An office is selling discount ophthalmic frames from a
department store. How can they manage consumer backlash?

Fran and her friend Molly  were shopping one Sunday in a Wyoming town. They visited a favorite designer discount store selling clothes, jewelry and more. As they moved through the store, they encountered a sunglasses display. Fran, a frame buyer for Eye Contact Optical Boutique, was used to skipping this part of the store but Molly started pulling out frames. 

About Real Deal

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.

About the Author

NATALIE TAYLOR is an experienced optometry practice manager for Advanced Care Vision Network and a consultant with Taylor Vision. Learn more at tayloreye.com.

“What the heck?” muttered Fran, finding an ophthalmic frame.

“What’s wrong?” asked Molly.

“I’ve never seen a regular, non-sunglass frame at a department store,” said Fran. 

“What’s the big deal?” said Molly, turning back to her mirror.

“These can take a prescription, they aren’t just readers or sunglasses. In order to get any use from these, a person would need to get lenses made by an optometrist or optician,” explained Fran. 

Molly shrugged. “Isn’t it the same as buying them online?”

“I don’t think so,” said Fran. “If someone were to break these, there’s little to no chance of replacing. At least with online frames there’s typically a warranty.” Fran sighed and added, “Some of these are pretty cute; I could easily sell these for twice what I’d pay here.”

“Why don’t you, then?” said Molly. Fran shook her head but Molly persisted. “Sell them as a sale item without a warranty. As long as people know that upfront, there will be some that are willing to take the risk to save a few bucks!”

Fran realized there was a demand in the store for a low-cost option. With some trepidation, she gathered 10 frames.

The following week four had sold. She was amazed; the shop averaged 20 jobs a week. Clearly there was a demand for this price point, conservative frame style and brand recognition. She thought about going to the same store in other towns to buy more. 

In the showroom she heard the frame stylist discussing pricing with an older woman accompanied by her sister. The stylist called out to her: “Fran, where are those frames you found at Maxx Goods?”

Fran saw the patient’s eyes narrow. “Wait,” said the patient. “I thought you sold frames direct from the designer. I don’t want knock-offs!” Her sister shook her head and added, “That seems deceptive. Why should we buy something from you that we can easily buy ourselves for less?” 

Fran looked at the frame stylist for support and found none. 

The Big Questions
  • Is it unethical for an optical to sell ophthalmic frames found in a retail environment? Where does this retail environment extend to — eBay, Etsy, estate sales?
  • Would you consider providing discounted frames without a warranty? How can this help or hurt your business?
  • Is there anything Fran can do or say to this patient to retain a sale?

Expanded Reader Responses

James W.
San Diego, CA

There’s nothing wrong with it, if you’re package-pricing the product without warranty. It’s smart. What’s not smart is the frame stylist who is working against the team. Our job is to deliver eyewear in conjunction with the Rx in front of us. You can’t get that at “Maxx Goods.”

Pablo E. Mercado
Independent Optician
Woodstock, GA

1. Is it unethical? Probably not, as long as it’s clearly explained to customers. Would I do it? Not in a million years.
2. I would consider it in extremely limited situations, and only when no other possible options are available. Most times it creates more problems than it solves.
3. The only thing she could say is that there is no deception; the frames are marked accordingly, so they can be offered to those who are unwilling or unable to pay full price, but leave the option open to the patient.

Mordy M.
Brooklyn, NY

If the discounted closeout frames: 1) fit; 2) look good; and 3) are of decent quality, the patient is getting a deal. Forget about warranties, as major frame companies are unreliable in providing parts and warranties. Should the patient return with a defective closeout frame, chances are you have another in stock to pop the lenses into. If not, find a similar frame and trim the lenses on a hand edging wheel for a perfect fit, or treat the patient to a different closeout frame and run another pair of single vision lenses ($3 or $4, including AR). If it’s a progressive, charge $40 or $50 as a service charge.

Monique B.
Manchester, CT

That’s a toughie. I personally would find a wholesaler that sells cute frames that are not in a nearby store. Worst case: Patients see Fran making trips to this “Maxx Goods” store. Not a good look. Fran could be more resourceful; there is definitely a market for that type of product.

Mary N.
Toledo, OH

I would never buy ophthalmic frames from a retail store and would never buy brands the consumer could find there. I do buy discount frames from sales reps and offer lower-priced, good quality frames without a warrantee. This is a great way to get the consumer out of cheap frames, and we have better frames to adjust and work with. 

Rick R.
Girard, PA

I don’t think it’s unethical unless you’re trying to deceive your patient. I’ve never seen ophthalmic frames other than online. I’ve sold discontinued frames, without a warranty, but with the understanding that if the frame breaks or is defective, we will do everything to find a replacement at a discounted cost.

Fran could inform the patient they could easily buy a frame and bring it in for lenses, but her office cannot be held responsible for any breakage. All frames are bought for less and sold at a profit; that’s just business.

Cindy H.
Chattanooga, TN

Buying frames in that environment and from questionable entities can create issues because the frames might not be cleared for U.S. use and sales. Large companies allow some frames to be sold out of the United States with the condition that they won’t be sold here. This is true of lenses as well. Not necessarily “knockoffs,” they may not be of the same quality that U.S. standards require. Without knowing the source, one should really hesitate to buy and resell them, even from a discount retailer. Their buyers wouldn’t know or care if the frames weren’t up to code. P.S. The sales clerk is an idiot.

Jenna G..
Fargo, ND

Listen to your gut. Fran was nervous about this before she ever carried through with it. I think resell can extend to vintage frames, if that is what your business does and does well, with the understanding that there isn't a warranty. Policies should be put in place first, not when you are directly in front of a patent.


This article originally appeared in the November-December 2017 edition of INVISION.

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