Why Do The 2/$99 Eyeglass Specials Wind Up Costing $400 For a Single Pair?

Quality glasses at a fraction of the cost.
Here is a new way to buy eyeglasses.

Sixty seven percent of us wear glasses.  We all see the ads where you can get two pair of designer glasses for $99 in under an hour.

Usually, when it’s all said and done, the cost is $300 to $400 a pair and they aren't ready for a few days to a week.

So why do glasses have to cost so much in the first place?
I’m told there are just a few companies that design and manufacture the majority of all the ‘big brand’ glasses.  They are simply sold under designer names.  For example, the few big licensing companies like Luxottica and Safilo design, manufacture and market glasses for dozens of brands, including Ray-Ban, Chanel, Prada, Ralph Lauren and Gucci.

Often the companies sell the glasses, too — Luxottica owns chains like Sunglass Hut and LensCrafters. They’re mostly all made in China out of bits of plastic and some metal.  It’s not very high tech.  So again… why do the darn things need to cost so much?  The short answer is... they don’t need to.

Glasses have been a ripe market for the intervention of a new model which can offer selection, reasonably fast turn around and huge savings.

Nervous about buying them online?  Sure… that’s why sales of prescription glasses online are still in their infancy.  What’s holding consumers back?  

  • They like to try on the frames
  • The prescription is hard to decipher.  You have to deal with numbers, decimal points and plus/minus signs.  In reality its a matter of typing in 6 numbers.
  • What if I type in the wrong numbers from my prescription?
  • What if they don’t fit right?
  • What if they’re too heavy?

What if you could get frames for say… $8 to $10.  Would that entice you to try out a new way of shopping for glasses?  That’s what Zenni optical is doing.  Their most expensive designer frames are only $40 – and these are the titanium half-frames.  These babies imported from Italy with a big name would run $250+.

Selection?  FramesDirect claims to have 110,000 models to choose from.  Many more than any optometrist or big box store.

I’m out there – I love new business models, but I’ll admit, I was skeptical when I ordered not one, but two pair of prescription glasses from Zenni optical.  But wait, there’s more, I also ordered not 1, not 2, but 4 pair of clip ons for my glasses.  

I researched Zenni reviews and complaint boards... but there weren’t many issues.  Most people were satisfied.  The price?  $187 for two pair, plus 4 pair of polarized magnetic clip ons that perfectly fit my regular glasses (no one can tell they are clip ons), 2 hard shell cases and two cleaning cloths.  The price included delivery and (no) state sales tax. 

That's $90 a pair (excluding the four pair of polarized sun shades) which is about 25% of what I paid on average for my last two pairs from a local optometrist.  I love them, they fit great and I can see perfectly.  I even took them to my opthamologist (she’s an MD with 27 years experience) to have the prescription checked.  She said they were made perfectly.  I have progressive bi-focals and they work great on the computer.

What are the advantages?

  • Larger selection
  • Lower cost (much, much lower in some cases)
  • Not having to go to an optometrists office. This can be helpful if you're a caregiver or an elderly individual and getting out it challenging.

Most optical shops have a eye popping markup of 50 percent to 100 percent – they’re small volume, limited selection, wait a long time type of shops.  They are mostly headed for extinction in my opinion.

It’s the lenses that are the big money maker – with markups up to 7 times.  That’s right… 7 times.  Most single vision lenses cost about $1 to make.

So why are the prices so darned high?  The business is fragmented with over 40,000 shops.   It is a very inefficient supply chain… that is changing.  Consolidation is occurring with Luxottica (Italy) buying LensCrafters, Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut just to name a few.

5 Easy Steps to Buying Eyeglasses Online

  • Get a prescription
  • Take your picture and upload it.  Ask a grandchild if you’re older and don’t know how.
  • Select a frame and try it on your picture.  Get feeback from family or friends.
  • Measure the distance between your pupils (easy, easy, easy with a simple ruler.)  Check it several times.
  • Type in your prescription (easy, easy, easy).  Check it twice.  Its only six numbers.

Did you know that most single-vision lenses come precoated with ‘anti-scratch’, but the stores still try and sell you on it.  Same with UV coatings – polycarbonate and high-index lenses already offer full UV protection.  This is like the $500 ‘Scotch guard’ your new car dealer tries to sell you.

Check ratings and complaints.  It’s easy…  Google ‘complaints (name of company)’ or ‘ratings (name of company)’.  Check out customer service.  When you call, do they call you back?

According to an article, Mark A. Bullimore, professor of optometry and vision science at the Ohio State University optometry school said “Anyone buying bifocals or progressives would be doomed for disappointment. There are too many variables that you have to get right.”  As I said, I have progressives, and both my Zenni progressives are perfect. 

Self service.  We learned how to pump our own gas, check-in at the airport and check-out at the grocery store.  This is easier in my opinion.

Warby Parker designs its glasses and charges $95 a pair.  They offer to mail you 5 frames so you can check them out at home, get inputs from family and friends and then return them in a self addresses, postage paid envelope.  They don’t offer bi-focals.

Zenni, Warby Parker and others want to do to eye glasses what Zappos and Blue Nile have done to shoes and jewelry.

Here is a partial list of online eyeglass retailers:


zennioptical.com (used to be called 19dollareyeglasses.com)



19dollareyeglasses.com - now Zenni; they started selling for $8 a pair.







Tom Wilson is Co-Founder of The CareGiver Partnership.


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