Sunday, December 28, 2008

the great american eyeglass swindle

It's a long one and if you don't wear prescription glasses you can ignore the hell out of it. You've been given the opportunity, at least.

I've been meaning to get a new pair of prescription glasses for a while now. I was a bit of an idiot and decided to purchase the vision plan at work, thinking it would pay off for me in the long run - I'll be canceling this the next time I'm able, which is during a 10-day period next November - health plans in the US are the awesome!

So I go to the fancy eyeglass place, the guy starts putting frames on the table as soon as I walk in, and has about six pairs there for me after my initial walk around peering into the frames locked up in their cases. OK - I sit down and try a few pair on. The guy really likes a certain frame or two and is a bit upset when I eventually steer towards something a little less boring with less bright colors and no cutout designs on the sides.

OK - so I've got this vision plan through work, what's this pair here gonna run me? Let's see, that frame is 540. What? Is that in US dollars, I wonder - because we haven't even begun to discuss the lenses yet, which is the thing I'm really after here - being able to see clearly. OK - but my plan covers the first $140 and takes off an additional 20%. So after factoring in the lenses, the frames, the $90 anti-reflective coating, which I don't want, it comes to about $475 - that's with tax now, so let's not lose sight of that.

I'm going to go think about this for a few hours before I throw down this cash that I really don't have, but if I don't get something before the end of the year I'm out the money I put into the plan - the $140.

I walk to a national chain type place - they've got a sign on the window saying something like all frames are $59 or something crazy like that. OK - they've got a much larger selection, though the frames have all been touched and prodded on by every person who just got off work at the burger king - if you try hard enough you can almost see out of the french fry grease fingerprints protecting the clear lenses.

So I find a frame that I think will suit my needs. Hey guy, how much for lenses in these here pair? OK, so he's ignored me up until now, cleverly utilizing the quiet hands off approach, I like it. This gentlemen can't seem to answer any of my questions other than repeating that I am going to need the most expensive lenses they offer, based on my very bad astigmatism. Wow, I had just told him the opposite, that I usually get by with the cheap lenses as my prescription really isn't that complex. So these top of the line lenses are gonna go for 200-bucks, that's including the anti-reflective coating, which everyone so far is emphasizing their ability to greatly enhance my ability to "drive at night". I've never had a problem getting around before, I keep thinking to myself. I walk out.

Let's go back a few years, shall we? I'm getting my eyes checked by an optician in the Navy. It's in Florida, this guy is a Captain, a very high rank for an eye doctor. He does the whole check up, we talk the whole time, have a hoot. He hands me my new prescription, telling me to walk around the other side of the building, hand the guy this slip and I'd have the glasses faster. Of course I do as he suggests. This technician takes a look at my prescription, grabs the right size frame out of a box on the wall, grabs the two lenses out of different bins, places them in the automatic grinding machine to bring them down in size to match the frames, pops them into the frame, polishes them with a cloth, and hands them to me. Five minutes, I'm walking out with my new glasses.

A buddy of mine was just in Korea. He's walking down the street and a vendor selling glasses tells him 35-bucks for a pair of glasses. No, he wears corrective lenses and doesn't have the prescription on him. No worries, have a seat. Hey, 35-bucks, what the hell? My buddy sits down, a light scans each eye for a few seconds, a slip prints out with his prescription on it, and 20-minutes later his glasses are ready. Bam!

My current pair of glasses cost me $150, frame and all, down in a Mexico eyeglass store.

So why the hell do glasses cost so effing much, for X-mas-sakes? I don't really need to be at my fashion best - I'm looking for a basic frame with lenses that don't fall out when I'm doing whatever it is I do. I need a good pair of glasses that isn't going to cost me a significant portion of my monthly income - beer money is not easily cut into, people.

I recall I'm a recent member of the Costco and they have an eyeglass counter inside. OK, so the selection is a bit lacking - I quickly find a frame that will suffice after sifting through a load of Nike/Converse/Stetson/corporate branded frames - so you want me to pay you money to advertise your brand of tennis shoes on the side of my head? OK, so basic frames - cost: $39.99 - they're the "Richard Taylor Quincy" model, in black, FYI.

On to lenses - here's where they hit you. The nice young lady tells me right away that based on my prescription, the basic and inexpensive lenses are the right choice. So how much? Lenses: $74.98 - that includes the UV coating, anti-reflective coating, and some other stuff.

Total price including the tax to support the wars and wall street bailouts and other political corruptions: $116.25 - why the hell was that so complicated?

I can get most if not all of this back once I submit the receipt for my vision plan, though I'll be out the remainder of the $140. Live and learn. Live and learn.

That's all I got.

Later reflection - Yes, I can surely see value in paying for what you get - take bike items for instance. I'm not buying a ride at Target because it's going to weigh 3x what I want to push, is not repairable or upgradeable, was likely not built correctly or safely by the 14-year old Erik's bike employee behind the scenes, is likely the most uncomfortable piece of machinery you'll ever sit upon, etc. But a pair of glasses works whether I pay a grand or 100-bucks. I don't see at all the value in paying 500-bucks for a pair of glasses - this ain't rocket science, as they say - and yes I do have a MS minor in aerospace engineering. Complimentary adjustments you say? I've always gone home and self adjusted my glasses with a pair of pliers because the person at the shop always made them as uncomfortable as possible. Warranty you add? For a quarter the price, I still have your said warranty.

I imagine there's an article in Consumer Reports talking about this very subject and I'm guessing they come up with the same conclusion - I ought to visit the library.


Damn - I could have saved myself a lot of time.

Update: June 2013

Been getting glasses at WP for a few years now and have no complaints.  And as long as you don't mind heating up and bending your own frames, which I'm fine with, I recommend them.  Oh, and you need your pupil distance, which I got after averaging out the measurement from several engineers at work using calipers.

Also, a segment on 60-Minutes I just learned of (spoiler: the industry is a monopoly and prices are set IAW there is no competition):


Jake Scheckman said...

I hear the real place to avoid the ripoff is the internets. if you've got the balls you can get frames+lenses+shipped for $25. I'll be doing that soon as I stepped on my glasses one too many times and they're not repairable by superglue anymore... I'll let you know how it turns out.

Jay Dub said...

Hehe... I cut lenses in one of the expensive places you describe. I am just the worker bee, don't get on to me for how much the stuff costs. I actually recommend other places, not the place I work, because it's so expensive.

Jim Thill said...

I went to Pearle Vision in Highland Park last time. They had a buy one get one free thing going. So I bought a somewhat expensive (for me) pair and got a somewhat cheaper pair for "free". The total was close to $500 if I recall, and there were some surprises in the store's favor in the deal. Anyway, after a few days, I hated the expensive pair and mostly wore the cheaper pair. Now that I'm not in school I don't wear glasses at all.

Linden said...

A few years back... you could go to Boyton H.S. on the U campus if you were a student (as you were) and get nerdy looking safety glasses with the wire mesh on the sides with prescription lenses out the door for $40. I have never needed corrective lenses but it sounded like a good deal to me, at least you'd know that you were protected.

'course you engineers need to look slick... I guess that those wouldn't work for you.

Laura said...

I hope this helps you do your research on buying glasses online. I bought several pairs for my bf (I don't wear glasses) and they are pretty decent. I don't think they have a very good selection of frames for guys with wide heads though, which I found out shopping for my bf. I think the forum on Ira's blog (Glassy Eyes) is really helpful.