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 now manufactures just about every major designer eyeglass brand in the market – Gucci, Prada, Ray Ban, Oakley, Michael Kors, Armani, Tiffany & Co, 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, Target Optical, Spectacle Hut, 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 themselves for part of the glasses through their insurance arm.
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
As 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?
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 for glasses tax-free.
You can annually contribute pre-tax funds to an HSA or FSA and then use those funds to pay for your glasses without paying taxes on your withdrawals. If you’re in the 35% tax rate bracket, you’ve just saved yourself 35% on your eyeglasses. Congrats! Note: this only applies to prescription glasses, prescription sunglasses, and prescription contacts.
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 $100. 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 uninformed 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, and you can easily find a quality pair of glasses online for less than $30 (frame + lens). Here are a few of my favorites:
- Warby Parker: I like their proprietary frame quality and style, and the prices are reasonable.
- Glassesusa.com: 65% off first frame at link. 40% off entire first order.
- Lensabl: 15% off at link. Glasses, contacts, and they will even craft lenses to fit frames you already have.
- 39dollarglasses.com: always affordable!
- eyeglasses.com: 15% off at link. Good selection.
- Glasses.com: really good selection.
- Eyeconic: 5% off at link.
If you’re looking to buy contacts online as well, most of the retailers listed above sell them. Additionally, check out:
- Glassesusa.com: 40% off entire first order.
- Discountcontacts.com: 20% off at link
- ContactsDirect.com: 15% off at link
Ultimately, once again, it pays to:
- be informed
- shop around
Eyeglass Cost 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?