The Costco Effect - Eyeglasses


Went for my routine eye test today at a private practice. optometrist. Have been going to the same guy for about 15 years as he has the equipment to determine if my diabetes is causing any retina damage, and detect any changes. The guy does a good job except for one part. Part of the ritual is to give you a somewhat pressured sales pitch for new glasses after you get your prescription checked. By law here, they have to give you your prescription without buying any glasses from them. However, they never give you the prescription until you specifically ask for it, and only after you have endured a sales pitch. It is kind of like going to your car dealer for an oil change and then they won’t give you the keys to the car until after you have endured a sales pitch for a new car.

Same story every year, but I have gotten used to it. However, what it reminds me of is the issue of buying hearing aids (or glasses) at Costco. The common pitch is that Costco sells low end or de-featured product for a low price, and that you really have to pay a premium price to get a premium product at a private practice. The old “you get what you pay for”. Well I have checked eyeglass quality a number of times, and similar to hearing aids that is not the real story.

The Costco eyeglasses are premium quality. If they have a fault is that they do not offer the more modest quality product. It is premium product at a low price or nothing at all. Today they tried to tell me that after I told them I was going to shop at Costco for glasses. What they did in the end was offer me the very lowest quality glasses at a price still well above the premium quality product at Costco. Just like hearing aids, it is buyer beware!

The common story is actually reduced in fact. You are more likely to get a lower quality level at a premium price when you go to a private dealer, especially if you price shop.



For eyeglasses, there’s also Zenni Optical. Good, but not premium quality at dirt cheap prices. My wife, daughter and I all have all had good luck, even with bifocals and progressive lenses.

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After a glaucoma drain was installed in my right eye I developed double vision. I now have four pairs of Zenni glasses, the most expensive were $45 with magnetic clip on sunglasses. All have prism lenses that cost $8 extra (I think that is what it was) and all are excellent glasses…regular distance I use when driving, reading, computer, and my own choice, no (SPH) just astigmatism correction and prism. With a little info from the internet, you can adjust your prescription to what you want. If the glasses don’t work out, just toss them.

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There’s a big part of me that thinks it should probably be illegal for optometrists to sell glasses and audiologists to sell hearing aids. I think sales pressure from health professionals is gross.*

That being said, hearing loss is very different from basic myopia/hyperopia and I don’t know that it’s a great comparison. Fitting a hearing aid is currently still very different from fitting a pair of glasses (maybe not forever as things progress). Plus, all the current research suggests that the value is still in the fit and not in the tech. The lie that hearing aid manufacturers (and hearing professionals) tell is that the most expensive hearing aids are substantially better than the cheaper ones. This simply has not been shown to be true. So yeah, you might be getting higher tech for a cheaper price at Costco, but if the fitter at Costco doesn’t know what they are doing you are better off with lower “quality” hearing aids from someone else that are properly fit.

I am certainly not saying that a fitter at Costco cannot be great. I am saying that the focus on the tech level of the product by users (“better tech for less money!”) is misguided and by professionals (“I don’t sell lower tech because it sucks”) is dishonest.



I probably should look at using Zenni. I went for the exam this time because I was actually noticing vision loss in one eye. The doc decided it was a cataract. So now with the Canadian health care system the basic cost of that will be covered, but I will likely have to wait for about 10 months to get it done. Then I will need glasses again… So these are really temporary glasses.



Yes, comparing optical correction to hear correction is not the same thing. Optical correction unless they mess up, is virtually perfect. In comparison hearing correction is pretty crude. I would agree that fitting a hearing aid is much more difficult.

As far as prices go, my optical place want about $$650 for glasses with bottom of the line lenses, and $1000 for top of the line lenses. Costco want $450 for top of the line glasses and don’t offer bottom of the line.

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To be fair, myopia is simply a change in the lens and easily correctible with some basic physics. Sensorineural hearing loss is much more complex damage to a more complex structure. It might be more comparable to macular degeneration.



Don’t know what your prescription and special needs might be, but yeah, Zenni can way undercut those prices.



My brother bought from Zenni and had issues. From Canada it becomes more complicated when that happens. I will probably bite the bullet and just buy new lenses only from Costco. From my initial research into the premium lenses for a cataract correction, this is just pocket change. Even though the basic spherical lenses are covered by health care I’m looking at a few grand for anything extra, per eye!



Yeah, there’s certainly potential for things to go wrong. I’ve never had to deal with a problem, but supposedly they will credit problems and try again. My glasses, (flex frames and progressive lenses) were $45.

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I’ve used Zenni and another online service — there are several. We just purchased a bifocal pair for my wife at just under $100 and she is very happy with them. And I’ve been happy with several single vision pairs — distance and computer.

One issue that people have with mail order is obtaining their pupilary distance (PD.) Sometimes opticians are reluctant to give you that because they know you are likely to go online. There are tools available to measure this, but I used a camera and zoomed in on the face from about 12 feet away. I held a tape measure at my forehead with mm units so I had a reference. YouTube is your friend on this exercise for the DIY’er.

You can afford to make multiple mistakes online and just trash them before coming anywhere close to the cost of buying locally.

I agree with Neville that fitting hearing aids and fitting glasses are two entirely different things!



One thing about cataracts is that you end up with plastic lenses in your eyes. Your eyes can no longer correct for distance. It’s fine if all you do is watch TV or read, but there are lots of times you need something in between. I have a number of pairs of single-vision glasses from Zenni optical for activities such as playing handbells, working at the computer, working with a lap top, playing the flute, and so forth. All those things need a few inches more or less to be in focus. I know enough high-school physics to make the basic corrections. Also did a bit of “experimentation”. The Zenni Optical glasses were $12 each, including shipping. Once I ordered two pairs and the per-pair cost was even less. The Zenni glasses work just fine.



Bullseye. Costco glasses are 50-60% cheaper than private/big chain dealers. All the Bells & Whistles at Costco including quality frames $300-400. Privately $700 & UP. Not too different with HA.



Yes, I have some decisions to make on the replacement lens options for my eye. The basic spherical lens cost is covered by healthcare. However, there are options to correct for astigmatism, and even multifocal options like you would have for glasses. But, I think you are correct, I am probably still going to have to wear glasses, at least until I have my second eye done. With contacts I have done the monovision thing where one eye is corrected for distance and the other for closer up. It works not too badly. Not sure I am confident enough in that method to try it will an implanted lens though… Apparently some do it.



My opthamologist did the opposite. My distance vision is good now with no glasses (except mild astigmatism that is correct very well with glasses) but I need reading glasses now plus computer glasses that let me focus between ~2-3 feet. Then I needed to learn how to put glasses on and take them off without banging me hearing aids. :roll_eyes:

The hard part was for the first 66 years of my life I was nearsighted, could read fine, needed glasses for all other activities, including driving. Then I had two cataract surgeries a month apart and became farsighted. That month in between was crazy since neither old glasses or new readers could be used with both eyes. I would close one eye or the other depending on what I was looking at.



Also @teejayess. I’m not sure that the IOLs (the plastic lenses inside the eyes), had evolved enough to deal with my astigmatism when I had my first cataract operation some 7 years ago. They alleged, however, to be able to be made multifocal. My astigmatism is mild, but I still notice quite a difference between glasses and no glasses at distance. So, even if I sprang for the multifocal, I’d still have to wear glasses because of the astigmatism.

I didn’t trust the multifocal option because of a horrible experience some dozen years ago trying to wear graded-index lenses. Basically, they don’t work all that well. They may be better, but I couldn’t even read a book without having to move my head back and forth; I couldn’t share music with other people; I couldn’t see road signs unless I twisted my head severely, thereby taking my eyes off the road for too long to be safe, etc. So, finding Zenni was a godsend. I have all these inexpensive sets of glasses located where I’ll need special help, a pair at church for handbells, a pair on the mantle piece if I’m using a lap top, a pair in my gig bag for when I go play with the geezer band, a pair by my computer, etc.

When I had my first cataract done, I walked around with my glasses on, but with one lens missing. This worked pretty well. I learned to read with one eye. I might have looked weird, but I expect most people didn’t notice. People just don’t. I wore hearing aids at handbell rehearsal for some five years before anyone actually noticed I was wearing them. I’ve never understood why people are so shy about wearing HAs. Deafness is much more noticeable than is help for deafness. People are weird.



I wore multifocal contact lenses for years. If the IOL multifocal lens works like contact lenses I would definitely go for that if I have cataracts.



My research to date is pointing me toward an aspheric toric IOL to correct my astigmatism and distance vision. It will mean I will still need correction for reading. But, I will need correction for distance and reading for at least some time for my other eye anyway. If I get a cataract in that one too, which is probable, then I would probably go the same way with it. Possibly then I would only need glasses for reading. The other option would be to go for near reading monovision in one eye, and distance in the other. I have tried that will contacts, and find it tolerable, but not great. And the other issue is that my current good eye is my dominant eye, so is the one which should be corrected for distance. That means I can’t procrastinate. I have to go to monovision or rule it out with my first operation.

I also read that most operations are successful, but in some case the toric lens can rotate over time which means some eyeglass correction may be necessary. Seems like conceding to the need for eyeglasses for life is the practical thing to do.



I just ordered two pair of glasses from Zenni for $21 total. Single vision, no extras. My prescription is only 0.00/-1.25, but I have a restriction on my license so I needed some to throw in the truck for the days I forget to put in my contact and I realize it while I driving down the road. I figure if I like them, I can order another pair with the bells and whistles. If I don’t, I’m out $20 and I still have backup glasses.



If you are talking about progressive lenses, there is quite a difference in the quality levels. While the lenses look like full lenses that you can look through anywhere the part that provides the best correction is hourglass shaped. The top of the hourglass provides the distance vision, and the bottom half the close up for reading. The part in the middle provides the in between progression. In cheap progressives the middle part especially is very narrow. You have to look right through the sweet spot in the middle or the image is fuzzy. If you get the premium progressives then the center part especially is much wider and more tolerant to looking to each side. And overall the part of the lens that provides crisp imaging is much larger.

My brother got Zenni progressives and that was one of the issues he had. The sweet spot was very narrow and limited.

Costco premium lenses are Essilor Accolade Freedom, and have a wide progressive band. It looks like they now have a Kirkland Signature HD lens that may be essentially the same but without the name brand, similar to the KS8 hearing aids. I hadn’t done much research so I went with the Essilor ones this time. I will consider the Kirkland ones for future glasses…