Where Should You Buy Your Glasses?
Independent, Chain or Online retailers; where should you buy your next set of glasses? In this article I'll take you through the potential advantages and disadvantages of each. Measuring things such as cost, frame selection, turn-around time and insurance providers, this article will guide you to your ideal optical store.
First, let's start by defining the 3 primary options:
Privately owned retailers with less than 4 locations. They can be found anywhere from malls to private doctors offices to street level stores. Independent means just that, independent of ownership by a large corporate company. Commonly referred to as shops or boutiques.
Corporate owned and sometimes franchised, chain retailers like Lenscrafters, Sunglass Hut, Target Optical, Sight for Sore Eyes, Sears Optical JC Penney Optical and many others are just about everywhere. Though they have different names, most of these retailers have their optical department managed by one primary company called Luxottica.
This is a fast growing sector of the eyewear industry. Some popular companies are Warby Parker, Zenni Optical, Americas Best and EyeBuyDirect.
Warby Parker is a unique company because they started online but have been making a push into physical locations. I kept them in this category because they are more dominant online.
Now, let's dive deeper into potential advantages and disadvantages of each sector by focusing on key areas that may become deciding factors.
This is a controversial topic and I'll tell you right now, there is no "winner" here. The only winner is the consumer because there is a set of glasses available for just about any budget. Nonetheless, it's controversial because retailers that focus on quality, high-end frames and lenses are constantly bombarded with questions like "why are you so expensive compared to the discount store? Aren't all frame and lenses made the same?"
No, not all frame and lenses are made the same. There is a reason why those online glasses can go as low as $20 and not $400 like in some mid-level indie shops. Ask BMW and Mercedes why their cars are so much more expensive then Kia and they'll give you a whole book of reasons. Same goes for eyewear. Same goes for any industry to be quite honest. There will always be a "cheaper" option and it's up to the consumer to decide what they can either afford or justify to spend on any given product.
I will say this, someone with vision insurance can often get a free set of glasses every year to two years. What would normally be a $300 set of glasses can be zero. That's a price that's hard to beat so make sure you check your benefits before buying your next pair of glasses.
You may not know this but many of the brands you'll find in chain retailers are actually manufactured and distributed by the same company; Luxottica. RayBan, Oakley, Oliver Peoples, Prada, Armani and much more are all coming from the same company. I'm a big fan of a lot of these brands, I think everyone should own a RayBan at some point in their life, but you should know this information because whether you're shopping at LensCrafters, Target Optical or Sight for Sore Eyes, you're probably going to find the same selection. It may vary slightly but for the most part it's going to be the same.
If you don't want to run into five people by the end of the day wearing the exact same frame as you, then consider shopping at an indie retailer. You'll find plenty of unique eyewear at a fair price.
Warby Parker has done a great job of constantly releasing new frame styles. The frames aren't made with the highest quality materials but they are trendy and affordable, which has been the main propellant over the last five years or so. I love that they have their own brand and collections instead of selling the brands that you can find in a million other stores.
Chain stores have the upper hand here. The vast majority of stores like LensCrafters have optical labs on premises which allow them to produce prescription eyewear that's ready for pickup within hours of ordering. Their labs are stocked with hundreds of lenses, thousands of dollars worth of equipment and frame inventory readily available. That's hard for any indie shop or online retailer to beat.
The average turn-around at indie stores, and even most online retailers, is about 5-7 working days. If you need your glasses in a hurry, a chain store might be your best option.
There are many supplemental vision insurance companies but there are two that I want to focus on. VSP and EyeMed are the two largest vision insurance providers in the US and they absolutely play a role in where their members shop.
VSP, the largest of the two, has a network primarily based around independent doctors offices. This can be Optometrists and/or Ophthalmologists. They're also directly affiliated with eyewear manufactures Altair and Marchon, the makers of such eyewear brands like Nike, Calvin Klein, Dragon Alliance and more.
EyeMed is the opposite, their network is based around the chain retailers like Lenscrafters, Target, Sight for Sore Eyes and others. Though EyeMed isn't as big as VSP, their network is still huge. There are even some private doctors offices that are on the EyeMed network.
So, where should you buy your next set of glasses? I hope you found the answer as you read through the article. It could be determined by your vision insurance, it could be determined by how fast you need them and it could come down to cost. Thankfully, there are many good options.
If I could suggest one X-factor though. If possible, find a good Optician and work with them for as long as you can. That optician could be working alongside your eye doctor, they could be working at your local Lenscrafters or Warby Park store. In time, you may even be able to request to work with a specific online optician.
A good optician can make a set of $100 glasses feel like $1,000 glasses and a bad optician can make a $1,000 pair feel like a complete waste of money.
Whatever you choose, we hope your eyes are happy and that you find the best glasses for your lifestyle. Eye Influence is always here to answer any questions you may have. We are here to serve. Thank you for reading.