Costco Optical vs. Warby Parker vs. Zenni Optical: Who has the best prices on glasses?

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A lot of people think you have to pay a lot of money to get a good pair of eyeglasses. But nothing could be further from the truth!

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Who’s cheapest? Costco Optical vs. Warby Parker vs. Zenni Optical

First, before we get to the price comparisons, a little background…

Zenni Optical: Often imitated, never duplicated

Fifteen years ago, something amazing happened in the eyeglasses industry. A young start-up called Zenni Optical launched in 2003 offering online sales of eyeglasses at rock-bottom prices.

Today, prices start at $6.95 for a pair of frames and prescription single-vision lenses — complete! Shipping is $4.95. (Bifocals are more along the lines of $35 and progressives $47 as starting price points.)

Zenni started a revolution and many others have followed in their wake. But none have been able to match their ridiculously low starting price.

So how does Zenni do it? A few ways actually:

  • With no physical store locations, they’re able to keep their overhead low
  • No customer service after the sale means labor costs are also kept low
  • Manufacturing is done in a 248,000-square foot facility in Danyang, China

Warby Parker: The anti-Zenni

In 2010, Warby Parker launched with the opposite business model from Zenni: Offer stylish, hip frames and lenses online with free shipping and returns for $95 flat.

Warby Parker also has a “try before you buy” system, where they’ll ship you five different frames at no cost so you can choose the one you like best.

In addition, the company has a philanthropic angle; they donate a pair of glasses to someone in need every time you buy a pair.

And unlike Zenni, which completely outsources production to another country, Warby Parker cuts the lenses and assembles the final product in New York State. (However, the frames are sourced from China.)

Finally, Warby Parker is trying to embrace the ominchannel approach to retail with almost 90 physical stores across the country and two in Canada. However, you can only get an eye exam at a handful of those locations.

Costco: The warehouse club giant you know and love

Everybody knows Costco as the place that offers you savings on just about everything in your life. Well, you can add eyewear to that list.

With more than 500 warehouse locations, the Costco Optical retail footprint dwarfs that of Warby Parker. And you can get an eye exam at any Costco location.

But despite Costco’s reputation for low prices, they’re also more expensive. Consumer Reports says the median price for a complete pair of eyeglasses is $184.

The thing about Costco is that you know you’re going to get great service, which Zenni doesn’t have, and the flexibility of location, which Warby doesn’t offer. You just have to decide if the extra cost is worth it to you.

Costco Optical, Warby Parker and Zenni Optical compared on price and availability of services

Retailer Cost of eye exam Cost of frames and lenses U.S. store count Eye exam available at all stores?
Costco Optical $75 $126 527 Yes
Warby Parker $75 $95 85 No
Zenni Optical N/A $11.90 N/A N/A

So in the final summation, Costco checks in at $201 for an exam and an entry-level pair of single-vision glasses that we price-shopped at a metro Atlanta location in September 2018.

Warby Parker’s rates are set at a standard $170 for glasses and an exam. But remember, eye exams are currently only available at 17 locations.

And Zenni beats them all with the ridiculously low price of $11.90. However, that doesn’t reflect the true cost because you would still need to pay for an eye exam separately to get a new prescription.

All prices are inclusive of shipping, if applicable.

Conclusion

Zenni’s price is so low that it looks like a misprint next to the others! But they’re the real deal and they are a real deal. Money expert Clark Howard has worn Zenni Optical glasses for years now.

If you’re considering Zenni, here are a few additional caveats to keep in mind…

For starters, as we mentioned, you’ll need to get your prescription separately. Be sure it includes your pupillary distance (PD) — the space between the center of your pupils — expressed in millimeters.

PD is important because certain frames won’t work with certain PDs because the center of the lenses will either be too wide or too narrow.

Zenni has guidance about how to measure your own PD if your optometrist doesn’t provide it.

Meanwhile, one nice thing about the Zenni site is that you can upload a picture of yourself and virtually “try” on multiple pairs of glasses to see how they look on your face.

But, again, remember there’s no service after the sale. If you get your glasses and you need them adjusted to sit on your face properly, there’s no store to go to for that adjustment.

So while the Zenni price is definitely nice, you need to know what you’re getting into before you buy.

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Theo Thimou About the author:
Theo has co-written several books with Clark Howard, including the New York Times #1 bestseller Living Large in Lean Times. As a single widowed parent of two young children, he strives to bring unique savings tips to men and women like him who must face life without their spouses. He can be reached at [email protected]
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