Sticker shock: Why are glasses so expensive?

One factor: the world's largest eyewear company, the Italian firm Luxottica, controls a big chunk of the business

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Brett Arends: Oakley was a big competitor. And they had a fight with Luxottica. And Luxottica basically said, "We're dropping you from our stores." And Oakley--

Lesley Stahl: They refused to sell their glasses in their stores.

Brett Arends: Yeah, there was a dispute about pricing, and they dropped Oakley from the stores, and Oakley's stock price collapsed. How is Oakley going to reach the consumer if they can't get their sunglasses in Sunglass Hut?

Andrea Guerra: There were some issues between the two companies in the beginning of the 2000s. But both of them understood that it was better to go along.

Lesley Stahl: Better to let you buy them?

Andrea Guerra: I wouldn't say this. We merged with Oakley in 2007.

Lesley Stahl: You bought Oakley. They tried to compete and they lost and then you bought them.

Andrea Guerra: I understand your theory, but they understood that life was better together.

So now Luxottica owns the two top premium sunglass brands in the world, Ray-Ban and Oakley. But Luxottica points out there are other players -

Lesley Stahl: Who's your biggest competitor in the United States?

Andrea Guerra: You could say Walmart.

Also Costco and emerging on-line companies like Warby Parker. But other competitors told us Luxottica has them in a chokehold: if you make glasses, you want to be in their stores; and if you have stores, you want to sell Ray-Bans! So Luxottica can set the prices as high as it wants.

Brett Arends: Luxottica's dominance, it's what's called a price maker which means that essentially it can set prices and other people will follow in its wake.

Which he says is why glasses in general cost so much, even at your local optician's.

Brett Arends: The whole point of a luxury brand is to persuade people to pay $200 for a product that cost $30 to make.

Lesley Stahl: Well let me show you something. Why is it any different than my shoe?

Brett Arends: Well, to some extent there's actually a lot of comparisons. The difference is that the entire shoe industry isn't made by one company. And the same company doesn't also own all the shoe stores.

You'd think well, surely insurance companies covering vision would complain. But guess what? Luxottica also owns the nation's second largest vision-care plan: EyeMed, covering eye exams and glasses.

Lesley Stahl: What don't you own?

Andrea Guerra: A lot of things.

Lesley Stahl: Not really...

Andrea Guerra: [laughs]

Lesley Stahl: You seem to, really. Why not combine everything under one name?

Andrea Guerra: I think people love diversities, people love to have different brands, people love to have different experiences.

Lesley Stahl: It's an illusion of choice if you're all owned by the same company.

Andrea Guerra: I think this is totally wrong. The question is, what kind of choice consumer has. It's not a question of how many you own.

Lesley Stahl: How does the consumer benefit from all this? Your prices are still high.

Andrea Guerra: If you go to a shoe company, would you say that their prices are high?

Lesley Stahl: You're trying to tell me it's all worth all that money.

Andrea Guerra: Everything is worth what people are ready to pay.

And you know what? He's right. People are ready to pay. A lot.

Lesley Stahl: I bet they cost a fortune.

Christie: They're not too expensive.

Lesley Stahl: [laughs]

They cost almost $400. With prescription lenses, the price could jump to 600 or more.