When it’s time to buy a new pair of eyeglasses, where will you get the best price and service after the sale?
We put Costco Optical, Warby Parker and Zenni Optical to the test…
Who’s Cheapest? Costco Optical vs. Warby Parker vs. Zenni Optical
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!
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?|
* Warby Parker currently has 117 stores, but only less than half offer eye exams
Zenni Optical: Often Imitated, Never Duplicated
Seventeen 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.)
However, there are a couple things to keep in mind if you’re going to order from Zenni.
First, 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. The center of the lenses will either be too wide or too narrow.
See how to measure your own PD if your optometrist doesn’t provide it here.
Second, Zenni’s site allows you to upload a picture of yourself and virtually “try” on multiple pairs of glasses to see how they look on your face.
But 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.
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 more than 100 physical stores across the country and several in Canada. However, you can only get an eye exam at a handful of those locations.
Warby Parker’s rates are set at a standard $170 for glasses and an eye exam.
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.
In our independent research, we found that Costco checks in at $201 for an exam and an entry-level pair of single-vision glasses.
The main 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.
Meanwhile, there are several other things you should know before you head out to buy glasses from Costco Optical. Read about them here.
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 and has never had a problem ordering glasses online.
But if you’ve never done it before, you may have some reservations. In that case, Clark offers a compromise.
“I recommend a safe harbor until you’re comfortable. I want you to pay too much for your first pair buying them the traditional way to satisfy your fears. Then buy a second pair with a cheap online shop. Compare the two to see if the cheaper pair will work for you moving forward.”