One of the reason we pay premium for brand-name products is the expectation that if something goes wrong, we’d get outstanding support. Some U.S. companies (think Buck knives) have built their reputations on their lifetime warranties. But in the global economy, when brands are sold and resold, it is getting harder and harder to obtain good warranty support.
Because sailing is a small niche market where reputation counts, sailors often receive outstanding warranty support from sailing equipment suppliers. If you go to the Practical Sailor website and search Where Credit is Due, you’ll see a number of company names repeating. But once you step outside the small world of sailing into the global marketplace, the warranty process gets complicated.
Photos by Darrell Nicholson
As a spot check on warranty service in the era of global online merchandizing we decided to look at sunglasses, which like pocket knives, try to woo us by welcoming us into their family. This would also give us the opportunity to follow up on our 2009 report (Practical Sailor Tests Polarized Sunglasses, July 2009, PS online). As we pointed out in our 2009 test, nearly all brand-name sunglasses manufacturers offer some form of warranty support, but how good is that warranty, really? Where does the company draw the line on warranty service and normal wear and tear that isn’t covered by warranty? And how much of a hassle is it to get warranty or repair service?
What We Tested
In this sunglasses warranty test, we looked at the warranty fulfillments on five pairs of sunglasses: Three pairs of Costa Del Mars; one pair of Barz Optics, and one pair of Oakley sunglasses. The five pairs had damages ranging in nature from scratched, crackled and broken lenses, to broken frames, missing screws and broken arms (ear pieces).
How We Tested
Our first stop was the company websites. We found each brands website outlined the steps consumers need to take to repair or replace their products and answered questions on warranties. Warranty forms generally ask for the date of purchase, the name of owner, and a description of the damage to the product, along with the probable cause of damage. We then went through the warranty service process as directed.
Costa Del Mar
Costa Del Mar has long touted its backed-for-life limited lifetime warranty. The warranty states that the company warrants its glasses against defects in materials or workmanship for the lifetime of the product. Normal wear, scratched lenses, broken hinges, accidental damage, misuse or any other problems determined not to be defects, are specifically not covered. A small processing fee is charged for each warranty claim processed.
We sent in three different pairs of damaged Costa Del Mar non-prescription sunglasses. Two had cracked lenses, and one had a missing screw.
For warranty service, you must log on to special area of the Costa del Mar website that is dedicated to warranty service. Our first set was a pair of Costa Del Mar Caballito Tortoise shell glasses with copper 580G (glass) lenses. In the end, it took two attempts and 23 minutes on hold with customer service before we were able to enter the request online.
Eight days after mailing the sunglasses we got an email stating they had arrived and that they would be sent to a technician for evaluation, which would take 12-15 days. The email included, If your sunglasses are covered under warranty or you pre-authorized repairs, you will receive an email letting you know they have been sent to a repair technician. If we need additional approvals from you, we will contact you after the assessment. The email included a link that took us to the Costa del Mar website where we could log into our online account and get updates.
Twenty-four days after mailing the lenses we received an email update informing us that the lens damage was not under warranty and would cost $89 to replace. Frame damage was also listed as a required repair, also not under warranty. The frame replacement was quoted at $12. Our choices were to refuse the repairs and have the sunglasses sent back in the condition they were received at no cost, or accept the required repairs. We agreed to the repairs. After a tax and free shipping, the total was $128, broken down as follows:
$12 required service fee
$8 shipping to Costa
$89 repair of cracked lenses
(plastic lenses are $69)
$12 additional repair of frame (suggested by Costa del Mar).
The whole process took 72 days. We found the same pair online new for $140 including three-day shipping. In summary, our long wait and phone hassles saved us $11.
Costa HR-11 Harpoon, and Pawleys
Our second and third attempts did not fair any better. On October 21, 2016, we sent in a pair of Costa Del Mar HR-11 Harpoon glasses with plastic lenses (580P), one of them cracked. To save on shipping we sent them with the second pair, the Pawley model, also with 580P lenses. After a few days, we checked back online and noted each pair was given its own order number and were waiting to be assessed. The Harpoons order number ended in 6447, while our third pair of Costas was labeled 6440. Three weeks after sending in the glasses, we checked on the Harpoons (6447) and received the message, Sorry, no information is available. Meanwhile , we got an email confirming that the Pawleys (6440) had arrived, were covered by warranty, but the replacement was back-ordered. Six weeks after sending in the sunglasses, we received a very cheerful email from a named representative, informing us that the Pawleys were still back-ordered and we could continue to check online, or call and speak to a representative about our other options. We were also thanked for being part of the Costa family.
We went online and we still could not find any information on our other pair, the Harpoon Costas. Three months after sending in the Pawleys, we received another email on January 18 informing us that our sunglasses were still backordered and that Costa del Mar needed a few more weeks. Please call in so we can discuss a different color option or potentially a different style, the email said. It also said we could pick another style replacement, just not any 2017 models or limited editions. It added: PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL. PLEASE CALL IN WITH ANY QUESTIONS. A phone number was supplied, but no name. Our online account still had no information available for the Harpoons.
We called Costa on February 15, 2017. The customer service representative found the Pawleys order 6440 and said the problem was listed as a screw backing out and told us the suggested repair was a complete frame replacement. The replacement would be covered under the warranty, but the tortoise shell frames were not available. We were told we could chose any style with the polycarbonate lens except the new 2017 styles. The order should be complete in seven to ten days. Total cost was $24. Total time was approximately four months. This was the best deal that we got from Costa del Mar: a new set of sunglasses for $24 after season without them.
After completing the order on the telephone for the replacement Pawleys, we asked the rep about the missing order 6447 for the Harpoons. She eventually found them under the Pawley order 6440. They must have moved them to the same order number, since they arrived together. Mystery solved.
She relayed that the Harpoon lenses were not under warranty and the replacement lens charge would be $89. The right lens is broken on the Harpoons with the black frame and blue lenses, she read from the now rediscovered order. We opted to pay $99 for a new pair of Harpoon sunglasses and they arrived on February 25, 2017. Total cost to us was $128.
$12 second service charge
We found a new pair of Harpoons listed at $129 at WalMart. Our four month repair odyssey saved us a buck.
Bottom line: We gave Costa del Mar three tries to step up with exceptional post-sale service, and three times they failed. Despite their emphasis on warranty support, Costa del Mars service was excruciatingly slow. Yes, we were pleased that the Pawleys were replaced for $24, but the service took way too long. We have heard of other sailors who are pleased with Costa del Mars service, we were not.
We first thought that our $130 Oakley HiJinx sunglasses would be covered. Through normal use the surface coating of both lenses had become crackled and opaque, a process that began a year after we got them. Neither lens was cracked. Our research indicated that extreme heat might be the cause. They had not been exposed to extreme heat-unless wearing sunglasses in the sun qualifies. On Oakleys website, the warranty links took us to the Luxottica warranty and repair service website which lists 24 brands.
Under the terms of the warranty delamination and peeling of sunglass lens coating, bubbles, or imperfections in the lens coating, flaking or deterioration of frame coating and soldering defects of temple hinges and barrels are all covered. Damage caused by chemicals is not covered. Normal wear and tear, abuse, accident and neglect are not covered, and prescription lenses are not covered.
Luxottica asks consumers to upload information to the website. The site asks you to be prepared with eyewear information; pictures of the eyewear; and proof of purchase if available. The warranty says the sunglasses are warranted two years from date of purchase, and ours were six years old. The site does, however, mention that products outside the warranty period, will still be evaluated for an estimate of the cost of repairs or a replacement will be sent.
We submitted the requested information and uploaded photos of our crackled lenses to the website and submitted our request. The response stated that we should hear from them within five days. We would either be covered under warranty, or receive an estimate for repair. We were not asked to send in the sunglasses.
Twelve days later we were notified on November 2 that upon evaluation of the eyewear, the service technician determined that the issue was not due to defective material or workmanship. Unless the glasses were designed to self-destruct when exposed to the sun, this made no sense to us. We were offered a repair service, with a summary of repair costs listed totaling $107.50.
$100 repair charge
$7.50 processing fee
We were asked to call an 800 number to take advantage of the repair service and to be prepared to ship the sunglasses to the Oakley Warranty and Repair Service Center in Mira Loma, CA. When we called the 800 number, we selected the warranty choice line and waited for 23 minutes when someone from the tele-sales department picked up and said she would have to transfer us to warranty service. We told her we had already waited 23 minutes; she apologized for the high call volume, but said she had no control over wait times. We thanked her and she responded with a very sincere, No Problem!
After being assured our request for warranty repair was no problem, we were connected back to the same recording we had originally faced 23 minutes earlier. We chose the same number again, warranty and waited 33 minutes, without anyone answering.
We tried back two more times on two consecutive days and after 25 minutes on hold both times, we never spoke to a representative. In the end, we simply gave up on Oakley.
Bottom line: We regret recommending these sunglasses to our readers. They turned out to be junk, with the coating failure after limited use, and the warranty support was abysmal. If you bought a pair of these sunglasses and are disappointed, we encourage you to contact the editor at email@example.com.
Our fifth attempt on a sunglass warranty is a Cinderella story out of nowhere – or should we say, out of Australia. The arm piece on our Barz Optics Tofino sunglasses was broken. The Barz website warranty section requested we email them with our concerns. The warranty stated what was covered and stated the warranty period was two years.
After four previous attempts at warranty fulfillment, we were admittedly skeptical when we emailed the admin email address listed on the warranty page. Costa Del Mar and Oakley had both requested photos of the damaged eyewear so, unprompted, we attached two photos of the broken arm on the Barz Tofino and wrote, I am writing to inquire about sunglass repair or replacement. Can you inform me of repair costs or warranty coverage of sunglasses with a broken arm? And waited.
We received an email 20 minutes later, less time than we had been on hold with Costa and Oakley. Kevin Barrs immediate response was: We will replace them under warranty. Are they black or tortoise shell? What is your address?
Three days later we received an email that said, These will be posted out today for you. They will be traveling with Australia Post and should take between 10-16 days to be received. The frames arrived in Sarasota, FL less than two weeks later.
We were never asked to wait on hold, send the frames, verify date of purchase, pay a service fee, describe the problem, or describe what caused the damage. The frames arrived 13 days after initial contact having cleared U.S. customs in an envelope. Right on you, Mate.
Sunglasses warranties should be taken with a grain of salt. Read your warranty when you buy. If something goes wrong with your product, read it again and manage expectations before contacting the retailer or manufacturer. At some point you have to decide if youd rather be sailing in pair of modestly priced shades or battling customer service.
We are always interested in hearing about those times when a company really goes above and beyond what was required by contract to repair or replace a product. In the Costa del Mar case, the damage to the Cabillitos and Harpoons were clearly not manufacturer defects and were not covered by warranty, however the response time was unnerving.
In the case of the Pawleys, the time frame was too long for a screw replacement, but in the end we received new sunglasses. Oakley was a total bust. Barz Optics was the clear winner in the warranty coverage and replacement test. We waited approximately seven months for our other products to respond and return our sunglasses. Barz Optics responded in 20 minutes and we received new frames shipped from Australia in 10 days. In our book that’s an excellent job, Mate.