SANTA ANA — For months, Frame-N-Lens, an optical products retailer, has run advertisements that claimed its customers can get the same eyeglasses at a savings of up to $72 from the price charged by a major competitor, LensCrafters.
Truth in advertising? Or is Frame-N-Lens looking through rose-colored glasses to come up with the price comparisons?
LensCrafters, a Cincinnati-based chain of eyeglass stores, is alleging in a lawsuit that Frame-N-Lens' ads are false and misleading. The suit, filed last week in Orange County Superior Court, asks the court to stop the ads from being published or broadcast, and seeks unspecified damages for lost revenue and profits.
"The advertisements have misled the public," said James L. Morris, a Costa Mesa lawyer representing LensCrafters, which has 423 stores nationwide, including 56 in California. "They have frequently misquoted the prices of the products, and they have failed to disclose the (LensCrafters) price-matching guarantee."
In a recent newspaper ad campaign, Frame-N-Lens shows two photos, side by side, of identical Norris frames with lenses. The ad claims the glasses sell for $111 at LensCrafters, but only $39 at Frame-N-Lens. The ad's headline reads: "Same Frames. Same Lenses. One Visible Difference."
The ad began running in August in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register and the Fresno Bee, according to the lawsuit. Commercials have also been aired on several Southland television stations.
But Morris says that because LensCrafters offers to match the prices of competitors, "there really is no basis for a price comparison," Morris said.
LensCrafters also argues that the ads fail to mention that its glasses are ready in about an hour, while Frame-N-Lens takes seven to 10 days or charges an extra $12 for its "three-day express service."
"At this point, the only comment we can make is that our advertisements are true and accurate," said Eric Boden, the president of Frame-N-Lens Optical Inc. in Santa Fe Springs. He declined to comment on specific allegations in the lawsuit because he had not seen the complaint. Frame-N-Lens has 120 stores in California, 14 of them in Orange County.
Morris said LensCrafters officials wrote letters to Frame-N-Lens last fall and again in March, demanding that the ads be changed, but Frame-N-Lens refused.
Even so, Frame-N-Lens recently altered its ads to point out that LensCrafters offers the glasses "in about an hour," while Frame-N-Lens can get glasses in three days for the additional cost.
Boden said the company is "constantly evaluating our advertisements" but declined further comment.
Frame-N-Lens' advertisements have sparked controversy before. In 1987, the company paid $50,000 in fines after the Orange County District Attorney's office accused it of advertising its regular prices as sale prices. Although the company admitted no wrongdoing, it took down its "sale" signs and pulled the ads.