Specs: When the Price is Right
When it comes to specs, when is the price right?
- It supports local businesses. As I already mentioned, many practices earn their living by optical sales - not eye exams. I'm a firm believer in showing appreciation by action. If you're a fan of the doc and the staff, consider buying products from their practice to help them continue to provide quality care.
- Better customer service. This isn't always the case, but in most of the private practices I've worked with, the staff genuinely care about you as a patient. Your kid broke his glasses and you don't have a back-up? They'll be the ones to jerry-rig them back together with spare parts until the new one comes in. Broke a nosepad? They'll replace it, sometimes even for free.
- Experience. In the best opticals, the staff are trained as opticians. They know what the best products are for your needs, and they know what modifications to make to best suit you. They've tried the products (I rarely know an optician with less than 6 pairs of glasses) and can give you the inside scoop.
- (Maybe) Buy Online: Simple prescriptions. If you've got one set of numbers on your prescription pad (just a relatively low near-sighted or far-sighted prescription, without any astigmatism, add, or prism) you're probably okay to try buying online. I can't guarantee the quality of the material, but if you need a simple no-frills pair, you won't be out much giving it a shot.
- (Maybe) Buy Online: Back-up glasses. Little Johnny has broken his third frame in 6 months. You're past the warranty. Your benefits have been used, and you frankly don't have the money to go out and buy yet another pair full-priced pair. Try online. Again, it may not be perfect, but it's at least something to hold him through til you're in a better spot.
- (Maybe) Buy Online: Frequently changing prescriptions. This may be a near-sighted child who seems to need a new pair of lenses every 6 months. Or maybe you're a diabetic and the doctor has said that your prescription isn't stable secondary to blood sugar fluctuations, but you're not legal to drive with your current visual status. Try online. You already know that your vision is going to change, but getting something fast and cheap while waiting for things to fluctuate is better than having nothing at all.
- Don't Buy Online: Difficult prescriptions. This is pretty much the opposite of my first point above. If you have lots of numbers, or anything that sounds out of the ordinary, don't waste your money on the online up-charges and end up with a pair of glasses that don't work at all. Spend the money and make sure it gets done right the first time.
From my experience, retail opticals (ie Walmart Optical, Costco Optical, etc, etc, etc) can be super hit or miss. Some of them are awesome, and my patients rave about the specs they've gotten. Others of them are crap, and I've sent 3 patients back for remakes within the course of a few hours. For this reason, my advice regarding retail optometry stores is identical to that of online retailers.