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Why are glasses so expensive?

From time to time I hear the question, “Why are your glasses so expensive?  I can get them a lot cheaper at Bigmart.”  To which I reply, “The real question is why are their glasses so cheap?”

Let’s think about this.  Why are some glasses more expensive and some so cheap?  It’s like anything else, you get what you pay for.  Whether it is a car, furniture, jewelry, tools or shoes.  Yes, you technically can get a pair of glasses at some places for $37.53.  That should be your first red flag because there is no tax on glasses as a health care device.  So why is there some crazy, arbitrary sounding, odd number like they added tax or something?   I submit it is a marketing ploy.

There is a lot of advertising done by the discount opticals, both in print and on television.  They usually have a large store with several employees also.  The optical equipment that it takes to make eyewear is not cheap as well.  So…just how can they pay for all those expenses with high overhead costs and still make it as a business.  Well, you sell low quality materials and don’t pay employees very much.  I assure you that you don’t get the best trained employees and the best customer service with minimum wage salaries and limited benefits.

Just like other material goods, eyewear can have different levels of quality.  Ever bought a piece of particle board furniture that lasted only a year or less?   A hardwood bookcase that your grandma has could be 75 years old and still going strong.  Materials used to make eyewear frames and optical lenses matters.  A lot!   All metal is not the same.  Iron and aluminum are both metal but have very different strengths and weight.   Frames made of inferior metals bend out of shape and turn green with the oils from your skin.  It’s almost impossible to keep them adjusted well on your nose and ears.  They don’t have good soldering points and break under the littlest of pressure.  The finish on them that is supposed to protect them and keep them shiny can come off very easily as well.

Plastic frames also vary in quality.  Plastic is plastic you might think.  Well the plastic cutting board you might have is a lot harder than your plastic kitchen spatula.  Plastics vary in quality as well.  If you have a cheap plastic frame, it will not stay in adjustment to your face too.  The hinges often loosen in cheap plastic frames and can even pull out of the plastic.  Cheap plastic is very brittle and breaks very easily.

Optical lens materials vary as well.  Plain plastic lenses(CR-39) and polycarbonate are known to have distortion.  Some brands are more optically pure than others but many big opticals are using the cheaper made versions that have inferior quality from places in China to keep down costs.  The optical quality is not good with distortion and waves in them, much like a fun house mirror.  This can cause headaches, eye strain as well as just poorer vision.  The Transitions tint they supposedly sold you, that makes your glasses change darker outside are probably not the actual,  better Transitions brand.  Scratch resistant and no glare lens treatments are often one-sided protection and older, inferior technology that peels off easily.

It also takes time and money to train good opticians.  Part of the eyewear price includes their services in helping you select eyewear, take measurements and for their education and training.  The best opticians are certified by the American Board of Opticianry.  In the course of interviewing opticians from these Bigmart stores and applying myself for a job at one once, it is a fact they employee minimum wage or slightly higher employees with rudimentary training.  How does it feel knowing that someone in the tire shop or the ladies clothing department 10 minutes earlier is now measuring your eyes for glasses?   I don’t know about you but I want someone who is an expert at it.

So how do I know what I’m getting is better quality?

First of all, go to a reputable, independent optometry office.  Someone that is going to be there for you and not gone the next year at a Bigmart or a mall store.  There usually is a reason they are working in places like that.

Secondly, use an optical that has ABO certified opticians.  They at least have taken a 4 hour exam to certify they have more optical knowledge and training.

Next, opticians should be able to explain why they are using certain brands of materials.  Why they will perform better for you.  They should be able to customize eyewear for your specific needs.

Try on an expensive frame that is well made of better material and you will be able to see and feel the difference in a cheaper frame.  It won’t be as flimsy and bendable.  It just feels solid.

Brand name materials that are better quality will often have a card or certificate of authenticity to make sure you are getting a real Transitions or other lenses like Hoya digital progressive lenses with EX3 anti-glare treatment.  Make sure the optician gives you that documentation if you are not sure.  If you are paying for the best brand, you should get that brand.

The best materials will have better warranties that come with the eyewear, not something you pay extra for.  Most optometry offices provide one year warranties on good frames and lenses at no extra charge.

Quality eyewear is not expensive when you realize that compared to other common items like an Iphone or Ipad, that cost as much or more and are really just convenience items, they are helping your eyes function well and see your best with little inconvenience.   You use your eyes everyday, all day.   Why settle for something second-rate?    If you are sacrificing clarity of vision, always needing them fixed or adjusted and making your life aggravated, is that really worth paying for cheap glasses?  You may get “cheaper” glasses but you are not getting the same thing cheaper.  It’s not apples to apples.  You are getting cheaply made, inferior glasses for a low cost.  A Kia is a cheaper car but it is not a Mercedes.  I don’t think you would brag excitedly to someone, “I’m driving a Kia!” but you would with a Mercedes or Cadillac.   Take pride in your eyewear and take pride in knowing your vision and your eyes are going to be at their best with good quality eyewear.  You do get what you pay for.

Courtesy of Dumas Vision Source, PLLC and Dr Tory W. Moore, Optometric Glaucoma Specialist and Diplomate of the American Board of Optometry.    Serving the Dumas, Texas,  Moore County and upper Texas Panhandle area for 23 years.   Call (806) 935-2020 for appointment or visit our optical gallery without an appointment.  Visit our website for more information.  Like our Facebook business page:  Dumas Vision Source  and you can also connect on Twitter @eyedocdumas

Tory Moore, OD  – “A Hometown Eye Doctor You Know and Can Trust!”