Why are eyeglasses so expensive?
There are many people with eye health issues or problems with their vision and require glasses or corrective lenses to go about their daily lives. In recent years, the question that’s concerning these same people who need affordable eyewear is: why are glasses so expensive? Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, it once cost between $10 and $16 to manufacture a pair of high-quality plastic or metal frames. Add in the lenses, and you’d be looking at an additional $5 to $15. By the time those glasses reach the shelves of retailers, the final price tag might be $99 max.
Nowadays, the average price of eyeglasses can cost hundreds of dollars! So in 2019, I published the book, Eyeglasses Buying Guide in response to inquiries from customers who could not find this information elsewhere. It is amazing how little information is available to consumers about eyeglasses and prescription lenses. There is product information an virtually every consumer appliance readily available, and consumers are accustomed to doing an hour of research before making a $250 purchase – but not when it comes to their eyewear.
Internet shoppers do spend time researching their purchases, and so I get questions every day about basic eyeglasses information. In response to this demand, I wrote the Eyeglasses Buying Guide. Consumers that read the guide can avoid too-expensive glasses by learning about the features and benefits of different eyeglass lenses (progressive, bifocal, single vision), lens coatings (anti-reflective coating, anti-scratch coating), new lens technology (Transition lenses, digital lenses), and with that information they can choose the best lens features for their needs, and avoid the lens features that are unnecessary.
Information about eyewear is well-known to the professionals in eyewear stores, but eyewear stores do not offer books or information about their trade. With the Eyeglasses Buying Guide, consumers can make their own choices. For example, the Guide offers comprehensive information about different eyeglass frame types, eyeglass frame materials, and eyeglass frame features. There is even a section about “How to Buy Glasses Online."
I am thrilled to be able to offer this service to consumers. Now, eyewear shoppers both on and off the internet can educate themselves before making this important, and expensive purchase. For many people, eyeglasses are a necessity, and spending time learning about eyeglasses is critical to finding the best vision aid for you needs, and one that will last a long time.
Corporations and insurance plans can use the “How to Buy Glasses” guide to reduce employee and beneficiary spending on eyewear. Through education, consumers can learn how to buy fewer unnecessary features, and to find frame and lens types that will last longer. It can also help consumers access the internet for their eyewear purchase which increases their selection and could reduce the cost of out-of-network reimbursements for eyewear benefit plans. It will also help people answer the question, “Are progressive lenses the right choice for my needs?
Let’s take a look at the reason why eyeglasses are so expensive and how you can find affordable eyewear for you or your loved ones.
The Luxottica "Monopoly" Myth
In a 60 Minutes interview between CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl and Andrea Guerra, CEO of Luxottica, revealed how they cranked up the prices for a once affordable product. Lesley Stahl implied - erroneously - that unlike other industries, the eyewear industry is not a free market, and that Luxottica holds a monopoly over many eyeglasses brands and retailers.
Since Luxottica launched in 1961, they quickly transformed the world of glasses by turning a necessary medical device to a fashion statement. The company made deals with popular luxury brands and currently controls licenses with:
It didn’t stop with luxury brands. Luxottica captured other opportunities to dominate the market by acquiring world-famous household brands such as Ray-Ban and Oakley. Today, those same $29 pairs of eyeglasses can cost hundreds of dollars.
But Ms. Stahl did a very poor job of researching the eyewear industry, because Luxottica only has about a 12% share of the US market, lower than many other popular large companies like Ford, General Motors, Apple, AT&T and many other household brands. Luxottica is NOT the cause of high prices in the eyewear industry. The US Federal trade commission agrees, because they allowed a merger of Luxottica with the largest prescription lens maker, Essilor.
The Essilor Merger
In March 2018, Luxottica officially merged with the world's leading manufacturer of prescription glasses, Essilor. This new partnership quickly led to more than $10 billion in sales along with 40% and 76% control of the U.S. eyeglasses and sunglasses market, respectively.
Luxottica/Essilor still does not control more than 15% of the global sales of eyeglasses, even though it does contral many brands you may have heard of:
- Sunglasses Hut
- Apex (by Sunglasses Hut)
- Pearle Vision
- Sears Optical
- Target Optical
- ...And many more
Why Eyeglasses are so expensive in the U.S.? The True culprit is revealed!
Like many other industries, the insurance industry has insidiously crept into the eyewear business by offering what is called "Vision Benefits". A "Vision Benefit" is essentially a discount on eyewear that is prepaid by consumers by premiums that are paid in during the year. There are over 10,000 different plans out there, but here is how it works in a very simple example: You pay in $100 during the year, and then you get access to discounts. If you don't use your benefit, it expires at the end of the year. Since many people forget to use the benefit, the insurance company makes money - lots of it - hundreds of millions of dollars of profit. How can they offer this deal? But contracting with optical stores. But the optical stores inflate their prices by 40%-60% in order to later discount them when you go in to use your insurance. And guess what, if you don't have this insurance, you pay the inflated sticker prices.
Employees and Employers Can Make a Difference
The intention of Employee Vision Benefit Plans is to help employees. However, employers are not looking carefully enough at the true benefits of Employer Vision Benefit Plans. These plans essentially are paying insurance companies, who in turn cause optical stores to raise their prices. If you are an employee with a vision benefit plan, contact your employee benefits department right away to educate them.
Use Your HSA or FSA
Vision insurance is one of the best ways to reduce the cost of eyeglasses. If you have a Health Savings Account (HSA) or a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you can use your benefits to get discounted prices on both lenses and frames.
Some employers provide these benefits to their employees. For those that don’t, you can always apply for a program such as the NewVision Benefits Plan, which offers a 50% discount.
Depending on the vision insurance you have, you may be eligible for a frame allowance, lens allowance, out-of-network benefits, or a combination of each. What is the difference between an HSA account and an FSA account you ask? The HSA is generally a better plan, and is the natural evolution away from FSA, which is becoming less and less popular. Funds that go into an HSA never expire, unlike FSA funds which must be used up before year's end. Also, HSA funds can be invested to earn interest, and FSA funds cannot.
Talk to your vision insurance provider to understand how much you can reduce the price of eyeglasses.
Become an Informed Consumer
You might try to avoid paying for expensive eyeglasses by purchasing cheap frames and lenses. While this can be beneficial in the short-term, however, you can end up feeling disappointed, frustrated, or cheated later on.
The best way to make confident buying decisions and where to find affordable eyeglasses is to become an informed consumer.
Before you start shopping, read the following guide to buying eyeglasses. This guide provides you with all the important information you need. Some of the information you’ll learn includes:
- - How to choose the most flattering eye frames for your face
- - Top reasons to avoid buying cheap glasses
- - Strategies to use your vision insurance to get the most deals and discounts
- - Tips to saving $100 or more on eyewear
...And so much more
Buy Glasses Online
If you’re thinking about buying eyeglasses online, it’s essential to know that the pricing can differ from buying in person. Depending on the retailer you choose and the place you buy, you may be able to find a reduced price for eyewear.
When it comes to buying glasses online, both men and women can browse a wide variety of styles for the perfect pair that suits both preference and budget.
Online glasses retailers offer a huge selection of glasses for men, and there are many stylish glasses options for women.
If you plan to shop for eyeglasses online, don’t go straight to the checkout if you find a pair you want to buy.
Many online glasses retailers provide coupons and discounts to stay competitive. These deals are typically only offered to online purchases. You can take advantage of flash sales and clearance deals that provide you with anywhere between $15 to $75 or more off the price of popular brand names.
Check out the latest coupons and discounts available online today and stop paying for expensive eyeglasses, lenses, and frames.
Mark Agnew, CEO/Founder of Eyeglasses.com