When Companies Continue to Work with Problematic Suppliers – Is This Normal?

Eye chart Eye chart

I learned a surprising and fairly upsetting lesson about sourcing this week. Call me naive – I am still a rookie in the procurement world, after all. But, what I learned is that companies knowingly work with suppliers that provide defective products and services. Or at least one company does: Visionworks.

Fool Me Once, Shame on You

Last spring, I purchased a new pair of glasses from the eye care chain. The local Visionworks store had some deal for an eye exam, new glasses and contacts. I ended up buying a pair of glasses that totaled more than $400 (this included frames, lenses, scratch coating, etc. – all the special extras that are “needed”). Insurance covered about half that price. Due to the overall cost and my 15-year past history with glasses, I had expected this pair to last a couple of years if not more.

Six months pass and already I had encountered a problem. Last fall I noticed my lenses were starting to scratch – or more so that something was scratching off the lenses. Specs of odd coloring were appearing on the glass. Never having seen this before, I took the glasses back to Visionworks to inquire. They knew right away: The scratch coating was actually flaking off the lenses. A “defect,” they said. Unfortunate, sure. But they replaced the lenses for free. I assumed the problem was solved and didn’t expect to encounter it again.

I was wrong.

Fool Me Twice…Still Shame on You

About a month ago, I noticed the flaking on the lenses again. This time, since I knew what it was and because I had already replaced the lenses once, I was a bit more upset. Really? My “replacement” lenses were again “defective.”

I took the glasses back to the same Visionworks store I brought them to late last week. Unlike last time, the store wasn’t offering to replace the lenses for free. I had passed my 1-year mark since purchasing them. It seems my warranty had expired. The store clerk and the supervisor said there was nothing they could do now. My options were: buy new replacement lenses, which would make this the third pair of lenses in roughly 15 months for the same frames, or purchase new glasses altogether.

Ehem. What?

Luck of the Draw

I didn’t take “no” so easily. I inquired about specifically how much I had spent last year on these glasses, how this had happened again, if they knew how ludicrous this situation was… but still, they arrived at the same conclusion, which was basically that I was out of luck.

And apparently it is a bit of a roll of the dice when you purchase from Visionworks. The lucky ones get crystal clear lenses, and the rest of us end up with “defective” glasses. (Perhaps worth noting: There are a number of bad reviews about Visionworks online at such sites like Yelp. There also seems to be a number of online forums about coatings flaking off lenses – even a seemingly unnecessarily long Youtube video about it.)

Definitely worth noting: The store clerk at Visionworks actually told me that yes, sometimes their scratch coating suppliers “create defective batches” of the coating, which end up on customers’ lenses. Maybe there is no way to test whether a “batch” is “defective” or not. Still, if a Visionworks employee knows this much about her company’s supplier(s), it makes me think 2 things automatically:

  1. This is a problem Visionworks has seen before, perhaps numerous times with customer’s lenses.
  2. Visionworks is very well aware its suppliers are creating defective products, yet it continues to work with said supplier.

The second point just completely boggles my brain. But again, I am not someone who has been in the supply chain for long. Perhaps this isn’t so unusual. However, from a customer’s perspective, it is utterly infuriating.

I wrote Visionworks customer service earlier this week about the situation, but have yet to hear back. (Though, to be fair, it has only been a few days.) I am not expecting a free pair of replacement lenses, or even a response at all. Maybe I should, though I wouldn’t want another set of lenses from their defective suppliers. No thanks. From now on, I will be taking my business elsewhere.

Update:

This morning I woke up to an email from Visionworks customer service. As expected, the response was disappointing:

"Dear Ms. McAvoy,

Thank you for your email.

We apologize. Because the glasses were purchased in April of 2014, we cannot replace them at no charge."

That was it. End of message. Seems they need to work on their customer service. Or, more likely, they are not concerned with keeping customers.

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