Spec wars


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Spectacles they're big business in fact half of us wear them and all of us, its predicted will need them or contacts at sometime in our life making the optical industry worth $1.3 billion a year.

You may have noticed that there are alot of new players entering the market at the moment all after a share of your optical dollar. Behind the scenes there is a spectacle war being fought in our lounge rooms with ad campaigns and in court rooms with lawyers.

We've received more news that another skirmish is about to be played out in the Federal Court with Specsavers launching more legal action against the Optical Superstore over its latest ad.

“Well contacts alone I'd be charged roughly $180 a set for about 3 months supply and glasses you'd be looking for my particular script, roughly $700.57” said Andrew.

Andrew Jesberg like any spectacle wearer has for years forked out hundreds of dollars to get a pair of glasses and then hundreds more for contacts.

“I was getting sick and tired of having to pay the amount they were charging and it was phenomenal” said Andrew.

For about 5 years there's been a quiet revolution in the optical industry starting with Italian giant Luxottica weighing into the Australian market snapping up the OPSM chain, Laubman, Pank and Budget Eyewear. It got rowdy when Spec Savers, a foreign owned company based in the tax haven Guernsey moved into the Australian market 2 years ago their growth has been dramatic opening 213 stores and more planned making their chain a global force behind Luxottica.

The company has over a thousand stores in 10 countries, it now sources over 9 million frames a year and sources over 18million lenses a year so it’s got enormous scale.

The third major Australian player is Optical superstore. An Australian owned chain that was started in Brisbane by Accountant Ian Melrose 21 years ago.

“Situation was that I was doing a tax return for a number of optometrists and saw the potential and decided that I'd start an optometry chain myself” Ian said.

Ian says his business of selling spectacles to the budget conscious was working well with the Luxottica owned OPSM focusing on the designer end of the market. Then came Spec Savers.

Spec Wars continued…

“Spec Savers have been extremely aggressive, they've advertised extensively, they have a name that implies discount by the word savers in their name but I think in most cases we provide better value than Spec Savers” Ian said.

They even aggressively tried to poach staff. So Ian started countering with advertisements like these.

“Spec Savers took us to the federal court in June last year trying to prevent us continuing to advertise” said Ian.

Ian won that case and continues to advertise so Spec Savers turned its sights on OPSM.
OPSM took them to court this time Specsavers won although Specsavers CEO Peter Larson is reluctant to talk about any of its legal action.

“Why did OPSM take legal action against spec savers?” asked Today Tonight’s reporter Rodney Lohse.

It's a very exciting time in optics, it’s been a long time we have had a lack of competition and the prices have been high so we are getting competitive activity across the board” said Peter.

”OPSM felt the Specsavers campaign was misleading and not a fair comparison” said Anthea Muir of OPSM.

“The OPSM brand is all about fashion, its all about design, we carry some fantastic product, Dolce and Gabanna, Prada, we sell Chanel, Tiffany, so I think it’s about playing in your space.”

“We decided to cut through all the advertising spin and conduct our own survey to see who is the cheapest it's difficult to compare on frames because each store offers different frames and OPSM in many cases is the exclusive distributor of many high end brands but all sell the same lenses and contacts.”

“There's different ones, there’s 149, there’s 99, there's 199, so that’s the upgrade on the lenses and then add it onto the price that’s confusing, so confusing, its confusing for us too” Anthea said.

Spec Wars continued…

We surveyed 3 stores from each chain but also did budget eyewear the discount sister company of OPSM, BIG W and internet company GlassesOnline. The cheapest on anti reflective lenses alone was Optical superstore Kenmore at $81 Specsavers, Mt Ommaney was $120 OPSM despite having a national pricing policy gave us three different prices the cheapest was OPSM Chermisde at $138. Budget Eyewear was $161. Big W was $120 and Glasses online was $135 the most expensive was OPSM Mt Ommaney at $331 and no two stores were the same price and if you ad in frames it starts to become very complicated with deals galore for second pairs half price or free and then there's contact lenses.

With the same prescription we were after a 3 month supply on fortnightly lenses, the cheapest was Clearlycontacts.com.au at $109.98. Specsavers Chermside and Budget Eyeware Mt Gravatt were $120 Big w was $129.64 OPSM Indooroopilly was $148 Optical Superstore was $155. The most expensive was OPSM Mt Ommaney at $156.

People are being ripped off and they shouldn't be, this is people’s eye sight they need this and why should they have to pay through the roof.

Andrew Jesberg now buys all his glasses and contacts on line. Our advice, loyalty costs you money believe no one and do your own research because this war has a while to wage yet.

Is Australia big enough for 3 players? Most probably yes competitions good, prices will be driven down, its probably bad news for small independent operators who will find it harder and harder.