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Home » Health, Health Insurance

Why Eyeglasses are so Expensive & how you can Pay Less

Last updated by on 24 Comments

Ever wonder why eyeglasses are so expensive?

60 Minutes had a really interesting piece on the Italian eyeglass manufacturer, Luxottica that helps explain why.

Luxottica manufactures just about every designer eyeglass brand in the market – Gucci, Prada, Ray Ban, Oakley, Polo, Ralph Lauren, Versace, Chanel, Chaps, Paul Smith, Vogue, etc., etc…

Not only that, but they also own or run the retail channels – Lenscrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical, Sunglass Hut, and Oliver Peoples. All but a few brands sold at these retailers are made by Luxottica.

AND they even control some of the payment channel by owning the second largest vision insurer, Eyemed.

So not only do they manufacturer a large majority of the glasses (their CEO estimated that at least half a billion people own a pair they manufactured) – but they also set the prices. If you’re an optician or retailer, you want their brands. If you’re a brand, you want to be in their stores. You have no negotiating room, and when you do compete, Luxottica refuses to sell your brand at their stores, and then buys you out after your stock sinks, as they did with Oakley.

If you are insured by Eyemed and buy a Luxottica brand from Lenscrafters, for example, Luxottica has made the glasses, sold you the glasses at prices they’ve set, and even paid for part of the glasses.

I won’t say the “M” word, but they control the market.

So what can you do to avoid paying so much for glasses?

How to Avoid Paying High Prices for Eyeglasses

why the price of glasses are so highAs consumers, we are willing to pay a lot for eyeglasses. They are functional, they protect our eyes, they grace our beautiful faces, they are a focal point for those who look at us, and some of us are completely disabled without them.

So long as we are willing to pay high prices for glasses, Luxottica and others are going to charge us high prices. Luxottica is banking on us being in the dark on why prices are so high, so we think it’s just the way it is. But we are partially at fault for not being informed, or being informed and not caring.

Should we pay hundreds for a pair of glasses when they cost so little to make?

NO!

And as an informed consumer on the path to financial bliss, HELL NO!!

So what can you do to avoid paying so much for eyeglasses?

Tip #1: Do not buy brand name eyeglasses.

You will pay an exorbitant amount for the name punched on that frame. And since Luxottica owns most of those brands and sets the prices and their profit margins, you pay even more.

I’m sure we’ll here the quality argument in the responses, but name stamped on frame does not equal quality when it comes to glasses. It’s no different than grocery store brand name/generics. I’ve purchased a number of high quality, off-brand eye glasses that have stood the test of time and abuse better than more expensive brand names.

If you’re trying to impress others with that brand stamped on your face, you’re impressing the wrong people for the wrong reasons. And you’re getting price gouged to do so.

Tip #2: Use your HSA or FSA to pay tax free.

You can annually contribute pre-tax funds to an HSA or FSA and then use those funds to pay for your glasses. If you’re in the 33% tax bracket, you’ve just saved yourself 33% on your eyeglasses. Congrats! Note: this only applies to prescription glasses.

Tip #3: Buy your glasses online. Stay away from brick and mortar retailers.

You can buy a great pair of prescription glasses online (lens included), for less than $40. Non-prescription glasses are even cheaper. There is enough online price competition going after this informed consumer audience, that prices have stayed low. These guys have carved out their own niche online. They don’t compete for un-informed consumers like Luxottica does.

I’ve covered how to buy glasses online previously, and in that post I recommend a few low-cost online eyeglass retailers.

Ultimately, once again, it pays to:

  • be informed
  • act on it

Eyeglass Chat:

  • Will this knowledge of Luxottica dominance change your eyeglass purchasing behaviors?
  • If you’re still pro-brand name, what is the justification?
  • If you’ve purchased glasses online, what is your favorite online eyeglass retailer and why?

About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


24 Comments »
  • HP says:

    After buying online, I will never buy eyeglasses again from the eye doctor/retailer. I had a great experience with Warby Parker.

    • Ed says:

      I just saw them, thanks for the tip. It’s absolutely ridiculous how Luxottica can get away with this stuff. I thought cornering a market was illegal, and after seeing that show on CBS how Luxottica pushes out competitors, now THAT I know is illegal yet they get away with it. It would be interesting to know how much money Luxottica “donates” to politicians. I was in the eyeglass store yesterday, $300 for frames that looked identical to $5 sunglasses I saw in a newspaper stand.

  • Amanda M says:

    I have made 4 different purchases from Zenni optical, and I recommend them to pretty much everyone I know. I do add the stipulation that you need to know your facial measurments (not just your PD and your prescription) for the best results. As an example, I have a wide face [not a fat head :)] so when I order, I know that my frame width needs to be at least 133 mm, but not over 138 mm, because that would be too wide. There is not a good way to return the glasses while getting any money back unless there was a mistake on their part. I’ve had a few pairs fit weird, but I’ve never had a pair that I couldn’t wear.

    I love the tint options for sunglasses (I’ve had 3 pair as my prescription has changed). I get the anti-glare coatings on un-tinted glasses, which range from 4.95-14.95 right now and they work great. My suggestion is to always order more than one pair. At the average price for my glasses, which is $15, the $4.95 shipping rate seems like a lot. Sometimes they’ll discount the shipping based on promotions, but $5 on a $50 order isn’t so bad.

    When people compliment my glasses, one of my favorite things to do is mention how much they cost. They are always astounded, and ask where I got them.

  • Mary says:

    Seconded, HP! I LOVE Warby Parker. Amanda M, they’re more expensive than Zenni but they will send you frames for free to try on before you buy. Go to their site, pick out five pairs you want to try, and they mail them right to your house free of charge. I can’t buy frames without trying them on (I’m terrible at judging what will actually look good on me) so this has been a lifesaver for me.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    I will also never buy again from the doctor/pharmacy. My current pair of frames came from Kaiser, at a cost of less than $300 out the door.

    I’m going to try buying online.

  • Bill says:

    “If you’re trying to impress others with that brand stamped on your face, you’re impressing the wrong people for the wrong reasons. And you’re getting price gouged to do so.”

    At least your article didn’t come off preachy… Oh wait.

    Do you also yell at expensive cars, as they drive down the road, letting them know that they could have bought a Kia, with a 10 year warranty? Or better yet, ride a bike?

    As far as Luxottica, let me give a couple words of advice. First, companies have been vertically integrating since the term was invented. This is good for stockholders, which is what companies are structured to satisfy. Jobs are being created. The economy is being stimulated. If you are choosing to specifically come against all other vertically integrated companies, then sharpen your pencil, because you’ve got a lot of writing ahead of you.

    Second, please do more research than watching ’60 minutes’ for 12 minutes. Just like most anything else… some parts are true, some parts aren’t. The only way to get to the bottom is to dig deeper than watching television.

    Third, Luxottica only has about 20% marketshare. There is other fierce competition in manufacturing, and retail (Walmart, Costco). Again, a little research goes a long way.

    In the end though, good call on the HSA, and I have had some great experiences with Warby Parker.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      “Do you also yell at expensive cars, as they drive down the road, letting them know that they could have bought a Kia, with a 10 year warranty? Or better yet, ride a bike?”

      Actually, yes… my favorite past-time. This is a personal finance blog, man!

      • Bill says:

        Fair enough. I enjoy your website, but thought you were a bit ‘prescriptive’ (pun intended) with the tone of the article. In my opinion, it’s worth pinching pennies in meaningless parts of your life, in order to put them towards a purchase that sits on your nose every day for 2 years. In addition, you might not think that there are sacrifices to your frame /lens quality when you buy them for $39, but there certainly are. Whether many perceive that lack of quality is a different discussion. What is certain though, is that the frames won’t be fitted as well, and the lenses won’t be placed as well. I’ve had to send multiple pairs of online glasses back for this reason. When I took them to my eye doctor to see if the precription was wrong, my doctor drew on the lenses and showed me how they weren’t placed correctly for my face. There’s a bit of risk involved in the online process, which many might be able to tolerate.

    • Kt says:

      Cars quality can endanger your life while glasses quality can just give discomfort. But you can easier buy a replacement for $10 if your prescription is off. If you have the money and like to show off with your brand name glamor then I think it’s fine. But if you’re going into debt and sacrificing the quality of your life with an inability to pay your bills you’re probably making a bad choice.

      Honestly though, I’d rather make friends who respect me as a person rather than how ritzy the things I own are. And if your self worth is based on such materialistic things then there is probably a problem. I think that is what the commenter is getting at.

      To each his own I guess. I do like the comfort of good quality items, but I think when it comes to glasses, the price difference between online sellers and the doctors office is insane. And there is really not a big quality difference either. I’ve been wearing cheap $10 glasses and they have been holding up just fine. I think these high priced glasses are a racket. While it is unfortunate that the employees who work for these price gougers may suffer when people start wising up and shopping elsewhere. But that is the market and I don’t think consumer suffering justifies it. And these companies either need to change their business model or make something else that actually justifies such a crazy price.

  • mdenis39 says:

    Just got my eyeglasses delivered to me from Zinni yesterday, thanks to this blog (and the comments). I paid $130 for bifocals, frames have spring hinges. I like them very much. I was surprised by the “austerity” of the packaging – they came in a flimsy plastic case, no care instructions, and made in China (possible shipped directly from the mfr in China?). But they did include a microfiber cleaning cloth. Anyway, very happy with them & paid for with my HSA, so they were “free”:)!

  • Steve says:

    I am a retired optician. The information here is a mix of true and not so true. I left the optical field because of the abuses heaped on the public by most retailers. Eyeglasses need to be fitted, preferably by someone with experience and understanding. You could cause yourself skin irritations or worse with an ill fitting frame. If your wear multifocal lenses you must be measured by a knowledgable professional while wearing the exact frame in which the lenses will be placed. If your frame becomes crooked, or uncomfortable you must have it put back into proper alignment. It IS true that buying frames with a “designer” name on it is no assurance of quality and there are many good manufacturers other than Luxottica. When you need eyeglasses ask for recommendations, do some shopping, ask questions.

    • Bob says:

      I, too, am an optician and you are right on the money with your comment. It’s easy to be a hero in people’s eyes if you REALLY know how to adjust frames and how to troubleshoot a patients problems with frames, lenses and, to a limited extent, their vision. A shame that most people, new to the optical world, are showed a couple of films, given a “high sales” pep talk, and sent out to sell some glasses! Nothing wrong with that, all businesses must have sales, but it would sure be nice if the companies would place adjusting, troubleshooting, and coaching in as high a sphere as sales.

  • Dave says:

    When I became an adult one of the first things I did was get a pair of much needed eyeglasses. My optomitrist flat out ripped me off with a pair of $160.00 frames. He then never sized me up and let me choose a frame that was too big and wrong for my face. To top it all off it would cost an additional $110.00 for an anti-glare coating. I decide not to get the anti-glare coating simply because it’s not in my budget to do so.

    A month goes by and seeing the reflection of my eyeballs everytime I turn a computer screen on or go outside was becoming too much for me. I decided to look online when to my amazement I could have gotten a knock-off brand of similar style for about 1/5th the price. This of course included the anti-glare coating. I bought the glasses and wore them for two years straight without any problems.

  • Findingnewme says:

    I am just joining this website after spending an exorbitant amount of money on prescripon eyeglasses. In recent years, I have been purchasing glasses from myeyedr. Last weekend, my eyeglasses broke so i immediately went online to gauge my available options, and of course , there were no retailers open when I needed them, except for myeyedr in bethesda on Sunday afternoon. I went, i bought, i received today, and now… Eh….not so sure I like them. Just want to confirm my return options now.

  • レイバン says:

    The wayfarers were among the ideal selections in both equally departments and were being applied extensively by present day manner designers.
    This is the cause why they are a single of the most sought right after sun shades today.

  • Robert says:

    You have to ask yourself why do glasses have to cost more than a Ipad, I phone, bicycle…I can go on. Really is there that much metal/plastic and labor involved in making glasses. Does a person stand in “Italy” and hand make a pair of glasses all by hand? No!
    Your local eyeglass store person will tell you that the fitting and sending off the information to the manufacturer takes ++time. They will also make it look like they have to make precise calculation that cannot be performed by the average person. Heck they will even tell you plastic and the metal used on the glasses has gone up in price by 1000 percent and glass has become rare. If you believe all that…..you truly are sucker.
    I think there will be always people who will pay for the brand name stamp to show they paid more.
    If the cost was more realistic of what it actually cost, then I would be willing to pay it at a local store. Until then …I will be purchasing online.

  • Peter says:

    Opticians buy frames for 50p same applies when they buy contact lenses. Not a bad profit. Trust me I know have family in the business.

  • James says:

    Ok hold on a second. Designer sunglasses are not all neccesarily expensive. The Designer brands mentioned in this article are some top of the range designer brands. Chanel, Gucci, and other brands are not going to be owned by your average sunglass buyer. You can get Ray-Bans and Oakley’s for much cheaper than $300. I can get Ray-Ban Aviators for $145, not factoring in my negotiating powers to lower the price. And when you think about it you are paying for better quality. $5 sunglasses do not have adequate UV protection, have abismal quality, and are made as temporary sunglasses, not keepers. While Luxottica is a monopoly, and I despise that, there are very sunglass brands not made by Luxottica.

  • Rob says:

    I’m amazed so many are willing to be so cheap with their eyes/vision. Eyeglasses are not exorbitant because of the frames. Eyeglasses are expensive because of the lens technology. Technology we all want in our TVs, tablets, cars, etc..yet some reason view as “gouging” when we place it before the only set of eyes we’ll ever have. What good is high definition television without high definition optics in our lenses? If you think your online distributors are providing the best technologies at a fraction of the cost you are sorely mistaken. In fact, your online distributor doesn’t even have access to top tier technology. Just as a name brand stamped on a frame doesn’t make it a superior frame, so too calling something “antiglare” or “progressive” doesn’t elevate it to the best available. Walmart sells shoes and clothing less than Brooks Brothers. We all recognize there is a difference. So it is will lens technology. Fitting a lens properly is child’s play for many, until you have a large refractive error, a great difference in Rx between the eyes, progressive lenses, etc. Attempting to become the expert here is quite frankly ridiculous. It’s akin to trying to fit yourself for braces. Frame choices…knock yourself out…find something that’s comfortable and your style. But lenses…online retailers are anything but equal.

    • Amanda M. says:

      I understand the difference in lens quality, and see it. I have a low prescription with no other issues, so lower quality is not an issue for me.

      If all of what you said was true, then the cost of glasses at a normal eye doctor/distributor wouldn’t range hundred’s of dollars between brands. The ‘old man/lady frames’ are $100, while the Burberry brand is $500, same lenses, same staff, same amount of time making frame, different “brand” (even though they were most likely made in the same plant by the same technicians).

  • Ryan says:

    Beware of the Luxottica Trolls

    I love the obviously paid trolls or profit interested parties defending the outrageous prices and practices of this corporation. I love them actually defending monopolies as job creators when anyone who has taken an economics class knows monopolies hurt markets, consumers and generally hurt the economy by pulling resources from other markets into one where they don’t belong.

    Lenses don’t cost that much to make and frames cost next to nothing to make. Cutting edge lenses should cost you $50 or less and frames about $5. I’ve worn cheaper and more expensive. Fitting counts, but costs nothing and takes 5 seconds. At the eye doctor today, they told me that my insurance covers a bit more than half of the total cost of my glasses. So the price of the glasses with lenses was $636 (120 for frames and 516 for regular lenses) and would still cost me $260 out of pocket. I felt like I was on some kind if hidden camera prank show and just walked out. I lived in Asia for the last few years where they charge reasonable prices for good glasses with those very same lenses.. Because if they charged $636 no one could afford it and they wouldn’t be able to sell any.

    When buying anything, I think you should always compare what you are buying to something else on which you could spend that money and ask yourself if the price makes sense. I just bought a new touch screen laptop computer with a 750 GB hard drive for less than the price they gave me and a new smartphone for less than the post insurance price. I’m late to this thread but thanks for the article. In the past, I’ve used Costco and Walmart. They both have cheaper prices (still expensive, but not quite as outrageous). I’m trying Warby Parker after reading this thread and will try other online retailers or wait till my next trip to Asia before buying from these jerks. I feel like I’m surrounded by idiots and millionaires. People drive outrageously expensive cars with the same/lower performance, reliability and safety ratings than a car like a Mazda, accelerate like they didn’t just spend $4.00/gal on gas, spend $250 on glasses that should cost <$50, and god help us with the amount of money people waste on brand name clothes and shoes in this country. In my opinion, in the age of the internet, if you aren't researching reviews, alternatives and discounts on your major purchases you're either a moron or a millionaire.

  • Mr. Goggle says:

    I agree with everything about Luxottica in this article. They just feed off the “name brand fools” and do it well.

    As an Optician in a brick and mortar retail shop, I must disagree with some points made about us. First off, I don’t carry Luxottica. I don’t support Luxottica’s eye wear ‘M’ in any way, except for taking Eyemed insurance. Anyway, I don’t have rx glasses for $40, but I will adjust, repair, change nosepads, and clean your glasses from the time you purchase until you die, for free. And you will pay a fraction of the cost of buying into the Luxottica ‘M’.

    I had a lady brag to me about the high quality eyewear she bought online for $99. Her glasses were crooked, her nose pads were spread wide apart and the bridge of her glasses just rested on the bridge of her nose leaving a huge mark. I was just about to offer to adjust them, even though I shouldn’t, and she started on about how we opticians should be ashamed of ourselves. Shocked, I bid her a good day walked away.

    I guess my point is, service. An optician is still about service. Customer service is what once made this country a great place, but it is dying, because of things like this.

    So please, hate the brand, hate the Luxottica’s ‘M’, but don’t hate the rest of us!

    • Amanda M. says:

      I think that it would be a pretty good income stream if a brick and mortar store offered a service to those of us who don’t want to pay so much for glasses. An adjustment and prescription check for $15-$20 is something I would happily pay to ensure my less expensive frames are the best tgey can be. (I told a person at my optician’s office that I got mine online; she was surprised to find that they fit very eell and the prescription was spot on.)

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