Friday, May 16, 2014

Zenni Optical, Sign of Times to Come

New Bern, NC
35 06.669 N 077 02.377 W

It is not my custom to give product plugs in this blog, but I'm going to make an exception.

Libby and I have been buying glasses from for a long time.  Our satisfaction has been high.  Their prices are very much cheaper than conventional purchase paths.  Last month in Vero, we did it again.  We got new prescriptions and we ordered new glasses for both Libby and I from Zenni.

They were delivered to Dave's house.  When we got there and tried them, Libby's were fine but mine were a disaster.   They were a total blur for both near and far.  WTF?   When we got back to the boat, I dug out my prescription and compared it to the order confirmation.  Uh oh.  Where my correction said +1.75, I had ordered -1.75.   The user interface had me click on a radio button rather than type in the numbers.   Zenni also had my order history of 3-4 previous prescriptions, all with + corrections.  It they had checked the new order against my order history, the error should have been obvious.

I contacted Zenni's customer service.  I explained that it was my error, but that I was still disappointed.   To my amazement, they offered me a one-time 100% store credit if I returned them.  I didn't expect them to be that generous.

But to give time for the glasses to be returned, then order new ones and wait for delivery, we would have departed from New Bern.  Snail mail would not have another chance to catch up with us until July when we get to Vermont.   So, I went to Walmart and bought new glasses from them.  I'll buy from Zenni again next year.

Shock!  Walmart's price was 400% of what Zenni charges for comparable products.  

Upon reflection, I think I understand.   Zenni no doubt relies on automated machines to make the lenses.  Their unit costs must be very low.   Walmart, and thousands of other vision care retail outlets, are middle men who charge a huge markup.  Sure, they provide additional value in terms of convenience, but the amount of added value IMHO is low.   Surely, in the future these middle men will be squeezed out of that market, just as had happened with many other markets.

A second example:  The battery on our ACR EPIRB expired.  I searched for a replacement online, and was surprised to learn that I can not do it myself.  The work must be done by a certified technician who does lots of additional QC checks.   Instead of $25 for the battery, the fee is about $300.  What is the future of skilled middlemen like that?  I think they are threatened too.  Even without automation, someone will learn to leverage a certified technician's skill with minimum wage labor and offer the service in bulk for a much reduced price.  Sometime after that, the labor will be replaced with an automaton.

The long term consequences for society are well explored in science fiction.  It will be a future in which only a small fraction of citizens are privileged to have a job.   To cope with that, we'll have to really flip-flop on our attitude toward the unemployed.  Of course, I'm old enough that I won't be around to see the transition to its conclusion.


  1. I have never used zenni before, but i had a good experience on They do lots of discounts, sales, and other special savings. So far, i have bought 4 pairs of sunglasses from GlassesShop.


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