The Eyes -
Seeing the light
If you wear glasses, you know how expensive they are, even at discount and chain optometrists. It's a snap to spend several hundred bucks on a mid-range frame and lenses.
If you think about it, though, it doesn't make sense. Consider how inexpensive it has become to manufacture much more complex things. If you're over 30, you probably remember when calculators were expensive items. Today they cost virtually nothing and companies give them away.
How about memory sticks? A couple of years ago USB flash drives were pretty pricy. Today I've seen them included in press kits and as trade-show giveaways.
So why, in this age of cheap manufacturing, are eyeglasses so expensive? The various polycarbonates used in most lenses are dirt cheap. Ditto for the lens coatings to reduce scratches and glare. And the process of forming and fitting the lenses is virtually automatic.
The answer: Because stores keep the prices high. People don't rush out to by the latest, newest eyeglasses they way they do with fashion or consumer tech, so retailers have to keep the prices up to make money. So they sell "designer" frames for $400 or $500 that cost $10 to make.
But not all stores do. And that was the big shock I got.
The technology of making frames and lenses has dropped as dramatically as everything else, and there are places — a whole bunch — that offer them at more realistic prices.
Some have better names than others: Eyeglass Direct, SelectSpecs, Valueglasses, Zenni Optical. Others sound a little cheesier: Goggles4u, 39 Dollar Glasses, SpecsOnTheNet. In fact, it's 39 Dollar Glasses that gets some of the best reviews.
At most of these places, you can get a great pair of glasses for less than $60. If you want fancier or designer frames — bendable titanium, for example — with anti-glare coating and light-sensitive tint, maybe you'd hit $150. Try that at your local mall.
And if you think you'd be getting garbage, think again. That's the whole point — manufacturing technology has gotten so inexpensive that stores can offer these glasses at these prices.
Of course, for those prices you can simply buy a pair and check them out for yourself.