressives (the most expensive). So, AR would add $40 to each fixed price.

At a very busy Costco in neighboring Edison, N.J., about five miles from the mall, some marketing poster above the frame boards advertised different lens types and treatments. The optician who spoke with me said that AR would be a $30 add-on. When I asked about different types of AR treatments, she said that there were more than one kind of AR, but that the AR offered was not the newest. She also said that ultraviolet protection and scratch resistance were standard offerings on all lenses. No literature about AR was available.

About 18 miles from the Woodbridge Center mall, a Target store in Watchung, N.J. had an optical department. At first, it was hard to discern whether or not the employee at the desk was an optician. A name badge indicated that he was a licensed optician. A woman in a white jacket who walked by was the optometrist on duty. The optician said that Target Optical offered two tiers of AR, at $40 and $60. The higher-tier AR came as part of an “Easy Care Lens Protectant” package, which included ultraviolet protection, AR, and scratch-resistant coating. Of all the places I visited, only the optician at Target tried to get me to commit to an appointment. Target was also offering a promotion at the time — 50 percent off lens prices with the purchase of a frame.

How does this compare to going to an independent optical retailer? As I left the mall, I happened across one, in neighboring Edison, N.J., called Bomarr Opticians, in Edison, N.J. The store offers three tiers of AR lenses. The standard AR was $65, added to the price of the lenses. The Crizal lens costs $100 on top of the price of the lenses, and Crizal Alize costs $135.

AR Prices at a Glance

Independent ECP: $65, $100, and $135

Cohen’s Fashion Optical:$90 and $125

Costco Optical:$30

J.C. Penney Optical:$60; $35 promotion

Lenscrafters:$40 and $75

Sears Optical:$75 and $88

Target Optical:$40 and $60

Wal-Mart Optical:$40


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September/October 2014