Price of Fashion Eye Glasses Held Hostage to Corporate Monopolizer?

As a child I sat too close to the TV and strained to see the blackboard at school. But since bad eye-sight was a norm for me, I never knew I didn’t see as well as others.  It wasn’t until I was in the sixth grade that a teacher took notice and informed my parents that I needed my eyes checked. From then on, glasses were my constant companion.

I’ll never forget the first day with my new glasses. Dad and I took a walk through a pasture with a pond nearby. This familiar setting became for me a strange and beautiful new world. I stood in open-mouthed astonishment. The leaves on the trees were a brighter green and I could see their shapes clearly. I could see a bird way up in the sky and marveled at it. I could see, with crystal clarity, the iridescent dragonflies hovering over the water. Dad was smiling a great huge smile. His eyes, a luminous light blue, smiled, too. That twinkle and pride in my dad’s eyes came through those magic lenses to my own — in vivid, loving color. These were my first impressions. It was like I had been given new life.

Our family lived on the low-income level, even though dad had a high work ethic. Buying eye-wear for me through the years was a sacrifice, but one my parents readily made. I was the oldest of five children, and the only one with poor vision. At this late date for all of us, I’m still the only one to wear glasses.

Now, in an economy that beggars the middle class, eye glasses have become a major investment. And it is now, as age starts taking its toll on us baby boomers, that ocular health plummets, and sticker prices on glasses soar.

But I had never really thought about why glasses should cost so much, as everything seems to chip away at income these days. That is, until I watched a segment on CBS news called, “Sticker Shock: Why Are Glasses So Expensive“, reported in-depth by Lesley Stahl. It was an “eye-opener”. I learned that, world-wide, the price on glasses and sunglasses is controlled by one company out of Milan, Italy — Luxottica. And anyone who dares stand in their way is promptly gotten rid of or bought out. It’s a monopoly in every sense of the word. There is no real competition. The big name brands, which I assumed were separate companies, no longer are separate. These include: Ray-Ban, Prada, Persol, Giorgio Armani, Burberry, Vogue. International retailers of prescription glasses such as LensCrafters, and Pearle Vision, are all subsidiaries owned by Luxottica. They are even the second largest owner of an eye-wear insurance company.

The excellent reporting by Stahl, who beards the Luxottica CEO lion in his den, draws out the damning evidence step by step, never allowing herself to be intimidated and never backing down. Here is the CBS news segment:

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10 thoughts on “Price of Fashion Eye Glasses Held Hostage to Corporate Monopolizer?

    • Thanks for your input. I started going to Wal-Mart, which I forgot to mention, is not controlled by Luxottica. But still expensive for the frames I picked out. This 60-Minute segment was an eye-opener for me as well.

      • The last time I went to Lenscrafters I got mad and left. The local store near me had an advertised special for frames. But when I got to the store there were only two frames in the advertised special range and they both looked beat up and used. I was told that one could not be turned into bifocals. I had to hunt through all the frames to find them they were not within a certain section. I complained and no one seemed to care.I just got up and left. I have had a credit card with them for years, I cut it up.

      • That kind of bait and switch seems to be the “norm” for companies these days. I know it has gone on a long time, but not to the level it has gotten to, in my opinion. I don’t blame you for walking out. And that 60 Minute segment was a shocker for me. I had no idea the industry was so thoroughly monopolized by one company.

  1. Wow! This is quite a shocking revelation. I know frames are ridiculously expensvie, but I thought there was just a huge mark-up. I didn’t know the industry was a monopoly. Just wow! I’m going to watch this “60 Minutes” segment tonight….no time to watch it at the moment. Thanks for the link.

    I didn’t need glasses until my sophomore year of college. My eyes burned a lot and I started getting headaches while studying. Had my eyes checked and learned that I was near-sighted and had astigmatism in both eyes. I wore glasses from them on. All the years I was living and working in NYC, I wore contacts. Quit wearing them when I moved to NH and gave up on all aspects of vanity. LOL

    I have two pairs of glasses: bi-focals and reading/computer/piano glasses that are completely the bi-focal portion. I’ve had the same frames for years. I just get new lenses put in them when I get a new prescription. My lenses are not horribly expensive because my vision problems aren’t that serious, but I have a friend whose vision is really bad….so is her husband’s. Their lenses cost in the neighborhood of $700-800. Ouch!

    • The video link is a great interview. But will make you mad. Yeah, I tried contacts once. Never did have any problems putting them in, but my allergies made it impossible to keep on using them. I’m happy with the frames I have now, and will probably follow in your footsteps. Keep the frames and change the lens.

      • I went to
        http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50149025n
        and watched the video of the segment. Fascinating.

        One person she talked to said in essence, “They can charge whatever consumers are willing to pay.” And that is exactly right. Frame prices have constantly crept up to the point where customers EXPECT to pay a lot.

        I just forwarded the video link to many of my friends who wear glasses.

        “60 Minutes” did a segment several years ago about diamonds vs. cubic zirconias that I thought was fascinating, too. (I love jewelry.) They had people take both to jewelry appraisers and 80-90% of the time, the appraiser couldn’t tell the difference. If the stone(s) was in an expensive setting, the appraiser assumed it was a diamond. The appraisers weren’t told this was a test; they were just presented with two pieces of jewelry to appraise. So the next time you see someone with a big engagement ring……

      • Interesting about the cubic zirconia and real diamonds. Much of the cubic zirconia I’ve seen is obvious, but I think you’re right about the setting making the difference. When my fingers and knuckles outgrew my wedding ring with the passing of the years, I bought a beautiful zirconia one Christmas for myself as a substitute. But it got to the point that jewelry became too much of a bother — especially rings. I seldom wear even my bracelets now, and I’ve always loved bracelets. Now, earrings are about the only jewelry I wear, and that’s only if I’m going somewhere special (not just to the grocery store). I think this drop in jewelry interest has coincided with my lack of energy because of health issues.

  2. I had a beautiful zirconia ring for years that got stolen by a housekeeper, but that is not important or the point of this comment. While wearing the cubic zirconia ring I was visiting some jewelry stores in the mall in search of a birthstone ring for my best friend’s 30th birthday. Well, each store I went into I was complimented on my ring. Several salesmen asked to look at it and under the magnifying glass all of them praised the high quality of the stones. At one store a manager was called over and he asked if I would be interested in selling my lovely ring. I had to laugh to myself because none of them had a clue it was totally fake. It was very comical to me because I had worked at Zale’s in the 70’s when the diamond salesmen used to come out of the big gemstone houses in New York to deliver our gemstones. From seeing those I could tell by my naked eye that my ring although beautiful ,was fake. Had it been real at the time it would have easily been worth 10 to 12 grand. I paid about $300.00 for it I suppose I could have been deceitful, but was not and informed all of them it was fake and they were shocked.

    • Hi, Vickie,
      Thanks for joining in and for your interesting story. Seems like zirconia has come a long way since its inception. I enjoyed reading about your experience. My substitute wedding ring looked gorgeous and I got it on sale at JC Penny one Christmas.
      Linda

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