A few years ago I was having a discussion with a friend who was telling me how she could only afford one set of prescription eye glasses. She mentioned how she lived in fear of either breaking or losing her glasses because they cost so much. Having been fortunate enough not to have ever needed prescription glasses I was clueless as to how much eyeglasses cost so I asked her. Between $300-$400 she replied. Holy cow I said. It didn’t make sense that something so basic as glasses cost so much. Is that for solid gold rims I joked. She didn’t laugh.
Well, about a year later I came across an article discussing the enormous mark-up on prescription glasses, sometimes as high as 1000%. The article highlighted a fellows quest to find a reasonably priced pair of glasses. He shopped around at the eyeglass stores in the mall and became so frustrated with the prices that he decided to check out buying them online. The first set of glasses he ordered online were decked out with titanium hinge-less frames, high index lenses, anti-reflective and scratch-resistant coatings. He got all of this for $81 compared to the $400+ it would have cost him if he had to buy them from the eyeglass shops in the mall. The glasses arrived in the mail and he was surprised at how well they fit and the prescription was spot on.
Why are Prescription Glasses so Expensive?
Before online eyeglass stores came along there was primarily just two options for those needing prescription eyeglasses: their optometrist and the one-hour shops in the mall like LensCrafters. Optometrists tend to be expensive because they need to charge a really high mark-up to pay for rent and staff. The reason the one-hour shops in the mall are so expensive is because many of them are owned by a single company: Luxottica. I found this quote on Metafilter discussing Luxottica and it’s virtual monopoly on the eyeglass market:
I remember one day a couple years ago, after I got a pair of eyeglasses at the mall, wandering from shop to shop looking for a reasonably priced case for my glasses. Sears, Pearle, Lenscrafters . . all had the same overpriced cases. Finally, I made it to the Sunglasses Hut near the foodcourt. As I reached the counter, there they were—the same overpriced cases! When I mentioned the strangeness of this to the girl behind the counter, she looked around and *whispered* to me: Well, we’re all owned by Luxottica, you know!
Want to check the prices at LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, and Target Optical. Well, these are all owned by Luxottica.
What do You Need to Buy Eyeglasses Online?
To buy glasses online you’re going to need to get an up-to-date prescription from your optometrist. They may hesitate when asked but if they do be firm. I believe that some states have laws that they are legally required to give you your prescription/eye exam results. If your prescription doesn’t include your pupillary distance (PD), the length between your pupils measured in millimeters ask your doctor to measure it for you. You can also measure it yourself.
You also need to find frames that feel good on your face. Some folks use the one-hour shops in the mall to test out different styles of frames, others take measurements of frames they already own. Once you’re armed with all this information you’re ready to hit the online shops to compare prices and order.
How Much Can you Save?
You can literally save hundreds by buying your prescription glasses online. I’ve read several stories of folks buying glasses online for $40-$60 that would have cost ten times that if they had bought them from one of the major mall brands. I’ve also heard of extreme examples were folks were able to get online prescription glasses for $10-$20.
A Whole New World
With folks now able to buy glasses for $25-$60 it opens up a whole new world. I’ve read about some people who have been able to buy several pairs of prescription glasses, a reserved, low-key pair for work, and a trendy pair for nights out on the town. Some people are now able to afford prescription sunglasses for the first time because the cost has come down so much with online shopping. If you’re a little nervous about buying eyeglasses online why not buy a cheap emergency pair of eyeglasses for $20 to see how it turns out.
If you have a friend who wears prescription glasses, please forward them this article.
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Photo credit: plutor