Don't Rub Your Eyes: Sunglasses Are Cheaper in Israel

Competition between optics and pharmacy chains is good news for consumers.

Sunglasses have always been considered an absolute necessity in surviving the Israeli summer, as well as a fashion accessory for both men and women. Perhaps for that reason the Israeli sunglasses market is exceptionally competitive. Chains offer a host of special discounts throughout the year - even early in the season, when new collections are just being introduced.

The fierce competition stems from the large number of stores and franchises that sell sunglasses, not to mention the numerous small stalls, department stores and drugstores that have also recently started selling sunglasses, say experts at Business Data Israel. Another reason for the current market competition is the increasing availability of imports, which forces local competitors into reducing prices. Chain stores are therefore often compelled to sell sunglasses for 60 percent their original market price.

Sunglasses and other accessories displayed on mannequins in New York.

"Fierce competition in the sunglasses market forces the franchises to innovate constantly and offer competitive prices throughout the year," says Meir Rasin, CEO of Opticana, one of Israel's largest eyeglasses chains. "Two main collections are offered every year, one in March and the other in September. But the large franchises try to bring in new models during the year and sell them at competitive prices to attract customers."

Ray-Ban sunglasses, for example, have for a long time been sold for minimum profit to attract shoppers in both Israel and the world; for roughly NIS 399 instead of NIS 800. Rasin explained that the low price of the item doesn't affect company profits because sunglasses are bought so often. "In the past, hardly anyone bought more than a single pair of sunglasses a year. Now people buy two or three," he says.

Yaniv Segev, Corporate Development and Optics Manager at the pharmacy chain Super-Pharm, explains that for drugstores, selling sunglasses hardly diverts resources or affects profitability. On the other hand, sunglasses can serve as a powerful tool for attracting clientele.

"Customers walk in to buy sunglasses at an attractive price, but while they are there we can talk to them about eyeglasses and contact lenses, which are our main sources of revenue," he says.

The decision to decrease prices was made at the chain stores themselves rather than at the distributor level, says Gali Weider, the commercial manager of Luxottica Israel, the exclusive importer of brands including Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Channel, Vogue and Ray-Ban.

"Distributors didn't reduce prices," she says. "The price of imports and exports is on the rise, but the fierce competition forces business owners to make smaller profits in order to keep clientele."

Still, the sunglasses market is still considered highly profitable. According to Business Data Israel, profits from selling sunglasses in 2011 amounted to NIS 370 million. Annual revenues passed the NIS 300 million mark a long time ago, and haven't dropped since.

Tips on buying sunglasses

The competition between sunglasses chains has led to a surprising side effect: In Israel, sunglasses now cost less or about the same as in America or Europe. The only notable exception is the Israeli chain Optic Doron, which prides itself on exclusive luxury models that are not sold on discount.

To compare prices with the American and European markets, we reviewed two American and two British websites that sell sunglasses. Even where prices were lower than in Israel, when taking VAT and import costs into consideration the Israeli market still remains cheaper.

Ray-Bans that are sold in Israel for NIS 399 after discount are being sold in the U.S. for the equivalent of NIS 418, and in the UK for NIS 750. Prada sunglasses sold in Israel for NIS 799 (after discount ) are sold in the UK for the equivalent of NIS 1,038. Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses sold in Israel for NIS 668 cost the equivalent of NIS 655 in the U.S. and NIS 670 in Britain (a marginal gap if we take import taxes into account ).

If you're going to buy sunglasses in Israel, compare prices - which can save you tens to hundreds of shekels. While the comparison may be an uneasy one to make, since not every model is sold in every store, still make the effort to compare the models on sale. To make an efficient comparison, copy down the name of the model printed on the frame, call the other chains and see if they hold that model in store and how much they charge for sell it.

Lennon meets Gaga

The collections offered on sale this year show a remarkable degree of diversity in styles and design. The sunglass franchises - unlike in the fashion industry - never completely get rid of their stocks. Successful models from previous years can therefore still be found and are sold at the same price as last year.

Retro chic is in fashion for the summer of 2012. At Optic Doron you can find 1920s-style frames, 1950s feline-like frames, 1960s-style aviator sunglasses, and other round frames inspired by the 1970s look. "The John Lennon look, the round glasses - with a metal, plastic or no frame - was brought back into vogue by Lady Gaga," says a representative at the Erroca chain.

Ranit Kolikant, marketing manager at Luxottica Israel, says that this summer's signature style will probably be that of the folding sunglasses. "Compact sunglasses that fold to the size of about half a normal pair," she explains. "Prada, Ray-Ban, Dolce & Gabbana and other brand names already put out such models this season."