“We’ve got some big news to share as we announce today that we have agreed to join forces with Luxottica” (LUX).
This post showed up on the Google’s (GOOG) Google Glass G+ page last week, and it signals a big move on Google’s part. It’s a clear demonstration of GOOG’s determination to drive ahead with Google Glass and move the augmented reality glasses from tech beta release to mass market consumer product.
The kind of product with the potential to move the needle on GOOG stock.
Luxottica and Google Glass: Definitely Good for the Former
The move to sign Luxottica as a Google Glass partner was met with mixed reaction.
LUX shares spiked on the news. Which makes sense. There were over 145,000 applications to pay GOOG $1,500 to become an early adopter “Google Explorer” last year, of which 8,000 people were selected. When there’s sufficient demand that people will compete to shell out that kind of cash on prototype eyewear, that seems like easy pickings.
So, score one for the company behind Ray-Ban, Prada, Oakley and Versace.
In its how-to guide to Google Glass explorers, Google says: “Don’t wear it and expect to be ignored.” Being ignored is probably the last thing a typical Chanel eyeglass (another Luxottica brand) buyer wants, so knowing that Google Glass add-on to the luxury eyeglass frame is going to generate attention might just make the upgrade even more appealing.
With Google Glass as an added option for its eyewear — and Google doing all the heavy lifting around product development and support — Luxottica suddenly goes high-tech. It’s a player in the wearable technology field just as it’s set to explode. At the same time, its customers are already accustomed to paying $200 or more for just the frames with optics often bringing that total cost to well over $500, so sticker shock isn’t a big problem.
Gigaom’s price breakdown of Google Glass components comes up with a parts cost in the $225 range. If someone doesn’t blink at paying $500 for a pair of Luxottica’s designer eyeglasses, there’s a good chance that upping the cost to $750 or $1,000 to include Google Glass functionality is going to see some takers.
Even if it’s the same $1,500 those early adopter Google Explorers are paying now, how many of those people do you suppose would have gone with designer frames instead of the GOOG stock versions if they’d had the option?
Google lacks Apple’s (AAPL) retail footprint, so getting Project Glass on display for potential buyers is a challenge, and Google’s retail partner will benefit from not having a direct-sell competitor in the same mall. If Luxottica retail outlets become showrooms for Google Glass, even capturing a fraction of the curious is probably worth the aggravation of having gawkers show up wanting to try out the cool new tech.
So really, nothing but upside for Luxottica.
What About Google?
No one’s necessarily blaming the Luxottica partnership for the now 5%-plus slide in GOOG stock — which takes some significant doing — but it’s worth noting anyways.
Investors probably are convinced the Google Glass deal represents an opportunity, but are unsure about whether stylish (and expensive) Ray-Ban and Oakley specs sporting Google’s AR technology will be enough to have a real impact on Google’s bottom line.
And, the deal might actually turn off potential buyers who see it as another sign that the technology is elitist.
That’s an understandable doubt. For Google Glass to really hit the mainstream and result in meaningful sales, it needs to be priced at a level that average consumers can afford — not just early adopters. If you’re going for affordability, upping the final price tag by a few hundred bucks or more for designer frames might not be the right approach.
Under the Luxottica deal, Google Glass options still might be expensive, but LUX does offer a huge national retail and dealer network, including its Target Optical, LensCrafters and Sunglass Hut operations.
Even if Google Glass remains expensive, the AR-equipped Luxottica glasses will be in front of a lot more consumers than if Google relied on web sales. That extra exposure alone might be enough to boost sales, ward off competitors and pay off in some way for GOOG stock holders.
Over time, that Luxottica relationship — like the move to sign up premium watchmaker Fossil (FOSL) for the Android Wear program — is likely to pay off not just by boosting Google Glass visibility, but by positioning it as a quality product, worth paying more for. That market positioning has helped Apple and Samsung (SSNLF) retain high pricing, high demand and high margins in a smartphone market that’s become commodified.
The problem is we’re left with a still-unanswered question. Will the LUX partnership result in the kind of sales volume that’s big enough to eventually boost GOOG stock, or simply turn an early adopter status symbol into an expensive fashion status symbol?
So don’t feel compelled to pull the trigger one way or the other on GOOG — at least not based off the potential for Google Glass.
But do get awfully excited about Luxottica’s prospects, as well as those of Google Glass itself.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.