In Praise of Costco Competition
By David Henderson
I had a wonderful experience at Costco in Sand City, California on Friday. I spent about $50 and saved about $350 and a lot of time.
First, some background. Whenever I travel, I take my pair of glasses that I had before the pair I’m wearing. That’s because of an experience I had just before going on C-SPAN in 2001 to discuss my book The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey. Twenty minutes before it was to start, a screw fell out of my glasses and the temple fell off. I needed glasses because I wanted to read passages from my book. Fortunately, Mary Theroux of the Independent Institute found a small screwdriver and fixed them. But from then on, I have always traveled with my second-most-recent pair of glasses as backup. They’re not perfect–that’s why they are my second most recent. But they’re better than nothing.
A little over two weeks ago, I was in Jacksonville, Florida to teach a course in person to a group of students on the Navy base there. As I was rushing to leave my hotel, I cleaned my glasses too quickly and the frame broke like a twig. So I used my backup pair.
When I got back in town, I went to my optometrist. The staffer looked up the frames, which had cost me, if I recall correctly, over $200, and found that those frames were no longer available. Moreover, she said, they didn’t have any frames that would fit my lenses. So I would need new lenses and new frames, for a grand total of about $400. I decided to live with my new glasses until January so that, if we had a very bad health year in 2016, with large expenses not covered by our health insurance, I might hit the threshold on my itemized expenses for health care. (The threshold is almost totally irrelevant for people with incomes over $100,000 annually and even reasonable health insurance. For people my and my wife’s age, it will be 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income in 2016.)
On Friday afternoon, while I was out Christmas shopping, I was near the local Costco. I remembered how well they had done for me in a very thorough hearing test that caused the young woman doing it to conclude that I shouldn’t buy a hearing aid, and I recalled that they have a trained staff that sells glasses. So I dropped in, waited only about 5 minutes, and said to Carla, the woman who served me: “I’m trying to decide whether to bring my business from my current optometrist to Costco and whether you can help me will be a big factor in that decision.” I showed her my broken glasses and she went over to look at some frames. The first ones she tried didn’t work and she said that because so many frames nowadays are square, while my lenses have a little curve to them, she wasn’t hopeful. I was ready to resign myself to going back to my current optometrist but Carla persisted and found some frames with more curvature. She took out the plastic lens, unscrewed my glasses to take out my lens, and put the lens in the frames, and voila! The lens fit beautifully. So she put in the other lens and cleaned the glasses. I put them on. The frame needed no adjustment to fit and I suddenly saw clearly. I realized that the hour or so that I had worked less per day for the last two weeks was probably due to my getting tired earlier due to eye strain. Cost to me: $49.99 plus tax.
I will be going back to Costco.