Why Stylish Sunglasses Cost So Much (and 4 Ways to Pay Less)

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Summer's here, sun's out, time for shades. But, wow, do they cost a lot.

The reason is that one Italian firm owns a huge chunk of the market, as CBS has reported. Luxottica (LUX) owns the Sunglass Hut as well as the optician chains LensCrafters and Pearle Vision. It runs the optical departments at Target (TGT) and Sears (SHLD) stores. The sunglass brands for Ray-Ban, Oakley, Ralph Lauren (RL), Chanel, Bulgari (BULIF), Tiffany (TIF), Prada, Versace and Dolce Gabbana are all made by Luxottica.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%In other words, a lot of the variety you think exist when it comes to getting sunglasses is imaginary. Real competition drives prices down. Fake competition drives them up, so that what might have been a $30 pair in 2000 could run hundreds of dollars today, selling at prices as much as 20 times higher than their manufacturing costs.

You can't beat Luxottica directly. But you can get around its domination of the eyewear market.
  • Ask yourself how much fashion is worth. Unless you're buying prescription sunglasses, there is a limit to the difference between lenses. Some things, like the glare reduction of polarized lenses, are based on physics but aren't owned by a single company. Others are a matter of brand perception and an attempt to create fear and uncertainty in the part of the purchaser. The biggest difference in non-prescription sunglasses is price. If your ego can withstand regular sunglasses, congratulations: You can pocket the rest as savings.
  • Head for discount outlets. Check discount chain stores. Chances are that they've picked up closeouts from other retailers. The glasses may belong to a previous season, but they're still going to fit on your face and help you see.
  • Check online eyeglass dealers. If you've done some shopping and know what will fit and look good on you, there are some great online discount eyewear retailers. Good Housekeeping magazine particularly liked three: GlassesShop.com, EyeBuyDirect.com, and GlobalEyeglasses.com. Their prices can range from $6 to $40.
  • Use that virtual shopping savvy. If you've gotta gotta gotta have a pair of designer shades, let retailers compete for your business. Go to a price comparison site like PriceGrabber and look for a particular brand. The likelihood of finding what you want at a significant discount is decent. Also, search online for discount coupons from particular sellers. There may be money to save just for the asking.
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