Andrew Weiss

April 16, 2008

Post #2393 – 20080416

I heard your commentary on NPR about the eyeglasses you bought on the internet. I am an author and meditation teacher, and to keep the income coming in I also work as a licensed dispensing optician. The work we opticians do is considerably more sophisticated, and requires more training, than you might think.

I’m curious: do you know how to measure the distance between your pupils? Do you know how to verify your prescription, or how to determine whether the centers are properly set? Do you know how to align and adjust your frames? Do you know how to replace a screw, or a nose-pad? Can you trouble-shoot down a problem with your internet-bought progressive lenses? And, if you don’t get your glasses from an optician, or even the optical department of your dandy optometrist’s office, do you think we opticians will be around to do that work for you? We need to get paid, too, and like you, we want to earn a living wage.

The price you pay for eyeglasses at an optical shop or at your optometrist’s office includes brick-and-mortar overhead, but it also includes all those intangibles I listed above. Internet eyewear purchases could, in the end, force the knowledgeable folks like me out of the profession because we won’t be able to be paid reasonably for what we do. Is that the result you really want?

Thanks for listening.

Daniel replies:

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I, myself, do know how to measure the distance between my pupils, align and adjust frames, replace screws and nose pads, and also measure and mark lenses with pupil and bifocal height, am aware of matters of curve and tilt--most of this I learned by reading instructions from online opticians. As to verifying prescriptions, and whether centers are properly set, I have recourse to the optometrist and ophthalmologist. I do not insist that everyone should use internet opticians, nor that there are not deficiencies and problems apt to arise if you get your eyewear this way. But for the average prescription, their work compares well with that from the mall store--and many customers of these chains have stories to tell of wildly inaccurate prescriptions, and being advised by clerks, not professionals, to ""wear it for a week or two -- you'll get used to it."" (With the exception of new wearers of progressive lenses, there should be no period of acclimatization necessary if the lenses are made correctly). And if Global Eyeglasses (using overseas labor with lower labor costs) can provide a good quality frame with brand-name progressive, photochromic CR-39 lenses, AR, UV and scratch-resistant coating for about $100, does the overhead of a brick-and-mortar optical shop really justify a price of $600 for something of the same quality? I am taking a wild guess that Global's cost would not exceed $50 for these glasses. Let's say the shop in the mall's all-in cost including overhead is $100--they buy the lenses and frames from the same source as Global does. (Both estimates are probably high). I'd think $200 might be a fair retail price. $600 strikes me as a monopolistic rip-off. I think there's a niche for a kind of square-deal optical shop, which would charge less than, ""what the traffic will bear,"" and offer the one important feature the onliners can't adequately provide--the ability to try on frames, and receive personal advice and guidance from trained personnel. There are a few stateside opticians who offer service like this, at fair prices, notably Eyeglass Lens Direct, and Replace-a-Lens, and guess what--they are online opticians too!