Have you ever wondered why glasses at an optician are so shockingly expensive, but the online places are so much cheaper? It’s not an accident!
That’s because a giant-but-obscure company called Luxottica bought out Sunglass Hut and Lenscrafters, then used their dominance over the retail side of glasses to force virtually every eyewear brand to sell to them (Luxxotica owns or licenses Armani, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, DKNY, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, Oakley, Oliver Peoples, Persol, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ray-Ban, Tiffany, Valentino, Vogue and Versace); and used that to buy out all the other eyewear retailers of any note (Luxottica owns Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Sunglass Hut and Target Optical) and then also bought out insurers like Eyemed Vision Care and Essilor, the leading prescription lens/contact lens manufacturer.
Controlling the labs, insurers, frame makers, and all the major retail outlets has allowed Luxottica to squeeze suppliers — frames are cheaper than ever to make, thanks to monopsony buying power with Prada-grade designer frames costing $15 to manufacture — while raising prices as much as 1000% relative to pre-acquisition pricing.
It’s even worse for lenses: a pair of prescription lenses that cost $1.50 to make sell for $800 in the USA.
And remember, we’re talking about an item that for many people – including myself – is an absolute necessity for navigating the world. Without my glasses I couldn’t do my job (since it requires reading things).
I would really love to go to a local optician and get glasses, supporting a local business and getting personalized help, but it’s just too much money. I’ve bought my last several pairs online, with mostly good results, and have yet to spend as much as I shelled out for the pair than preceded all of them.