Designer Sunglasses: Great For Designer, Not So Great For Buyer

Spending $500 or more on new designer sunglasses may be great for the economy of some stores, and may make you the envy of your friends, but you are wasting money.

And that is from the Wall Street Journal, so you can take it to the bank.

Designer sunglasses

Brett Arends reports that that expensive sunglasses are in HOT demand this summer and cost hundreds of dollars without adding prescription lenses. That is a lot of money to spend to advertise someone else’s name on your head.

“Designer shades are big business, even in this economy. I keep hearing about the new age of frugality, but I’m not seeing much of it at the mall. Sunglass Hut’s same-store sales in the U.S. rose 10.8% in the first quarter, pretty much erasing the slump in early 2009,” he reported this week.

His bottom line:

1. Most sunglasses are made by the same company. Do you prefer the “quality” of Ray-Ban to Oakley? Do you think Bulgari is better than Dolce & Gabbana, or Salvatore Ferragamo is better than Prada? Wake up. They’re all made by one company, Italian manufacturer Luxottica–one of the biggest consumer companies that consumers have never heard of. Luxottica also makes sunglasses branded Burberry, Chanel, Polo Ralph Lauren, Paul Smith, Stella McCartney, Tiffany, Versace, Vogue, Persol, Miu Miu, Tory Burch and Donna Karan.

2. In many cases, the same company is also selling you the glasses. Luxottica also owns LensCrafters, Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut. This is extreme vertical integration. The eye doctor telling you that you need a new pair of glasses, the sales people helping you choose them and the people who design and make the glasses all work for the same company.

3.The markups are as big as they seem. The cost of a new pair of glasses will of course reflect materials and labor. But the price will also reflect brand values and marketing–and how much consumers will pay. Luxottica says it makes a gross profit of 64 cents on each dollar of sales. Even after deducting sales and advertising costs, overhead and brand licensing royalties it’s still making 52 cents. That’s some margin.

4. Those expensive sunglasses may not be any better for your eyes, either. “Three hundred dollar sunglasses don’t do anything better than $100 sunglasses, except maybe look better and have a brand name associated with them” says Dr. Jay Duker, chair of ophthalmology at Tufts Medical Center.

For about $40, says Dr. Duker, you can get a pair that offers 100% protection against ultra-violet rays. If you spend maybe $70 you should be able to get a pair with decent quality polarizing lenses that cut out glare. Beyond that, the medical benefits tail off pretty fast.

5. An inexpensive pair of sunglasses from the pharmacy isn’t the worst thing in the world. They may be fine for most people in most circumstances, Dr. Dana says. “The main reason people wear sunglasses is to block out (regular) white light,” he says, “and from that point of view, cheaper glasses work pretty well.” And they will probably block most UV rays, even if not all of them, he adds.

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