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Consumer Confidential: Glasses are still too damn expensive

David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

I reconnected the other day with Butler, the LensCrafters founder, and shared my recent shopping experience with him. I asked how much he reckoned my new frames and lenses actually cost to produce.

He put the figure at “not more than $25.”

The list price for my new glasses was $822. The discounted price was $445.

Butler said his estimate didn’t include labor and other overhead costs. So, OK, let’s double his $25 manufacturing estimate. Heck, let’s triple it.

With a factory cost of $75, the retail markup for my glasses was 996%. The markup with my vision plan was 493%.

I asked Butler if he still felt glasses were a complete rip-off. “My statement of a few years ago still stands,” he answered.

 

And that’s not even the worst of it. What really sizzles my bacon is that I was paying rates set by a company that so overwhelmingly dominates the optical market, it acts with near-monopoly power.

That company is EssilorLuxottica. Even if you’re unfamiliar with it, you know the frame brands this behemoth either owns or controls, including Armani, Brooks Bros., Burberry, Chanel, Coach, Oakley, Oliver Peoples, Polo and, yes, Ray-Ban.

EssilorLuxottica is also the largest manufacturer and distributor of lenses, controlling leading brands such as Varilux, Crizal, Eyezen, Foster Grant and, yup, the Transitions lenses for my Ray-Ban frames.

But wait, there’s more. The company now owns or operates LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sunglass Hut, Target Optical, EyeBuyDirect and FramesDirect.

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