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Goliath in glasses: Mega-merger may jack up the cost of eyewear even higher

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Theo Thimou, Clark.com

A proposed merger between prescription lens-maker Essilor and frame maker Luxottica might sound like a dream for anybody with four eyes, but it could be more like a nightmare for the wallets of U.S. consumers.

RELATED: 10 best places to get a deal on eyeglasses

The marriage of Luxottica and Essilor

Maybe you’re not familiar with the names Essilor and Luxottica. They’re European companies from France and Italy, respectively, but they have a heavy footprint all over the U.S. eyeglasses market.

Luxottica owns Pearle Vision and LensCrafters and manufactures high-end Burberry, Chanel and Ralph Lauren frames, among many others.

According to one estimate, Luxottica controls a whopping 80% of the major brands in a $28 billion global eyeglasses industry.

But Luxottica isn’t just a retailer and a manufacturer; it’s also a major insurer through its ownership of the second-largest U.S. vision benefits company, EyeMed Vision Care.

Talk about a vertically integrated company!

Essilor, meanwhile, has some 40% of the domestic lens market, according to Reuters. It’s also the biggest U.S. retail eyewear seller thanks to its ownership of Vision Source, a 3,300-strong network of private practice optometrists with offices from coast to coast.

Now Luxottica is seeking approval from the Federal Trade Commission for its proposed U.S. merger with Essilor.

You might immediately think a marriage of the two companies would scream “anti-competitive” and draw the immediate condemnation of federal regulators.

Yet Reuters reports six of the seven antitrust experts they asked about the proposed merger expect it to go through. That’s because Luxottica and Essilor focus on different parts of the eye care business — with some overlap on the retail side of things.

That said, the sheer size of the two entities if they merge has consumer experts concerned about the future of eyeglasses prices.

So how do you fight back against a Goliath in glasses that could jack up the price of eyewear even higher?

Simple — you turn to a David, which in this case is any of a number of online eyewear sellers that start at around $12 for a basic frame with prescription lenses shipped to you.

This list includes ZenniOptical.comEyebuydirect.com and many others.

These are the same sites money expert Clark Howard has talked about and bought his own glasses from for years!

The good news is you don’t always have to look online for the best service and a good price.

If you’re willing to spend a little more money, the #1 place to buy glasses is at Costco Optical inside your local Costco Wholesale Club, according to Consumer Reports.

The magazine says Costco’s median price for a complete pair of eyeglasses is $184. Sure, it’s not as cheap as $12, but compare that to a national chain like LensCrafters that has a median out-of-pocket cost of $369!

In fact, Costco is touting the fact that they recently lowered prices on single vision lenses by more than 16%.

Costco Optical single vision lenses prices

And as if that weren’t enough, the warehouse club chain has a pretty sweet offer when you buy two pairs of glasses.

Right now, you can buy one complete pair of prescription eyeglasses and receive $30 off each additional pair purchased at Costco Optical.

Certain terms and conditions apply:

  • Requires a current prescription
  • Must redeem offer for second pair on the same day
  • Both pairs of glasses must be for the same person
  • New frame and lenses required to be consider a complete pair
  • Offer valid only at your local Costco warehouse
  • Valid 10/23/17 – 1/2/18

Here’s how to get free prescription glasses for kids

If you have a child in a Title I school, Vision To Learn (VTL) is a non-profit organization that offers free eye exams and free prescription eyeglasses to students in low-income communities throughout nine states.

Here’s how it all works and the states where VTL offers it free services.

Vision To Learn recipients
Vision To Learn recipients

RELATED: New warning about buying cheap glasses online!

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