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How badly are we being ripped off on eyewear? Former industry execs tell all (latimes.com)
359 points by ilamont on Mar 5, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 301 comments

It's articles like this that make me wonder how much of our middle class burden comes from hidden rent seeking parasites like this.

I honestly don't know. I'm not trying to imply any particular thing. I honestly wonder. These sorts of things can stack up through the layers of companies that make things.

And where does this money go? What does it end up doing?

I think there are a few interesting wrinkles with regards to rent seeking in the current economy and how that works out for the middle class.

• As a few people have pointed out, people often buy sunglasses for fashion and social signaling rather than on price. Wearing Tom Ford glasses means you're getting very good quality glasses, but mostly you are paying to wear Tom Ford glasses, in the same way that a Rolls Royce and a mid level BMW are functionally very similar, even though there is a 5x difference in price (if not a higher change). You're paying for the styling and the brand name.

• Where the money goes: for a lot of consumer brands, huge sums go into brand advertising. B2B companies spend this money on salespeople and tradeshows. I like to give the example of a Rolex. A new Rolex is worth $10-15k (if not more) because they spend tens of millions of dollars every year telling us all that that's why they're worth so much. Compare that to a lesser advertised brand - say Tag Heuer, and you'll see there's a pretty big difference in their pricing. Traditionally this money has gone into magazines / billboards / tv commercials / sports sponsorship - so this money is subsidizing middle class entertainment. On the B2B side, if you engage with a company like SAP, you'll get a professional sales team walking you through the buying process (they'll probably even spot you a few nice dinners along the way).

• "Rent seeking" is an interesting term, and while I agree with it in the context of sunglasses, it's a bit hard to nail down in a lot of the economy. Price is funny because lots of the things we produce now (particularly software, pharmaceuticals & entertainment) have revenue models that don't see much of an increase in marginal cost once you've covered the initial investment (10k people see your movie in cinemas vs 1m - provided you've got the infrastructure in place, it's not like the price of producing the movie goes up 100x).

• The culprits for the "middle class burden" is often pointed at healthcare and higher education for the simple reason that they have dramatically increased administrative costs which ultimately haven't added much (if any) value to the consumer (people argue my first point with regards to higher education - perhaps a Harvard education is worth $60k a year, although it's hard to see many other colleges worth that much for the brand alone).

I like this way of looking at it. The $15k Rolex is expensive because you’re paying them to tell other people how cool you are through branding. So when you wear the watch other people already recognize the brand and you get to flex on them.

I guess that works very similar to any purchase you could make in life. You don't get infinite utility for infinite money, point being its not possible you can derive more utility by spending more money forever.

So after a while the utility is things like social status and wealth signaling.

Apply this to things like buying a car, or a home and it makes a whole lot of sense. If you need that expensive carpet just to show off while a cheaper one could keep your feet equally warm, then at that point in time you are spending for status and wealth, not utility.

In case of a watch, can your phone tell time? If so you are all set.

Depends on whom you invite in. Albeit really smart people would rent special furnishing for special occasions. Such services do exist.

Which is why I pay no more than $5 for a Rolex in Bali. My favourite one has a slightly off-centre dial. Paying for that kind of quality!

Curious - Where do you have the information fro that TAG have a smaller advertising budget than Rolex? I would've assumed the opposite.

That was more anecdotal than fact based.

Better comparison might be Seiko / Grand Seiko, considerably cheaper than a Rolex for the same quality of watch.

Ok - Thought perhaps I was missing something. The analogy probably isn't a good fit for luxury watches, which is a truly weird industry. Rolex, with their near-mythological status could probably shut down all advertisement and still sell their watches.

But your original point might still be true, regardless.

I disagree, most luxury pricing is weird and counterintuitive. Rolex only has a "near-mythological" status because of all of their advertising. To give another example, we all know a lot about the iPhone, yet Apple put up far more billboards and other advertising for their new phones than anyone else.

I worked at a sunglass hut part time during college. The _vast_ majority of sunglasses I sold were for fashion, not function. People weren't paying $250 for the lens, they are paying $240 for the style and 'real' D&G logo and $10 for the lens. In my time there I would say the only brands you should buy for performance are Maui-Jim (great lens / polarization) or Oakley (impact safety), everything else is junk lens put into fashion frames, including Ray-Ban, though their glass lens were at least passable. EDIT - I mean amongst the brands they carried, I'm sure there are other good lens manufacturers out there.

What I'm mostly saying is that I don't see this as rent seeking, it's just people willing to spend large amounts of money for fashion.

Sunglass Hut is owned by Luxottica and sells their products: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luxottica Yes they do really produce that many different brands.

> the only brands you should buy for performance are Maui-Jim (great lens / polarization) or Oakley (impact safety)

Sunglass Hut doesn't sell them, but Serengeti makes some great lenses. Maui Jim might even not make lenses that are both photochromic and polarized, but Serengeti does.

Serengeti with amber lenses are my goto sunglasses for driving since about 2 years ago. I used to wear nothing but Ray Bans but the dark tint inhibits overall visibility slightly where the Serengeti's seem to augment it, while both cut out glare like they should.

are prescription lenses not priced along the lines of the fashion lines?

I don't know as much about that side of things but as I recall Luxottica didn't make the prescription lens, they were ordered to spec from a third party. They sold and manufactured the frames and did the fitting work (which does some times require significant work on the lens like reshaping or drilling holes). This was ~10 years ago though so that may have changed.

Luxottica recently merged with Essilor the biggest prescription lens conglomerate so now they are possibly truly integrated and unstoppable.

They merged with... Essilor, I think, so they do lenses as well now.

It is just the frames, the lenses cost additional.

At the same time if I walk into a sunglass hut thinking that it is a neutral marketplace where many brands compete for my purchase across the dimensions of fashion AND price I am being deceived. sunglass hut and most of the brands inside of a sunglass hut are owned by the same company which is not competing with itself but instead acting as a dominant firm using it's price-setting power to increase how much I'm going to be shelling out when looking for a pair of sunglasses.

> how much of our middle class burden comes from hidden rent seeking parasites like this.

If you include the unwillingness to respond to demand by building enough new homes in the popular urban areas, probably a lot.

A 1000 sq.ft. home (house or condo) should not cost more than $200,000 to build. Anything above that, someone is making profit.

It doesn't even seem like anyone has interest in building $200,000 houses anymore, but they will sell you a poorly made condo for $400,000 and $600/mo HOA fees.

I am a single person trying to find a house that is not four or five bedrooms (I only need one or two) and doesn't cost 1/2 mil minimum and it's difficult. This used to be called "the starter house" but it doesn't seem to exist anymore with new construction.

I decided to take a break from society last year. I'm fortunate enough where I am that it's eminently reasonable to do.

I found some Mennonites that build small 14 * 28 foot cabins with two sleeping lofts. It costs about 8k, and that includes delivery to your land. They come with the exterior/roof finished, but the interior is up to you.

Your personal asceticism modulates the cost. My shower is actuated by a ball valve. I set the temperature at the inline gas water heater to perfection, so I don't need hot and cold! I was surprised to learn how cheap the insulation, carpet, sheetrock, mud and paint were.

Rural land here is about 2k per acre. Many plots already have wells dug, but if not It'll cost about 4-6k to get one drilled, and 500-1000$ for a well pump.

Septic tanks are a few grand. A trenching shovel is cheaper, but that option depends on the topology of your land and your heart.

I get my electricity from solar. If you do that, you need some panels, an inverter, charge controller and batteries. My system is pretty modest. 10 deep cycle batteries. I've lost track of how many panels we've got. Most of them we soldered the cells together so it kind of all blurs together. The whole of it probably cost about 1700$. It's enough to run our super efficient 12 volt fridge, the pump and a few laptops.. except when we go a week without sun during the winter.

Next consulting gig I get, I'll probably get a wind generator as well.

When it's oppressively cloudy, I use a small gasoline generator to power all the stuff. It also will kick on a battery charger that'll top the batteries off.

This winter I used a propane heater. I've come to realize liquid propane is somewhat money inefficient compared to a wood stove. I'll have the wood stove installed by next winter. I'll probably keep using the propane oven.

Leading up to me dropping out of society, I came to resent paying rent.. I resented the thought of office power games having survival consequences for my life. I didn't have to off-grid like I have.. There are power lines. It's just such a great feeling to cut out monthly subscription costs from my life. The serenity it brings is maximum. Mother gaia gives me my water and sol my electrons.

I still do consulting work as it comes to me. Blissfully, I no longer feel desperation and anxiety between contracts.

Don't get me wrong, it's great that you found a way to reduce the work stress in your life! But ... I genuinely cannot tell whether the guy posting on Hacker News that he "dropped out of society" is being serious or tongue-in-cheek.

If paying society's currency for all the solar panels and the batteries and the gas and the generator and the refrigerator and the laptops and the deeded property and all the other stuff that society created is dropping out of society, I wonder what it is like to be a member of society.

It's a bit tongue-in-cheek but not totally inaccurate. I'm visiting the big city for now which is why I'm on HN. You all are my people, so I like to check in when I can ;)

I consider 'dropping out of society' to partially be a state of mind thing. Currently, when I'm 'in country', I am very disconnected from the world at large. I have to drive for 30 minutes in order to receive text messages or phone calls. In order to get internet, I have to drive an hour to the lake so I can get some LTE. I don't have a TV, and I don't listen to the radio. America could go to war and I could go a month without knowing about it.

I grew up in suburbia right outside of the densest city in the state. Until last year I had never put a screw into wood, nor had I ever wired up a light or planted a potato. MrLeap's life this year is 180 degrees different than it was every year prior. I think the contrast in my perspective makes the 'drop out' comment more appropriate, but it's a personal thing.

I obliterated most of my savings doing this, and I'm on track this year to make SIGNIFICANTLY less than the poverty line. I think that represents a certain uncoupling from the standard structures of society. I intend to increase that as time goes on, but if I fail, I should still keep on living. I've lived an arduous life, and my re-orienting is in reflection of that.

If I really put my soul into it, I could garden hard, raise animals and cut out the last human survival-y thing that takes me into town. I really like cans of mini-ravioli though so I might not take it that far.

I could get satellite internet, or maybe a cell phone booster and a tower to obviate my connectivity problems. Maybe I will someday. Right now, I'm focused on building a workshop and blacksmithing. The workshop is hexagonal, which I think is cool. Anybody want a forged spatula? ;D

America is currently at war, yet most of us still living in society don't seem to know about it.

That sounds fascinating. Too bad it’s kind of incompatible with blogging about it—would love to follow your story!

>I genuinely cannot tell whether the guy posting on Hacker News that he "dropped out of society" is being serious or tongue-in-cheek.

For reference, 90% of people in subsaharan Africa, whatever the country, have a cellphone (with some kind of internet). And around 40% have internet connection (predicted to be 50% 3G in 2020).

In the US many homeless people have internet access and even laptops.

"Dropping out of society" in a concrete sense and posting on HN are not contradictory. You can do it from a small mobile home in Alaska, your own log cabin somewhere out in Wyoming, or from some hut in the Amazon, all of which qualify to my book.

This isn't an efficient use of resources, especially when you scale it to millions of people. Returning to wood burning for cooking and heating is absolutely a step backwards for your health and the environment.

You're more "on the grid" than you think. Those solar panels were built in China (probably), how did you get them? Where will you go to get replacement parts? Where do you go to get gasoline for your generator? How is that easier than paying a power bill every month? You can't drink straight out of the well, you'll need a filtration system which needs maintenance, why not just pay a water bill with a hookup from a city?

You haven't dropped out of society at all. You're intensely reliant on society right now. If anything in your janky setup breaks and you can't fix it in a few days, you will find yourself at a motel and fully back "on the grid". I'm not saying you need to be a condo living yuppie, but surely there's a happy middle ground.

> This isn't an efficient use of resources, especially when you scale it to millions of people.

I'd have to think about this more to decide whether or not it's true, my life is more sustainable than it ever has been before. In pure watt hour accounting, I wager I'm energy-cheaper than most city people who deeply care about things like that.

You're mistaken about wells requiring filtration.

> If anything in your janky setup breaks and you can't fix it in a few days, you will find yourself at a motel and fully back "on the grid".

This, like much of your reply, is rather presumptuous and ungenerous. There are some good discussion points in your reply. Unfortunately you've also stated as incontrovertible fact several things that are simply incorrect. I don't see much room for an actual conversation in your choice of words.

You'd be interested in how cheap silicate bricks are then. Spoiler: very cheap. Plaster-cardboard, very cheap too, or HIPS board. Actual plaster, base paint, base fiberglass or rock wool for heat. (Or sacrifice space for insulation.) As is concrete and even the know how and material design tools are not that expensive. Wiring is cheap, hydraulics are more expensive sure to amount of metal involved, unless you out in for plastics.

(AutoCAD with modules for stress analysis and building design libs would cost you $20k or so, but it can probably be rented as cloud license.)

Rigging can be rented, even work clothes and power tools. Even then the tools are not super expensive anyway.

The expensive parts are rental of lifter, crane and mixer machines as well as good operator. Barring that, more people to set up the building and much more wood and metal rigging.

Building is cheap compared to prime land and marketing or sales markup, as well as paying off credit. (Most buildings are built with financial leverage.)

Any chance you can pass along that Mennonite builder info and/or provide some pictures of the finished product (but before you did anything to it)? Just curious, as I'm always looking at alternative living arrangements.


The wraparound lofted barn cabin is the one I chose.

The biggest cost in any metro area is land. There are few empty lots left to build on, and those go for a premium. Not going to give any specific listing publicity, but "$350,000 USD for 0.047 acres empty lot" is common in the residential parts of Atlanta. We recently paid $25M for 8 acres with abandoned warehouses on them, to build condos on. We're still looking at $100k land costs per condo.

Go out two counties and a 1.5 hour commute, and land is only $5k/acre. Plenty of $200k starter homes in that area. No one wants to move out there though.

Disclaimer - I work in the residential construction business

zoning laws do not help either. If you're in an area that requires a min 2 acre lot while your grandfathered neighbors have house on 1/4 acre, that surely does not help the price.

Why, why didn't I just go into a ton of debt right after college and buy a house in Atlanta...

Regulatory burden - building code, permitting, etc make it relatively better and less risky to build bigger, nice homes. It gives you padding if it takes a while to sell, has extra change order, or gets stuck in permit/planning and zoning limbo for a year.

If the margins are paper thin, the risk is too large, so the only way to mitigate that risk is to make more expensive homes so that even if things go terribly wrong you can still pay your costs and your employees and make some profit.

Offhand thought. Building costs in urban area's are stuck in a high cost 'peak'. Everything is expensive which makes construction expensive.

My experience renting some warehouse space in SF. One building three units. Used to be occupied by three roofing companies. And some meth heads living in the old offices. One of the roofing companies bought it, kicked out one of the other roofing companies and the methheads and rented to us.

Change of ownership and new owner kicked out another roofing company. And rented out to a pot grow. Fast forward 5 years we got kicked out along with the remaining roofers and all three units are now growing pot.

So went from three roofing companies circa 1998 to three pot grows circa 2012. My feeling is stuff like this is happening in every urban area in the US. Which means your roofer is either paying very high rents or commuting in from 2-3 hours away.

Really easy for me to see that driving costs up by 100%. That's born out by what my insurance agent says. Rebuilding costs in SF are $600-1000 sqft. Get out to Vallejo drops to $300-500 sqft.

Other thought as well is that typically you get better margin on luxury goods than basic ones. because it's easier to slip more profit into high cost goods, like granite countertops vs laminate. Prices double, your margin doubles but your expenses only go up 50%. So as long as the luxo market isn't tapped out that will be serviced at the expense of basic goods.

It's a good thought. And contractors are virtually all commuters. There's a lot more driving than in most professions I can think of. In cities with awful traffic, going and buying more screws or plywood might be a day-ending problem. you might wait extra hours for deliveries, too.

All in all, frictional losses/expenses building in a city are probably very high in aggregate. The few builders I know sure seems to spend a long time waiting. Meanwhile, when I lived in CT, a round trip to the hardware store usually took about 30 minutes max.

I wonder if/when those frictional losses/problems building in dense cities actually balance out with the gains in reduced commutes and greater efficiency of urban life once those buildings are occupied.

and impact fees

I've been wondering as well! The suburbs are filled with 4-5 bedroom McMansions— smaller 2-3 bedroom homes are hardly being built at all (except in the form of a townhouse, maybe).

So one can't even just "move to the 'burbs" to save money instead of living right in town. It's all the same price.

Yep, even the houses I've looked at in the suburbs here are all enormous. This seems odd to me considering how people are having fewer kids these days anyway. Plus I really hate the look of the "sea of suburbia" with big box houses that have enormous garages that take up 2/3rd of the front of the house, looks ugly.

So you basically need to find a mid-sized city with houses from the mid-late 20th century when sizes were more reasonable.

I'm so confused about why America is so reactionary when it comes to architecture, and to design in general.

I've been browsing Zillow and Redfin lately, trying to plan a few years into the future, and the architectural landscape is just horrific. My ideal is a modern, minimalist, fairly flat-roofed 1- or 2-story (think Rummer [1], Gropius, Eichler, the Eames case study house, Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth house, etc.). I wouldn't mind oodles of raw concrete and exposed steel. Nothing ostentatious or expensive, mind you; just good design and modern materials.

I'm not that hopeful that anything close to this style appears in the areas I'm looking or in the price range. Instead, what you get are column-infested McMansions or hideously old-fashioned shingle monstrosities. The average home in the US seems to look like this [2]. The kitchen is always dark and brown. Random hideous reactionary baubles from Colonial Revival architecture abound. Beveled wood paneling is everywhere.

Now and then a rare (very rare) mid-century modern house come up that might be within my price range, but of course it doesn't have modern insulation, electrics, heating, moisture barriers, air flow, etc., so what you've got is a beautiful but cold, damp, technologically outdated and energy-inefficient box.

Ultimately, it seems good, modern design in the US is for rich people, which makes me sad.

[1] https://www.curbed.com/2018/8/27/17773540/midcentury-home-to...

[2] https://www.redfin.com/NY/Orchard-Park/30-Knoche-Way-14127/h...

> column-infested McMansions

Thing I realized is these things are basically lowest common denominator residential construction meets Mr Potato Head.

Most people buying a home plan to sell it at some point. A non-conformist home is going to be harder to sell later, so it's harder to sell now.

You're unlikely to get something how you want it, unless it's built for you (and even then). You're probably going to need to find something with the outside you want, and budget to put the inside you want too.

But more specifically, an Eichler simply isn't going to have insulation and continue to be an Eichler. They're designed for a climate which doesn't need insulation, and as such, there is no room for insulation (at least for the ceiling). Try to find one with a big tree on the south side, shading the house (but make sure the tree is in good shape).

You must be referring to a major city. Sub $200k houses are the norm for most of the USA.

Denver Colorado, so, yes, plus our housing increases over the past few years seem to be a bit more insane than other metro areas (looks like it might be slowing this year). I'm really kicking myself for not buying when I moved here. The area I came from was somewhat depressed on the east coast, but I could have easily picked up a neat row home there for ~$100k-$150k.

Overall, I'm struggling to justify paying 2x or 2.5x for a home here over just moving somewhere much cheaper and sticking to remote work / consulting where I can find it.

There is a lot that I like about city living (being able to walk everywhere), but I'm having a harder time justifying the cost of it now. And the job market is pretty solid around Colorado right now.

+1. I'm closing on a house soon. 1000 square feet for less than $150,000, in the South Hills area of Pittsburgh.

> It doesn't even seem like anyone has interest in building $200,000 houses anymore

From a bit of online searching, I imagine it's between 0.75 and 1.25 man hours per square foot of house to build in labor costs (that number may differ depending on size of team/expertise, I imagine).[1][2] Depending on average pay rate for building involved, which varies widely based on area and cost of living, you might be looking at $50k to $100k in labor costs. That's before land cost, materials, permitting, power/sewer hookups, etc.

> but they will sell you a poorly made condo for $400,000 and $600/mo HOA fees.

In some places the lot cost is $200k, or more. It's hard to build a $200k house when your margin is negative before you've started building.

And in places where the lot cost is more like $100k, do you want to build a $300k house with low margin, or do you want to build a $400k-$600k house or condo with much higher margin? The problem perpetuates itself, as high density and high housing costs lead to high land cost, which leads to maximizing profit for area strategies that say to build higher end houses.

One of the solutions to this is to be willing to live in higher density housing, such as a condo. This lets building still target high margin while providing somewhat cheaper housing. Or build up, into more multi-story complexes. But people want homes with yards, which is why this is a discussion about how nobody can find a $200k house (you can, just not in the more populated areas), and not a discussion about "how to achieve housing cheaply".

1: https://www.contractortalk.com/f16/avg-man-hours-build-1800s...

2: https://diy.stackexchange.com/questions/77299/how-many-man-h...

So many reasons for this, but it boils down to the marginal cost on building a 4-5 BR vs. a 2 BR house is small compared to the profit upside.

If you want a 2 BR, you need to look in old neighborhoods or buy a condo.

I understand the economic reality, but it’s somewhat depressing how it seems like we think only in these terms now — what will maximize financial returns. The investment part supersedes the original purpose, which is to have a place to live.

In my country (Poland), the majority of people who are interested in buying a house just buy the lot and contract a company to build the house for them. This way, you get to live in a house that's exactly right for you. Of course, the flip side is that the whole process takes a year or longer - but here most people live in flats, and those who decide (and can afford) to own a house, treat it as a part of settling in the area for a longer period of time.

In the USA, unless you're in a rural area with minimal zoning, there are often minimum square footage requirements on any new construction, either imposed by local zoning or neighborhood convenants. So I could buy a lot in a new development, but I likely do not have complete freedom of choice in what I build on it.

I've always considered "new construction" and "starter house" mutually exclusive.

In terms of actual costs, newer construction practices are actually cheaper. However, new construction teens to have loan and expensive land attached to it. Plus it is "new" so sellers are obliged to scalp you.

Where is this ?

A 1000 sq ft home costs nowhere near $200,000 to build. The land, on the other hand, costs more than that alone in major cities.

> The land, on the other hand, costs more than that alone in major cities.

You can build apartment buildings 5, 10, 20 or even 80 floors high. The cost of land per apartment can be made quite small by building higher.

As you build up, the construction costs (and ongoing maintenance costs) per square foot of livable space can increase significantly, though. You need more engineering, more expensive materials, fancy cranes, extra safety procedures, etc. Plus more of the potentially livable floor space is instead taken up by elevator shafts and machinery.

Here's one almost 30 stories high apartment building in a place where the location and land don't have too much value as such (Atlantic City). 1,000 sq.ft. 2br condos seem to be priced from $160,000 to $250,000.


That's a 30-year old building in Atlantic City, though. The building itself will have depreciated since then, and Atlantic City isn't a very desirable area any more. The current prices won't necessarily reflect the original construction costs.

There are some actual numbers in this Fannie Mae commentary:


The average costs to build 1-3 and 4-7 story apartment buildings was $192.0/ft^2 in 2017, compared to $233/ft^2 for 8-24 story buildings. I assume the square footage includes common spaces. I don't know if they attempted to control for sample biases (e.g. if taller buildings tend to be build in areas with higher labor costs).

Getting apples to apples numbers to compare can be difficult. People tend to built more stories in more desireable (read expensive) places.

Simply builing to 5 floors with dense infill would be higher density than any US city west of New Jersey.

And is approximately the scale of central Paris.

But a 30-story apartment building will block my view of the river!

You can mock, but if someone bought a house, and paid a lot for it so they can view the river, then this is a reasonable concern.

In that case and if you truly own something like a view. I'd suggest something like that should be taxed too. And since the person owning it puts a premium value to it. Something in the ballpark of 40% of the net price of the home extra apart from the property taxes is perfectly justifiable.

They're more than welcome to buy the air rights to the lots between them and the river.

Well the shadow of a tall building covers sunshine in a large area. This limits its applicability.

I'd rather have an apartment building than be homeless in the sunshine.

In the midwest, the cost of construction can easily be less than $50k, even $25k.

Even $200,000 is a hell of a lot.

Most US houses I've seen are not even made with bricks and cement, just wooden construction that shouldn't cost more than say 50-100K.

How dare people make a profit!

God forbid anyone make a profit?

I’m not sure what your point is, prices are set by what the market is willing to pay. Anything else is not sustainable.

You are not entitled to buy houses wherever you want for whatever price you think is good. Certainly not in the Bay Area.

>prices are set by what the market is willing to pay

Land is not a normal good so it does not work that way even in theory. A simple example: Flint MI has falling demand and rising prices.

In addition, land is used both for speculation and retirement savings, further inflating the price beyond just being a place to live.

>Anything else is not sustainable

Correct. An ever growing percentage of wealth will go to land owners and rent seeking rather than productive enterprise. The price of doing business in the Bay Area (and similar cities) will drive out industry until there is nothing but the top most classes and their house cleaners, gardeners, waiters and store clerks. A situation perfectly satisfactory for land vendors.

It has happen countless times in the past but apparently were not going to let facts interfere with economic theory.

>God forbid anyone make a profit?

For producing something profit is great. For an exorbitant toll both in the path of job seekers, it is a net harm.

> Land is not a normal good, it does not work that way.

You are right in essence, but using the wrong terminology.

Real estate, at least the kind we're discussing, residential housing, absolutely is a normal good, normal being defined as having a positive income elasticity of demand. Simply stated, when people make more money, they want more house.


The supply side of the equation, what you're referring to, is less straightforward. While, the long-run price elasticity is pretty high, the short-run tends to be fairly inelastic, this is due to construction having lots of high, fixed costs, and financing tends to have very long amortization schedules. Do a lot of construction in a real estate market and it might be ten years before prices start to come down, assuming demand hasn't caught up in the interim.

Most real estate markets clear. Failure of the market to clear can have many causes, the one I see happening most often is the aforementioned low price elasticity in visible parts of dense downtowns. Political action at the local level can create an economic incentive to reduce prices to meet demand.


I see I also blurred construction costs with land costs and new housing with existing stock. I probably should have been more precise and less rhetorical.

But yeah something like moving zoning decisions to State level and financial incentives for development vs under developed parcels would help.

I believe the GP's point is that regulation geared toward limiting supply circumvents natural market forces.

You can see it in the data:


We're in a market in which housing prices have been soaring for a very long time, but for most of this we've been building less housing than even the 90's (and starts have actually FALLEN recently).

There's something broken in the market. Material costs are part of it, but government regulation is certainly part of it as well.

More accurately, it exploits natural market forces.

At one point I made a list of biggest expenses a person faces in their lives and was shocked to realize that pretty much everywhere there is either a company or consortium that has captured the market and manages 'access' to it. This is not surprising. in fact I would imagine that as more and more automation takes hold & marginal cost to produce real goods falls to near zero you'll see only the players left standing will be the ones either with some kind of an "in" or monopolies.

If you probe further you'll realize the companies with largest margins (basically ripoffs or to use Mr Buffets's lingo 'moats') will be (are?) the ones with most resources to spare on marketing and media. so the inevitable outcome will be massive corruption of public discourse and loss of clarity for common man. sounds familiar?

> At one point I made a list of biggest expenses a person faces in their lives and was shocked to realize that pretty much everywhere there is either a company or consortium that has captured the market and manages 'access' to it.

None of healthcare, education or housing have even as high a concentration as online retail unless you’re going to count government provision of primary and secondary education. I struggle to imagine what other spending categories you could be referring to, certainly not food or clothing.

Sorry I was offline for a bit so couldnt respond. But I find it surprising that you picked 3 most messed up sectors in america as basis to refute my argument.

Anyways, Lets start with housing. Every housing transaction hold about 10% [of sale price] of commissions on both buyer & seller side. [If you dont know] you'll be surprised to learn that the govt taxes & fees are a minimal portion of that. its mostly realor commissions & bank fees. why can they do that, its because they have had a monopoly on MLS listing service forever. to have access to the MLS you need to be a realtor. if anything these commissions should be fixed cost rather than a percentage cost. to give you a sense of the severity of the situation, on an average people stay in a house for 7 years due to labor mobility & other reasons. so over a carries of 30+ years its likely you'd do 4 such transactions. That essentially means you've worked for realtors & bank for about 40% of your carrier (assuming shiller is right in concluding that it takes 30yrs of work to build/own a house).

Now Healthcare, why do you think nothing Martin skerelli had done was illegal? recall that he wasnt indicted for price gouging on the meds. I actually think he did a service to america by exposing the flaws of pricing system. Also regarding medical professionals AMA works hard to maintain control of certification process and not flood the market with doctors. believe me they are not that hard to make. infact they have been fighting efforts to allow RMPs to practice basic healthcare in rural areas just to maintain the scarcity.

there is a reason healthcare and college education sectors are the most inflation heavy sectors in america over last to decades. its by impeding price discovery and free market.

Rent seeking is a large part of the pharmaceutical industry, which is 4% of the economy. And also a good chunk of the rest of the health care industry, which is 18% of the economy.

It doesn’t show up in their profit margins. If they’re rent seekers Roche, Novartis, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline are really bad at it.

I think you'd be surprised just how many markets like this exist where there is a ton of slack in the system and profits are high.

In terms of the impact on middle class, I think most of these markets tend to command a relatively small part of a household budget.

It's complicated, inevitably. This is not just increased cost to the middle class (and anyone who wears glasses, presumably), it's also their income.

For the most part, price inflation is a result of and/or caused by increased spending. Complimentary optometry at the mall of your choice. Attentive salespeople standing at glass counters. Brand licensing galore. I would imagine there's a substantial corporate layer, social media coordinators... Profit too, of course. It sounds quite lucrative.

It's interesting to note that a lot of economists predicted we'd be working way less by now. Keynes is a famous example. It's interesting because the theories haven't changed much, and the assumptions keynes and others made about growth and efficiency were about right.

Modern economists generally explain this as "people had an unexpected ability to consume more." I get the impression their not entirely satisfied though.

I think at least things are better now than they once were. One of the reasons I am pro-Amazon, H&M and other successful new-ish companies that attract criticism from the left for various perceived crimes is that I remember what things were like in the UK when I was growing up, when almost anything I wanted to buy in the shops was overpriced, so much so that it even led to the expression 'Rip off Britain'. I strongly believe that it was various consumer-exploitative practices from business at the time that was behind this, and my evidence is that they were comprehensively and easily swept aside by companies offering better service and lower prices. That said, spectacles are one of the few remaining examples of egregiously bad rip-off behaviour around. F* Luxottica, I'm wearing my old glasses as long as possible deliberately to deny them profits and as soon as I can find the style I like from an alternative they'll have my money. Who needs a stupid label on their glasses anyway?! As if makes a person any sexier - they still have defective eyesight!

>It's articles like this that make me wonder how much of our middle class burden comes from hidden rent seeking parasites like this.

One third of it.

The other third is from advertising: a huge industry using all kinds of manipulation, psychological tricks, constant brain washing, and (nowadays) surveillance, to make us buy all kinds of crap we don't need, and didn't want until yesterday.

And the last third is from jobs that make the middle class so tired and give it so little time and space, that shopping feels like therapy, and giving in to rent-seeking is the only option.

Paying into huge pension fonds who hold whole industries- we are effectively take for a ride by the baby-boomers to a bitter end.

No anti-trust laws of course, because those who benefit are the most loyal voters.

This is why I haven't bought prescription glasses in stores for 10 years and probably won't in the future. I bought two pairs of frames with lenses for around $100 online after I do my prescription tests each couple years, whereas for an average pair in store or with the optometrist, they cost about $300+. The quality between the glasses is pretty similar, only difference is the brand.

Isn't this just as much another fashion trap?

Many things from underwear, glasses, clothes to paper tissues are branded fashion items.

None of these items are expensive to make, we just don't buy the cheapest.. probably you can find cheap glasses somewhere online, if not there's probably a business opportunity in that :)

Question: do people want to buy cheap glasses, clothes, underwear? Or do they want to buy branded Kleenex tissues?

>Question: do people want to buy cheap glasses

Absolutely, so long as they function. What do I care if the microprint logo on the frame is a recognizable brand? Especially if I'm buying frameless glasses where there just isn't much material work with for fashionable design. Just give me good lenses and a minimalist frame that won't fall apart. I don't want to pay $200 for $5.00 worth of titanium that people can barely even see on my face.

> Question: do people want to buy cheap glasses?

Yes, I grew up with my Mom taking me to an expensive glasses store and the salesman's sales pitch was, "My stuff is the best because it's expensive". I didn't know anything because I was age 7 or 8. I was sort of indoctrinated into shopping there, but a few years ago an online store called Googles4u had a $10.00 for glasses and frames deal. It was likely as a loss-leader, but I realized that I didn't see any better out of the expensive Elissor / Hoya glasses with all of the top-of-the-line coatings than I did the no-name cheap glasses. They also made me feel a lot more relaxed. Before I was so worried about dropping them or losing them in the water but now I had a carefree attitude.

A lot of middle-class jobs come from enabling these rent-seekers. Not sure if that counts as 'burden'...

Well, my first thought was - if eyewear can be produced for less, why doesn't somebody take advantage of the opportunity and do so? Capitalism at its finest and all that. But the answer immediately struck me: if somebody was offering a product at half the cost everybody else was, I wouldn't trust it - and I suspect most other people wouldn't, either. Considering the size of the initial investment, this upstart wouldn't be able to get enough traction to stay afloat.

Zenni Optical does, as well as several other online retailers.

There have been a few good HN threads on the topic previously. Here are a couple I had bookmarked:



Their sunglasses are half the price of brand name or more, and substantially worse. I can get Oakleys, Spys, or Nikes for $50-80 easily.

I might not be able to get whatever pair I want right now, but I'd find a decent one. The quality from a fashion perspective would be miles ahead, I don't even care about brand name; just how they look. Sunglasses for me are something that I actively wear 1-5 pairs of at a time.

Frankly I could afford to pay $100-300, but don't need to. Most people care more about the brand and status aspect, but I don't, just how they look. $50-150 for something like a pair of shoes is a reality most people can and do deal with. If they (Zenni) looked like glasses I'd want to wear, I'd jump at them. American optical have aviators in that price range, and aren't owned by luxottica

ZenniOptical - I've only used their glasses aside from my very first pair. They've been fine, and if someone were to step on my glasses, I'd angrily retrieve spare # 3 from my desk and/or spare # 2 from my car since each pair is ~30-70 USD.

Not an ad

I don't understand the draw of this. I can get name brand glasses for $50-100. Their low end models look way better IMO. Personally I buy Spy, Oakley's, Nikes, or American Optical; all for less than $80, sometimes substantially. Also not a shill.

Companies can and do, e.g. Costco, for prescription glasses anyway.

I bet what often happens instead is that the higher margin company just buys out the cheaper guy, and... it's back to the higher prices!

This is how it seems to work in the US Airline industry.

Luxottica ran the CostCo Optical centers for a little bit. I believe they got out of it because they were not making any money on it.

That makes sense. Costco sells a lot more than just eyeglasses, so it's a rare case where Luxottica just doesn't have leverage. If it's not Luxottica, it's someone else, but Costco's brand is very strong, so there's no concern about quality where you'd otherwise judge based on price/brand.

That's not how the market works. You may think that way, but most people shop on price above all else.

More importantly, when you have a giant company with a monopoly on something, they don't have to compete with you, they can instead just buy you up.

Which is what the company behind lenscrafters did. IIRC, Oakley tried to compete fairly, and not play their monopoly/collusion game, so Luxottica threatened to pull from any stores that carried Oakley. When Oakley inevitably lost a huge amount of sales and the companies value tanked, Luxottica bought them.

Nintendo did the same thing, minus the buyout, in the eighties when video game manufacturers tried to subvert Nintendo's control in that market.

You don't need a full fledged monopoly to upset market forces. Even the existence of a single large entity that can make unified decisions destroy a healthy market

Employing people at each step in the eyewear industry. Plus, employing people at companies who support the eyewear industry. Plus, employing people at companies that support the companies that support the eyewear industry...etc. etc.

Why would any of these jobs be lost in a more competitive eyewear industry? People keep repeating this talking point, but I don't understand what they mean.

Nobody is asking for the eyewear industry to stop existing. We're talking about a single monopoly controlling the majority and driving up prices.

How does an artificially high price and artificially low competition generate more jobs?

I don't believe the previous poster actually included any value judgement in their comment.

Basically the administrative overhead of all the layers is what is taking the bulk of that money.

I agree that those jobs can be redistributed elsewhere instead.

I never said there shouldn't be competition. The parent asked where money goes...

If you're suggesting that all these jobs are good, for their own sake, then:


Only if there’s no learning. The Apollo 1 fire, countless air disasters etc. led to much greater safety.

Of course. But you can say "Only if there's no x" about many x's. The point is that jobs are only good as a means, not an end.

If that was the case, then there'd be no ability for something like Warby Parker or Costco to show how much cheaper it can be the way they do, and it would just be something that cost hundreds of dollars. Costs everybody has can't explain this. And even those costs can't really explain the differential here; 10% and 10x are very different beasts.

Trickle down, eh?

It pays for leasing storefronts.

Oh absolutely... the concept of a thing I'd call a "restaurant" that would need four times the footprint, something like 5% of the ratio of sale price / cost per unit and would take about 90 minutes to finish servicing a customer must be an entirely ludicrous fantasy I dreamed up last night.

> And where does this money go? What does it end up doing?

Some of it goes to providing jobs to those same middle class people.

Considering their profits, I don't believe that is where it is going:


Using a monopolistic position to overcharge doesn't generate more jobs, just profits.

Are 10-15% margins crazy large in this or comparable sectors?

I'm genuinely asking as I'm to busy/lazy to look it.

Of course not.

According to my basic understanding of basic economics (FWIW), doesn't this put a hole in the monopoly hypothesis here? [I'm not even close to being an economist, but I've taken a basic class or two.]

I looked at their 2017 financials, and they have revenue/ expenses broken out for many many brands and regions. There are huge variations in margins due to what it seems like to be growth expenses. Some of what i'd think to be more mature lines at first glance to have crazy good margins.

The share of incomes from private businesses (especially luxury businesses) isn't flat and benefits mostly the executives and directors and shareholders.

How can you say that? Luxottica employs 85,000 people. Do those people obtain no benefit from employment?

If there was healthy competition that same number of jobs may be split over multiple companies, but it would still have to exist since the market for the product itself wouldn't change.

That isn't an argument for not breaking up a monopoly. Only an argument that the market may be big enough to support actual competition.

Look at the beer market. Total beer volume sold is falling. Employment in breweries has doubled since 2010.

Why? Because the market is fragmenting to smaller operations who employ more people per unit of beer produced.

You can argue that from both sides, that it's less efficient vs generates more jobs, of course.

What? Nobody is claiming that they don't.

What is being claimed is that the majority of those employees are not seeing an increased benefit (wages) proportional to the increased profits of the company they work for, whereas shareholders and executives do.

Obviously they obtain benefit form employment.

If it were multiple competing companies, the same output would probably require MORE employees. One of the ways it is so profitable is to implement economies of scale not possible in a less monolithic industry.

You are failing to see that extractive business models such as monopolies do not add value, they extract value and concentrate it in the hands of the execs/owners. This removes capital from the socio-economic system/society and reduces the capabilities of the whole system to grow (the occasional purchase of a yacht does not rebalance things).

I think what it probably looks like from a mile high is that we all have a little less eyewear than we could so that a lucky few can have a lot more of everything than they probably should.

We perceive this to be unfair and wonder if we should risk reorganizing society a bit to remedy this.

There are plenty of examples where rising profits in an industry have led to workforce downsizing, not job creation.

Is there any data to show that these excessive eyewear profits are being used to create new jobs?

You should familiarize yourself with the broken window fallacy[1], it fits this scenario pretty precisely and... well, it's a fallacy.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window

Right, it's almost a collective statement on our health and priorities that allows parasites like this to thrive. What I mean is that obviously, in general, we can afford $800 glasses even though we may hate it. But it isn't, for most people, coming at the expense of food, cars, rent, etc. It is not good free market operating, though, and should be forcibly interrupted.

I was able to slash my eyeglasses expenditures in both the exams and the frames:

eye exams: I used to pay the optometrist $153 ($117 refraction + $36 dilation). I later found out that Costco often has an optometrist on site in a tiny office and will charge just $59 (and add +$20 for dilation). That's less than half the cost of most other optometrists.

frames: switched to Zenni online to avoid the LensCrafters/Pearle/Eyemasters and their heavy markups.

Yes, some people don't like ordering online frames because they can't "try them on". If that's a deal breaker, consider going to Costco and see if you like any of their frames. Costco's total price will be about half of the dedicated eyewear chains. If you can't find anything among Costco's selection of frames, I'm afraid you'll be stuck with the Luxoticca monopoly and pay high prices.

I know some folks recommend Warby Parker but last time I checked, they cost more than Costco.

Zenni requires you to do a bit of your own research, like every other new-economy self-service approach. But it's worth it.

Switching to Zenni has allowed me to move to cheap CR-39 lenses rather than expensive high index material. CR-39 is soft, and if I'm paying a lot for frames then the lenses getting scratched is a Big Deal. Then pile on further costs for coatings etc. But if the frames and lenses are both inexpensive, then needing to get a new pair sooner is not really a big deal.

(polycarb is right out due to its horrible chromatic aberration. If you don't know what that is, and you're perfectly content with the clarify of things you're seeing, don't look it up lest you sensitize yourself to it!)

I still need to find a decent sunglass frame on Zenni. Their basic aviators are way too small.

Chromatic aberration drives me nuts, especially when driving at night or using a computer. LED headlights are particularly irritating; if I don't look through the centre of the lenses, the way they separate into distinct blue and white lights creates a visually chaotic scene.

The last time I got new glasses (from Costco), I specifically requested lenses that would minimise chromatic aberration. But they didn't have anything better than the high index lenses I already had. I have very bad eyes (rx of -8.25 and -8.00), which makes my lenses quite thick.

Are there other lens materials that do a better job of minimising chromatic aberration? I've tried researching this, but wasn't able to find anything.

The measure you're looking for is the Abbe number. Many opticians won't know what you're talking about, but if you push and/or research materials yourself this number is readily available. I remember comparing materials with (IoR-1)/Abbe as my "badness" score, but don't cite me on that.

A while ago I surveyed the materials that were available. The usual 1.6 proprietary materials (Sola/Hoya/Shamir/Signet) have Abbe of 42. The 1.67's are 31 or 32. I did see a reference to a single Zeiss material with an IoR of 1.67 and Abbe of 42, which you would be interested in. I'm sure it's going to be expensive though.

I know exactly what you're talking about. The Microsoft logo drives me nuts, in that I know the colored squares are equally separated from each other, but I don't see them that way. They actually move towards and away from each other as they move around my field of view.

Yeah, this effect really screws with my head sometimes. Sitting at a traffic signal and seeing the coloured light floating off to side is a bit weird too.

What you mention about polycarbonate is interesting. I just got my first pair of glasses (well, the first in about 35 years) and I can't quite put my finger on it but they bother me. Clarity is better, but there's something about the colors of things, especially where things contrast, that is bothersome. I end up taking them off (they are only really for computer use at this point, my vision isn't all that bad yet) just to see normally, if less clear.

Off to do some research...

Also got my first pair of glasses a few week ago when visiting home!

I love them, everything is so clear, it's almost like switching to 4k! But something is off when I read my computer screen. Also they cause eye strain after a while if I am reading.

Several people mentioned having separate pair of glasses. I have started reading about lenses and all that, very interesting. I'm considering getting extra pairs for cheap to test if I can get something better to use with a computer.

I've seen many recommendations about regular glass (non polycarbonate): heavier, but harder to scratch, and with fewer aberrations.

Also, I've been reading about how some lens maker can go with very precise steps in dioptry, also for the angular degrees of astigmatism instead of rounding. Maybe that would help too?

I recently purchased glasses online for the first time, from EyeBuyDirect. I got a pair specifically for computer use, with a weaker prescription, smaller pupil distance, and lower index of refraction to cut down on chromatic aberration. For $45 I'm fairly satisfied, even though I haven't quite got the frames adjusted for a perfect fit yet. The chromatic aberration is still noticeable when I look for it, but definitely smaller than my regular glasses, and I'm hoping that in the long run it will be less distracting with the new pair.

How did you adjust the correction to get focus at say 3 ft / 1 m for computer use?

Why a smaller PD?? I thought it was fixed by your skull anatomy?

The spherical correction was weakened by half a dioptre, leaving the cylindrical correction unchanged. So for my bad eye, the computer prescription's SPH is -4.75 instead of -5.25. This roughly agrees with the calculator at http://www.computerglassesrx.com/

The PD for near vision is only slightly smaller than for distance vision: 60mm instead of 63mm for me, less than 5% reduction. I doubt it is all that important since I've been using distance vision glasses to read with for decades, but it is a fact that you have to go a little bit cross-eyed to properly focus on something close to you. I think it might help a bit for looking at very small objects just a few inches away, but ditching the glasses entirely works even better for me when I need to read eg. markings on a 4mm IC.

I asked for this as a reglaze and they called it a "Snooker lens" even though it was for a regular frame

Almost ungooglable, but I get the concept

I'm not sure I understand.

My first order with Zenni I got probably 5 different frames, using a coupon code, and that helped me figure out what kinds of frames I liked and what didn't work. With that, I was able to dial in on what frames fit me best, and over the years I've mostly settled on one very-uncool but so-comfortable-I-forget-I-wear-glasses frame that goes in and out of stock. I order two every time and have extras at work, in my car, at my parents' house, etc.

Years ago I got some huge aviator sunglasses from them, but they aren't in stock anymore. I just have one of my aforementioned extras in my car with the nerdy clip-on.

I wear frame #1116325 from Zenni for prescription sunglasses.

My hat size is 7 3/4ths (EU: 62) and my pupillary distance is 72. In other words, I have a pumpkin head. My mother says my head is so big because of my big brains and my wife says it's due to my thick skull.

#1116325 seems to fit just fine and the frame is $29.95. They can handle PDs up to 79, according to the website.

I get fancy-pants prescription lenses though so the total price is around $90.

Zenni really needs a "very large lenses" section for sunglasses, most of them are just not large enough to block peripheral sunlight. I had one pair that I bought from them and loved, but after getting a new prescription I went to reorder them to find they had been discontinued.

This same discussion on HN a couple months ago convinced me to try Zenni.

I replaced my $300 walmart progressives with better for $80 and that includes shipping.

That's less than my monthly cell phone bill. It's like my glasses went from sacred to disposable.

I had no idea you could spend $300 on glasses at walmart.

progressive lenses are expensive.

U.K. tips, along similar lines...

Most high street stores do free eye tests to get you in the door. The price will be around £20, but free vouchers in papers, leaflets, in store, online, etc, are very available. You could probably just ask for a free one.

Alternatively, if you use a computer enough in your work, I believe your company is required to cover eye tests.

Lastly, but online. Get your prescription from the store and don’t buy in store. Go to somewhere like Glasses Direct, a Warburg Parker equivalent for the U.K., and buy from their own brand ranges if you can. They are typically £25-100 for frames, and almost always buy one get one free.

Between these tips, I tend to get a new pair of glasses and prescription sunglasses, with good lens coatings on both, and going for more fashionable frames, for about £120 all in (2 pairs). As a student I did this and was spending about £60, and that’s every 2 years or so as my eyes change and glasses break.

Conversely I have family who spend £250+ a pop on the high street.

I ended up with Warby Parker after decent experiences with Zenni. Warby Parker offers a home try-on service for free, where they ship you a pack of frames for you to try on (without prescription lenses). They also have a few retail stores.

They still came out to be cheaper than Luxottica, and for something that I use for years, it ended up being worth it.

I've heard people dump on Warby Parker for being cheaply made, but honestly their stuff doesn't seem any worse then what my insurance covered at my optometrist.

Also as a side note, my first pair from Warby Parker had the lenses go bad (they looked like they had dried water blotches on them, but it would never wash out. I assume some coating went bad) and they sent me a new pair for free. That was maybe 2 years ago and I still use the pair.

Warby Parkers are cheaply designed: nose pads are not affixed with screws, and thus are prone to being lost. Most (all?) hinges are rigid, without spring suspension. It’s kind of ridiculous for these prices (compare with Zenni and Costco).

I have been very happy with my 1 year old pair of WP glasses. There aren't any nose pads or spring hinges but I haven't noticed any negative effects from those design choices. For $110 with anti-glare coating I have no complaints.

the warby parker glasses i tried felt so cheap they seemed like costume glasses or something. i got a pair from zenni in the mail yesterday, and while they’re not as nice feeling as the pair i paid 10x for at my optometrist, they feel well made and look higher quality than what i got from wp.

Sounds like I might not be a good judge of quality frames then!

Might have to give Zenni a shot next time I need a new pair.

> Warby Parker offers a home try-on service for free, where they ship you a pack of frames for you to try on (without prescription lenses).

That's a really fantastic idea. Honestly that's a "missing piece" with a lot of online shopping (glasses, clothing, etc) or anything else you wear on your body.

it does have room for some pain if you end up not liking any of the frames in their agreement. i ended up passing because of this.

Warby Parker does an amazing job with their retail experience. They fit your glasses to your face and are generally a joy to work with. I had an extremely low opinion of them from one bad experience years ago with the online try on model and walked into their retail store just out curiosity and got hooked.

I've also had good experiences with WP and have referred several friends to them when they mentioned needing new glasses.

I wore the same pair of Warby Parker glasses daily for 6 years before my son broke them. They are very good for the price.

I ordered Zenni frames and lenses last time I bought glasses. Optically, no complaints, but the frames broke in less than a year and the anti-glare coating developed a cracked/crazed spot in the middle of one lens. Probably won't be a repeat customer.

I bought a pair of Zennis after reading good things in another HN thread on this subject, and have been quite happy with the results for $32.90 shipped.

Is it in the US? In Canada Costco prescription glasses are horribly expensive.

Cheaper than a regular eyewear store though

I think a big part of this is, like health care, insurance hiding the true cost from consumers.

I have a vision plan as a benefit from my job. Covers exams and eyeware, so I have never paid more than a small co-pay for glasses and I had no idea what the cost was behind the scenes.

The insurers don't care as they just pass the cost along to the employers who pay for the policies. The employers don't know any better.

This is a case of market pressure on prices being totally eliminated by layers of bureaucracy and obfuscation.

It is worth noting that the same company selling you glasses also owns most Vision Insurance plans. The plans only cover their vendors.

And that company is EyeMed. Your Vision insurance is almost certainly through them.


I don't know the numbers, but for my entire working life across several companies, my insurance has been through VSP, not EyeMed. So "almost certainly" seems like an overstatement.

I've always followed the normal route--I have employer provided vision insurance, I would get myself tested every two years by a optometrist that my insurance covered, and I would buy glass using the prescription from the optometrist or a glasses store supported by my insurance. I don't have anything special in my glasses--single focal, no tinting or light sensitivity, and my glasses weren't remotely stylish, and I'd pay ~$50-70 after insurance.

I recently lost my glasses in a pond filled with alligators, so I wasn't going to try to retrieve them. I figured I needed cheap glasses until my insurance would cover me again. I had an old prescription but it was over a year old. I looked at Warby Parker, but they seem to require an actual prescription. So I tried Zenni Optical because all they need are the correction figures for each lens, they don't require an actual doctor signed document. Something I've always felt was weird--its not like prescription drugs, and I can decide if the glasses don't work, and a 18 month old prescription is better than no glasses.

So $35 shipped for glasses and frames, and they had a lot that were cheaper. The seem to be very good quality, they seem to work better than lost pair (the prescription didn't have a pupillary distance, so I had to measure it. My eyes are pretty wide, and a lot of lenses can't accommodate my PD, so I wonder if the optometrist just figured close enough for lenses with a lower max PD.) Before this I had no idea how much markup was in the cost of a pair of glasses. Now I'll still get my eyes checked locally, but $30 glasses is better than what I can get locally even after my insurance.

Here's a useful program someone in the HN/YC universe could write - something that uses your computer or phone camera to measure your interpupillary distance. This is a bit tricky to do yourself with a ruler and a mirror.

Just have the user take a selfie while holding some object of known dimensions on their forehead. Like a dollar bill. Find the eyes and pupils (OpenCV can do that), find the reference object, calculate.

Then take a picture of the prescription, OCR to the numbers (which will need a really good OCR program given the handwriting of many ophthalmologists), confirm the data with the user, and take the order for new glasses. Composite a selfie with pictures of glasses so you can see them on your face.

Order from China, deliver via E-Packet, profit. Who needs Luxotica?

Some of these apps exist, but none are as accurate as a ruler and two post-it notes with a pinhole.

If Apple opens up the depth sensor on the iPhone camera, such apps will be more accurate.

The trouble with do it yourself measurement of the distance between eyes is that it's done with eyes that need glasses, without wearing them. You need a second person or hardware.

In my case, my distance vision is bad, but a meter away is sharp without correction. In fact, I’ve never had a prescription that doesn’t f-up my near vision, so I had to do the measurement without glasses on.

I do it while wearing my contacts :)

> something that uses your computer or phone camera to measure your interpupillary distance

Presumably any program that does face recognition already has this capability somewhere inside it, and you just need to either extract it out (if FOSS) or trick the engine into doing just that one thing for you.

The Warby Parker App already does a much better version of this. Open the front facing camera and any frame you want is super imposed in real time on your face. It works very well, on a newer iphone at least. You do have to enter your prescription details by hand though.

The other useful program would be one that can process a photo of a person wearing glasses and suggest which adjustments they should make to get the frames seated properly. Bonus points if the program can also spit out the script details based on the observed distortion of one's face through the lenses.

I was very happy with my online order (Zenni), but it took a bit of mucking about to get them adjusted properly and sitting comfortably on my face.

> Something I've always felt was weird--its not like prescription drugs

Perhaps they can get reimbursed by your insurance provider (without co-pay, so you don't necessarily even know about it) and/or the government, when they make glasses according to a prescription, in a way that they don't when they make them 100% for retail?

> I recently lost my glasses in a pond filled with alligators

I lost a pair of plastic glasses in the Colorado River in 1992 or so, crazy to think they are possibly reasonably intact somewhere in the Pacific Ocean :|

Money quote: >“Federal officials fell asleep at the wheel,” Dahan said. “They should never have allowed all these companies to roll into one. It destroyed competition.” Butler said it should be clear from EssilorLuxottica’s practices that the company has too much market power. “If that’s not a monopoly,” he said, “I don’t know what is.”

Where's the public outrage? Maybe because they're foreign companies? Maybe because the price crept up slowly over time? Maybe because glasses are tied to the medical industry where consumers have come to accept absurd prices? :(

Worth noting there's always some markup for brick-and-mortar locations, and for something people like to try on before buying that's (was) a big deal.

I think Luxottica CEO himself explained the whole situation in 1 second 7 years ago, and it is spot on (Not saying it is how it should be).

Listen for yourself.


For those that can't do audio right now:

"everything is worth what people are ready to pay"

And if there's no competition, whether that's manifestly apparent or not, what they're forced to pay (for the benefit of sight) is whatever he's willing to charge.

Everything is worth what people are ready to pay

Lens Crafters charges a huge markup if you want their lenses put into your own frames. It's almost cheaper to buy new frames from them (and in the case of particularly-expensive lenses, it is in fact cheaper to buy new frames). That's clearly a scam.

Warby Parker sells glasses at more reasonable prices, but their frames are god-awful hideous tortoiseshell plastic abominations. If you want nice metal frames, they have a small selection, and the prices aren't that great.

I normally buy two pairs of glasses at once (one for distance, one computer-specific). I'll probably soon start buying a third pair, progressive bifocals. I'm now wondering at what point it will literally be cheaper to fly overseas to get them made. I may in fact have already crossed that line.

The only reason I ever use Lens Crafters is when I need glasses same-day due to an emergency. Just last month, I broke my glasses a few days before an extended overseas trip. If I hadn't been going to the Cayman Islands (where everything is more expensive), I'd have waited until arrival to get them made.

It's unfortunate that most optometrists have a two-week turnaround on new glasses. For all I know, they're going through the same Luxottica monopoly too, but at least I avoid Lens Crafters. Their quality is absolute shit; poorly-ground lenses, shitty coatings that scratch easily and bubble up. It's probably intentional, so that you're forced to return less than a year later for new glasses.

I've heard good things about Costco, but I don't have access to one.

The reason WP has the tortise she'll is they are both cheaper and in style. Metal is for old people or so my spouse tell me.

My modus operandi is to buy the frame from US under my vision plan with ultra cheapo glasses, and then get the glasses replaced abroad for half the price of what I would have paid in US.

> one for distance, one computer-specific

How do you find the correction for the computer specific glass?

I have a pair for distance but it is a horror to use with computers.

Life-changing. I should have gotten them decades ago. I had no idea how much I was straining my eyes trying to use distance glasses for the computer, until I finally got them.

I sat at my desk and measured the exact distance to the monitor, then asked my optometrist to give me glasses with a focal length of that +/- about eight inches. For me, it's roughly arms' length, about three feet.

Many optometrists try to sell me on progressives or some other half-solution, but using large 30" monitors, or sometimes multiple 24" monitors, I need a wide field of view. Having specific glasses is perfect. It's a minor inconvenience having to switch back and forth, but I'll just leave them on my desk and swap when I sit down.

I bet my distance vision would be a lot better now if I hadn't spent 25 years straining to see a monitor with the wrong glasses.

Exactly this!! I have an extra wide computer screen for work, it is a gamers screen. So when they tried to sell me progressive, I refused. I want 2 good solutions, not 1 half assed one.

Next time I see an optometrist, I will have to ask them with my precise focal length. They have the details of my correction, so they should be able to figure it out.

Can I bother you more? What is your take on undercorrection? I am wondering if I should go for that for my future computer glasses, or my regular glasses.

It works if combined with "active focus". There are references aplenty in the Endmyopia web forum, FB group and YT videos.

EyeglassLensDirect will put lenses into your frames.

Seems like the majority of optometrists could be replaced by photo booth-esque optometry machines. Simply sit in a booth, look through some eye ports, and the machine will automatically start cycling through lenses and making you choose between 1, 2, or equal. At the end it spits out your prescription for a nominal fee. For an extra fee you could have additional eye imagery taken by the machine sent off to a remote optometry lab for analysis.

I've never been to optometry school, but 10/10 times I've gone to get a new prescription, the prescription process has been extremely algorithmic, to the point where I wonder if cartel-esque forces are preventing automated optometry machines.

Disclosure: I'm a software dev, but my fiancée is an optometrist.

There are already machines (called autorefractors) that can try to calculate your prescription. They operate on more complex principles than flipping lenses back and forth. They can provide a good starting point, but sometimes they aren't accurate.

A good optometrist can do a lot more than just give you your prescription, though. They should be checking your eyes for signs of disease, and treating things that they find. Seeing an optometrist for a checkup is preventative medicine, like regularly seeing a primary care physician or a dentist.

Agreed. They do a lot more than just churn out refractions.

My brother actually has a company called OnSightEyes.com which uses a smartphone-powered device to measure prescriptions. Their model is to show up at companies and run diagnostics for their employees which are then covered by insurance.

They still need an optometrist on-site, and they have a bunch of sample frames you can try on and order right there, and/or have sets you like sent directly to you to try on later so your partner can weigh in / you can take you time, etc.

Glasses take about a week once ordered and are typically priced such that they're fully covered by insurance. I felt like they were comparable to Warby Parker quality as well.

I was a guinea pig to give them feedback and it was VERY slick - I feel like it took only a few minutes. Way better than the A/B optometrist process and opaque and expensive frame / coatings upsell.

Anyways, apologies for sounding like infomercial - it's just they do a really good job with an upgrade on the kind of device you're talking about so I figured I'd share exactly how it works.

I feel like their main limitation is finding optometrists in new cities who are willing to "try something new" to run diagnosis events - who unsurprisingly tend to be younger doctors less invested in the legacy diagnosis model.

My optometrist has a machine that automatically generates your prescription. They do some cross-checking with the old fashioned "which looks clearer, this one or this?" lens machine too, but just out of caution.

I consider my vision important enough to get a human opinion on it. Even if a machine can do it correctly 99% of the time, having someone experienced there to confirm the choices is worth it.

Even if the human has been encouraged to lie, cheat, and steal from you?

Optometry, particularly w/ re: prescriptions, seems like the one field of healthcare where patients can be reasonably informed. You can generally tell instantly if a prescription is right for you, and I wouldn't think there's any incentive for an optometrist to lie about your Rx.

Agreed but I could seeing going to an optometrist every 5 years for a comprehensive exam while using a machine every year between doctors visits.

In 1995, Luxottica purchased LensCrafters’ parent company, U.S. Shoe Corp., for $1.4 billion. The goal wasn’t to get into the shoe business. It was to take control of LensCrafters’ hundreds of stores nationwide.

Dahan said things went downhill for him after that. Luxottica increasingly emphasized its own frames over those of outside suppliers, he said, and Custom Optical’s sales plunged. Dahan was forced to close his business in 2001.

Funny that Microsoft was under the gun for antitrust violations while this was happening apparently unabated.

I worked in the industry until a little over a decade ago, putting myself through an engineering degree. The company I started with was bought by LensCrafters, but before it was we pretty much knew the wholesale prices on everything. After LC, LC just distributed stock to us so we didn't follow pricing.

I was always amazed at the markup. A pair of Sola lens blanks for FT28 bifocals was about $3.50. A typical name brand frame out of the Frames catalog was less than $10.00 (ie: Perry Ellis). Dies for UV and tint were several dollars a bottle and would last a few days to a week depending on sales volume. Basically one tint and uv job would pay for most of the dies and UV.

Now, most of those places were in malls, so the rent there is astronomical, that's one thing to consider.

I wouldn't say people are getting "ripped off", but there's definitely quite a bit of markup. A single vision pair with an Rx such that I could use finished lenses, I could edge, uv, light tint and assemble in about 10 - 15 minutes. You'd be paying a couple hundred for that (depending on brand), but I could do it while you wait. And if I did it, you'd be happy (no scratches, gaps, etc). I always take pride in what I do (even now with coding).

So, what's the convenience worth? Depends on you I guess.

Do you have any recollection what the blanks for higher index materials cost?

Zenni's fancier materials are completely lackluster (Abbe wise), and I'm curious if that's because the proprietary high index materials are really so expensive that it would be out of their market, or if Luxottica's anticompetitive behavior extends deep into the supply chain as well.

They weren’t that much more. In the $5 - $10 range for most, but I don’t recall specifics. We did so many FT28 CR39 lenses at that time that’s why I recalled those easily.

There were some progressives that cost us over a hundred but that included lab work as they wouldn’t let us process them.

Edit: I wanna re emphasize that all this was prior to LC (US Shoe bought us then Lux bought US Shoe actually) buying us. I don’t know what prices did after that.

I use every chance I get to tell people about ZenniOptical.com because they are so great.

A full pair of glasses (yes, frames and lenses) start at $6.95 total. Even with some upgrades for scratch resistance & to prevent glare I don't think I've spent more than $50 on a pair of glasses since I found Zenni.

There's also the added bonus of the expensive glasses/sunglasses paradox: the more money I spend on glasses & sunglasses the more prone I seem to breaking or misplacing them. Needless to say at $7/pair I've got quite the collection of Zenni frames going since I've yet to lose a set.

I recently bought a couple pairs from Zenni and couldn't be happier.

Just the lens were $55, probably because of progressives, but that's still way less than anything I've paid before.

I'm a big fan of Jins (https://www.jins.com/us/) in SF. They make your glasses on-site in ~30m. Price (lens + frame) is comparable to Warby Parker.

I live in Japan where they originate from and they have stores all over the country. All my glasses have been from them, zero complaints, super cheap, good service too (you can drop in to any of their stores whenever to get things adjusted, lost nosepads replaced, etc for free which is hard to do with an online vendor)

Me too, ran into them by accident basically. Was so cheap, bought three pairs in one go -- and ready inside the hour. Averaged out to $100 or so.

Why would Versace, Chanel, Burberry etc which are considered luxury brands, all of the sudden sell discounted frames? They have extensive markups on all of their clothing, handbags etc. They are targeting a different, and I would imagine dwindling, market.

There are plenty of options online and offline for cheaper frames.

I dipped my toe into the "online glasses" market -- and let me say it's a game-changer. The eyeglass store wanted about $300 per frame, meaning that I'd grudgingly get one pair.

The online purchase was only $75 for high-end frames and coatings, plus $27 for three pairs of prescription "computer monitor" glasses (one for the office, one for the home office, one for the other home office!). And by having more pairs, I can bring a pair on trips, just in case the main ones get broken!

(Personally, I've also never had any useful help in picking out frames. I'm not very fashion conscious, and every time the help doesn't seem to want to actually help be find frames that would look good on my face)

> $27 for three pairs of prescription "computer monitor" glasses

You are the second person to mention "computer monitor" glasses so I wonder, are they the same correction as your normal glasses? I am new to wearing glasses. I have a pair I use outside, they make everything crystal clear. I love them!! But for computers they are a pain after while, so I don't use them.

As other people mention costs, I paid about $30 total for the eye exam + frame + both lenses + next day delivery (not in the US).

Now I am in the US for a while, so I can't ask for "computer monitor" glasses, but with my correction information I could try to order some from zenni or eyebuydirect.

Guessing "computer glasses" means that they have a blue light filter. The filter doesn't cost much extra and really helps.

Just got a reply- it's not. It has a different focal length, so you can relax your eyes when working on a computer screen.

Where did you buy the high end frames online?

I have a friend who runs a chain of prescription eye glass stores.

For the generics/non name brand, he only spends a few dollars a frame with the lens costing more.

And then marks them up to $200-300

I don't get it. I just tried a few online "cheap glasses" places. I want single vision, prescription (relatively low strength, nothing exotic), polarized sunglasses. Fashion doesn't really matter, it is just for driving.

zenni: $25 frames, cheapest polarization option: $67.89

eyebuydirect.com: $42 frames (malibu), plus polarization: $92

39dollarglasses.com: $39 frames (houston), cheapest polarization option +69, total $108 (more if I want anti-glare)

While these prices are better than my optometrist, where are people finding these "I got three pairs of prescription sunglasses for $50" stories?

Eyebuydirect is notable because:

- US based

- Small premium over Hong Kong (Zenni)

- Essilor lenses (similar to LensCrafters)

- Wide frame selection, some are clones of designer frames which cost 20x

- 2 week refund/replace for any reason

- No prescription needed

Their human customer service seems to be in Malaysia, so CS interactions via voice or email can take a few iterations, but are usually resolved within a few days.

They are a subsidiary of Essilor.

Will be interesting to see what the effects of the merger with Luxxottica will be.

I feel like the frames were more of the cost than the lenses.

I’ll second the recommendation for EyeBuyDirect. Great quality and great prices. My last pair of glasses was <$60 and are the best pair I’ve ever owned.

I just bought a pair of glasses from the local optometrist. Lenses and frames came to $650. It turns out the eye exam was done so hastily that I ended up with the wrong prescription.

So when I went to a different place to have the exam redone I decided to try some discount glasses. I found a pair for $27 with free lenses. I sprung for the $12 expedited shipping and have been very pleased. The online store I used was GlassesUSA.com, which I believe ships directly from Thailand.

We were in one of the South Asian country not too long ago (family of four). Bought 2 pairs of glasses each, everything you name it, is included. Cost? <$50 for all. It would have cost us at least $1000 in US. And you cannot tell we wear cheap glasses. They are perfectly fine. Of course they are not original Ray Ban but who cares as long as prescription is right. The eyewear industry in US is totally out of control.

"Fashion accessory prices don't reflect supply cost" is hardly news or something to "gratify one's intellectual curiosity" as per the site guidelines.

If you buy a fashion brand of glasses frames then you're no more or less getting "ripped off" than you are when buying a Gucci hoodie.

Sure, all the brands are owned by the same company, but that affects a lot of things not just eyewear.

> then you're no more or less getting "ripped off"

You are being ripped off. Look at how much of the industry they own. The only reason this hasn't been acted on yet is because people see their various brands as being separate.

I don't even know what 'ripped off' means? Does it mean if you chose to buy their product you'll have to pay more than you'd happen to like to pay for it? There no oracle that can give us one true price, and anything above that is a 'rip off.'

It means not buying from a market with sufficient competition.

But there is sufficient competition - you can buy no-name glasses for a few dollars.

You can’t buy these specific luxury fashion brands of glasses cheaply but that just means you don’t think the name is worth it. It’s not a ‘rip off’.

It's a ripoff because the price to quality ratio of the luxury brands are much higher than the budget brands which provide the same functionality and style as the luxury brands the only difference being there is no logo stamped on the side.

EDIT: regarding the top comment of this thread, I see and agree with the argument that if you are aware and able to get a cheaper option, then you are not being "ripped off" but just making a bad financial decision of your own accord.

If there was sufficient competition you would have more "luxury" brands from different companies.

People who buy hoity-toity "designer fashion" items are paying for those D&G or whatever letters on the item. I find it impossible to work up any sympathy.

I get Flexon frames. Actually, I haven't bought frames in years. I just have them put new lenses in the "time before last" frames. So, maybe Flexon has inflated in price, too, in the past few years.

But the fact that I'm still happily wearing Flexon frames from years ago, and they still look just fine, and are still comfortable, means it doesn't affect me.

They do gouge for some of the stuff I get on the lenses; anti-glare, scratch resistant, progressive multifocal. I could cheap out on some of this, but this, at least, is functional, not "Oh, look how kuuuul I am, my glasses have a "D&G" on them!" crap.

Can anyone speak to why you need an up to date prescription to buy glasses or contacts? It has never made an ounce of sense to me, yet I have been blocked from doing it in the past, gone through the rigamarole to find out my prescription is unchanged, and then bought them.

The party line is: "to check your eyes for disease"

If you reply: "People that don't need glasses don't get their eyes checked every 2 years for disease"

The party line will be: "People that don't need glasses are at lower risk for eye disease"

I just got a physical copy of my prescription and uploaded it to my google drive. It's 5 years expired, but I still see 20/20 and use it to purchase new frames online.

In a word corruption.

Building a machine to automate an eye exam seems obvious. But, the industry pushes back vs anything that would lower costs.

You can walk into Walmart right now and buy reading glasses over the counter. I can type in random numbers on a dozen sites and get glasses made to spec.

Contact lenses are regulated by the FDA.

Without even opening the article I can predict that it informs everyone of what a behemoth Luxoticca is.

As a person with a nearsightedness measurement greater than -5.5, it's something I had to educate myself on.

Costco optical is a decent option for retail sales.

Do you need a Costco membership to buy glasses from them?

Even buying a Costco membership for the sole purpose of buying glasses will likely save you money vs LensCrafters or independent eyewear stores.

My dad's last two pair of glasses (reading & normal) cost him $2100. That's criminal



That said, you don't to see their optometrists, if you want a cheap prescription to go use online.

Adam Ruins Everything - The Conspiracy Behind Your Glasses


Recently, I was telling a friend how ridiculously cheap it is to buy a pair of glasses overseas. I paid about $22 for the pair I'm wearing. I went to make an extra pair recently (a backup pair, just in case). They quoted me about $450, which they agreed, was of lesser quality than the one I was wearing. Blew my mind! I then decided to just get it shipped from the same place I got my first pair. They couldn't ship it so my sister has to do it. Ended up costing me about $40 with shipping.

I understand how branding and marketing could drive the price of frames up, but I've never understood why the lenses themselves are so expensive. The tolerances are not very high, and there must be a massive economy of scale. The article itself states that they can be made for a buck and a half. Who manufactures those, is there a similar situation as with Luxottica? Why is that market not being disrupted?

i've got a strong impression this article is about sunglasses rather than eyewear in general.

"Armani, Brooks Brothers, [ ... ], Vogue and Versace" neither of them, as far as i know, make decent "regular" glasses.

i've been wearing glasses for the last 42 years and apart from when you're a kid (because you break more shit than your parents would like to admit) you don't need (nor want) a different frame each year; it's not a fashion thing, it's something you actually need to function.

with that in mind: you don't go to a pearl store to get measurements for your eyes, at least not if you want them to be accurate.

so yeah, Luxottica might be behind a lot of "fashion based" eyeware, but hey who's running the show for sneakers or training suits other than nike and adidas? i mean, this is nothing new and if you want to be trendy it's going to cost you.

meanwhile i think i spent ~€1000 on frames and lenses the last 15 year whilst wearing silhouette. so, at least for me, it's not as bad as the article makes it out to be

This is one of those things that you can buy online and for a lot cheaper. It always amazes me about how much we are charged for things in the west and that when you go to Asia it's soo much cheaper. (Clothing is another example.. when you're looking at a starting price of 150baht for shorts.. [$3.2 before negotiating] )

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