If The Deal Never Ends, Is It Really A Deal?

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

The thing about getting a good deal on something? It only feels special if it’s limited in some way — whether that means only a certain set of customers has access to it, or it’s only available for a window in time. To that end, some LensCrafters customers claim proffered discounts on prescription eyewear are bogus, accusing the chain of faking a regular/original price and then offering a so-called discount.

In a lawsuit [PDF] seeking class-action status filed in a California district court, the plaintiff accuses Lenscrafters and its parent company Luxottica Group of violating the state’s unfair competition laws, false advertising laws, and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, accusing it of advertising fake prices and corresponding “phantom discounts” on prescription lenses.

A Familiar Tale

“If everyone is getting a deal, is anyone really getting a deal?” That’s the question asked by the lawsuit, quoting a 2016 article in The New York Times about the demise of meaningful list prices.

To be sure, we’re familiar with this kind of lawsuit: JCPenney, Sears, Kohl’s, Kate Spade, and Macy’s have all been accused by customers of making up fake original prices, or referencing a former price on an item that never actually existed, in order to then tout a deep discount on that product.

What’s Going On Here?

In this case, the complaint points to LensCrafters’ alleged practice of “continuously” offering a “substantial discount on its prescription lenses with the purchase of any eyeglass or sunglasses frame” by way of signs scattered around its stores to that effect. For example, ” __ % Off Lenses with Frame Purchase.” You can see a similar offering in the photo above.

But despite promoting such discounts, the lawsuit claims consumers don’t see the original list price until after they’ve made their purchase, and that that “regular price” for the lenses is a “total fiction.”

“The prescription lenses sold at the LensCrafters’ retail stores are never offered for sale, nor actually sold at the regular price,” the lawsuit claims. “Thus, the regular price is false and is used exclusively to induce consumers into believing that the lenses were once sold at the regular price and from which the false and discount and corresponding sale price is derived.”

The plaintiff’s lawsuit argues that in these kinds of situations, customers might not have bought said “discounted” items if they’d known they weren’t really getting a great deal.

“Lens Crafters’ deceptive pricing scheme has the effect of tricking consumers into believing they are receiving a significant deal by purchasing merchandise at a steep discount, when in reality, consumers are paying for merchandise at its regular or original retail price,” the complaint claims.

The Plaintiff’s Story

In this case, the lawsuit says the plaintiff purchased a pair of lenses for $179.00, originally priced at $298.34, as displayed on her receipt, when she bought a pair of frames for $120.

She “reasonably believed that she would be getting a good deal if she purchased a pair of frames and received 40% off a pair of lenses that had a value significantly higher than the discounted price,” the complaint states.

However, the prescription lenses were “never offered for sale or sold at the $298.34 price, nor were they offered for sale or sold at that price within the 90-day period immediately preceding” her purchase, thereby causing damage to the plaintiff, the lawsuit claims.

These kinds of discounts are fictitious, the lawsuit alleges, because the regular reference price for the lenses doesn’t represent a “bona fide” price at which the retailer previously sold a “substantial quantity of the prescription lenses for a reasonable period of time,” as required by the Federal Trade Commission’s rules on the use of former price comparisons in advertising.

Nor was the regular price of the lenses the prevailing market retail price within three months of the promotion of the advertised former regular price, as required by California law, the lawsuit states.

They Know What They’re Doing

“Retailers, including Lens Crafters, understand that consumers are susceptible to a good bargain, and therefore, Lens Crafters has a substantial interest in lying in order to generate sales,” the lawsuit says. “A product’s ‘regular,’ ‘original,’ or ‘market’ price matters to consumers because it serves as a baseline upon which consumers perceive a product’s value.”

The lawsuit is seeking class-action status, damages for all involved, restitution and disgorgement of “all profits and unjust enrichment” allegedly retained by LensCrafters from the plaintiffs, an injunction barring from LensCrafters to continue the alleged unlawful practices, an order requiring the chain to engage in “corrective” advertising, and a jury trial.

We’ve reached out to Luxottica for comment and will update this post if we hear back.

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