I have to apologize to Irony Queen for unwittingly putting a Vulcan mind meld on her this week. Whoops! Sorry! She wrote:
You’re so pretty! And so smart—your new site is fabulous! Maybe you can answer this question for me…where can I find attractive, stylish glasses (frames and lenses) for a reasonable amount of money? My insurance covers the trip to the optometrist, but not any of the acoutrements, like AN ACTUAL PAIR OF GLASSES. And I’m not a Sam’s Club/Costco member, though I’ve heard there are some deals to be had there. Oh yes, and I of course need new prescription sunglasses, too, or I’ll only be allowed to drive when it’s not sunny. And I live in California, so that’s about, oh six days of the year.
I was just buying glasses yesterday, so obviously my sphere of influence is expanding at an alarming rate. If you ate three popsicles last night, Irony Queen? That was me, too. Sorry.
They say that men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses, but that really doesn’t explain the financial rape that occurs every time one of us with vision challenges goes to the optometrist, now does it? Hmph.
Here’s the thing about vision correction: You simply cannot screw around. It’s not a good place to decide to cut corners, because it is—at a basic level—a health issue. Incorrect or poorly-fitting glasses could be problematic, and the wrong contact lenses can actually damage your eyes. So I’m not going to advocate bopping on down to Chet’s House Of Lenses and buying your eyewear off the back of the big truck in the alley, you know?
So, yes; in a perfect world, you’d find what you need at a great price, and everyone would be happy. In the real world, I think it’s important to buy your vision correction from a reputable source who will both make your purchase correctly and back it up with a warrantee and customer service. The trick is reconciling the two, and there are a few ways to do that.
Let’s talk about the big chain places, first. You’ve got Lenscrafters, Pearle Vision, and the various optical shops run by larger stores (your warehouse club optical, JC Penney, etc.). I tend to twitch just a little when I think about these places. Will you get a good price? Yes. Will you get good service? Maybe. Keep in mind that each shop is independently owned and operated, so you can’t know from one location to the next who/what you’re gonna get. There’s an argument that says that if the professionals at those sorts of shops were any good, they’d have their own practices. Now before y’all pelt me with your hard-sided glass cases, I’m not saying that’s necessarily true, I’m just putting it out there.
My personal opinion about the chain shops is based on a couple of things. First, any store that can routinely afford to offer “buy one complete pair, get one free” and similar promotions has their prices jacked up so that you’ll think you’re getting a bargain. In reality, it’s not a bargain; it’s marketing. That bugs me, some. Second, many of the available frames will be low-quality, and the selection as a whole is unlikely to be all that varied. If you want what everyone else is wearing, that’s fine. If you might like something a little edgier… maybe not. Third, you must consider how likely a big, busy chain is to get your prescription right.
Those shops make hundreds of pairs of glasses every day. Most of those glasses will be made from lenses they keep in stock, and are simple to do. If your prescription is one that you know a chain shop doesn’t stock, I would hesitate to have your glasses made there, and here is why: A “simple” prescription is easy to make up, and a “complicated” one is much more, well, complicated.
I have a severe astigmatism, and the one time I succumbed to the chain stores (because I was broke and desperate), they never did get my glasses right. With astigmatism, the rotation of the lens is critical. It’s more complicated, and the glasses-assembly-drones make far fewer of them. There’s a greater chance of error. (Also keep in mind that any special offered by these shops gets extra fees tacked on for bi- and trifocals, astigmatism, etc.)
Now. Did they keep trying to fix them for me? Yes. Were they apologetic? Of course. Did that somehow assuage my frustration, or help get me my proper glasses any sooner? Not really. I will never go to a chain store again.
(Caveat: Remember how I said they’re all independently owned and operated? I’m not indicting every franchise out there. Just saying that, in my opinion, it’s a bigger risk than an independent store where the owner’s reputation is on the line.)
So. If you have a simple prescription, and you’d like to grab the “buy 1 pair, get one free” coupon out of your Sunday paper and head to the mall, have a good time. I hope they get your glasses right and you live happily ever after!
The most prudent course of action, I believe, if you have complicated vision and/or if multiple family members wear glasses, is to find a small local shop where you trust the people. Ask around and get some recommendations. Then set off with some flowers and a box of chocolates and start courting the opticians there.
You think I’m kidding, but that’s what it amounts to: Once you form a relationship with a shop where they know you’re going to keep coming back if they treat you well, you will not only receive outstanding service, you’ll find that the prices are comparable to the chains for better-quality stuff.
Will you be getting rock-bottom prices? Probably not. Again, this isn’t the place to make the lowest price your top priority. You want a good price on quality. There’s a difference between a good deal and a cheap deal.
The first time I visited the store we patronize now, it was to buy a pair of glasses for my daughter. She was about four, with a tiny little face, and very hard to fit. The owner spent over an hour with us and ultimately ended up special-ordering her frames. I was so impressed with how good he was with her and his professionalism, the next time I needed a pair of glasses, I went back to him and bought them there.
That’s how it starts. The next time my daughter needed glasses, money was tight, and I went to the shop with some dread. I explained that we really needed to keep the price down this time… and he sold us a discontinued frame at cost. Perfect. My next pair of glasses? 40% off a (rather expensive) frame, just because now we have a relationship, and he wants to keep my business. The next time my daughter needed glasses, I found the frame she wanted somewhere else by accident (long story), and went in and said “this is the frame we’d like, can you order it?” Again, as any good businessman would, he accommodated us and gave us the frame at nearly cost.
Yesterday when we went in there, as soon as I said “I need to look for some sunglass frames,” he led me over to the clearance section. He knows me now, he knows what I’ll pay, and because I’m bringing him two sets of crippled eyes to outfit, he’s going to work to keep my business. I still passed out from the shock of the price, but I also got a $300 frame for $100, and I know that if I have any problems whatsoever with my specs, he’ll take care of me.
I just thought of one more thing: Consider a pair of glasses that come with clip-on sunglasses. Much cheaper than a separate pair, although also easier to lose/break, so weigh the choice carefully.
A few words about online options: Places like FramesDirect or $39 Glasses have great prices, but you have to consider them as being even lower on the service totem than chain stores. You’re not getting a professional fitting, and if anything is wrong with them, you’re in for the hassle of shipping back and forth and the time wasted therein. I don’t recommend it. There isn’t anything wrong, however, with checking their prices and then asking your local optical shop if they can match them. Again, if the relationship is there, they will go out of their way to keep you.
Conversely, if you’ve already been professionally fitted for contact lenses? Go ahead and order them from 1-800-Contacts or wherever you can find them the cheapest. Just be sure to double-check the labels when they come to make sure it’s what you ordered.
Bottom line: Be savvy, but don’t skimp. A good pair of glasses should last you at least two years, and longer if your prescription is fairly stable. It’s an investment in your health. Don’t go throwing your cash away all willy-nilly, but don’t sacrifice style (you’re going to be wearing them every day!), precision, or comfort, either.
You are absolved of your confusion, IQ. Now go forth, and squint no more.