Buying Prescription Eyeglasses Online

Category: Shopping

Online optometrists claim they can save you “up to 70%” on prescription eyeglasses. Some even advertise free lenses. The savings sound tempting, but is it wise to buy online something that is so complex, subjective, and critical as eyeglasses? Read on...

Oh Say, Can You See?

A survey conducted by Consumer reports found that only half of respondents had vision care insurance, and the average claim benefit was only $140. Respondents with little or no insurance paid an average of $244 for glasses. Prescription eyeglasses can easily cost $500 or more for moderately complex bifocal lenses, the virtually essential anti-glare coating, and a decent-looking frame.

Clearly, there’s an insurance coverage gap. Online optometrists try to fill it with the savings that arise from any mail-order operation. They don’t need storefronts in expensive locations. They don’t need as many staffers. They don’t even need ophthalmologists, the medical doctors who perform eye exams and write prescriptions. They just take your prescription and fill it in the frame you choose.

Choosing a frame online is not that easy. It may look great in a photo, but how will it look on your face? Warby Parker, an optical store that got started online in 2010, invites you to upload your selfie and see how it looks with a pair of the company’s frames superimposed on it. That’s a crude approximation, at best, and you still don’t know how the frames will feel.
Buying Eyeglasses Online

If that solution doesn’t appeal to you, WP will mail up to five frames to you, free of charge, so you can try them on and hopefully buy one. It helps that the majority of its frames cost just $95 or less.

Zenni Optical got its online start in 2003, when it was known as Today, Zenni offers single-focus glasses for just $6.95; anti-reflective coating costs just $4.95 more. But quality control seems to be an ongoing problem at Zenni, with some customers receiving perfect orders in ten days and others failing multiple times to get the correct prescription. Zenni has an overall Yelp rating of 3.5/5.0. Reviews range from glowing to glowering.

A Closer Look...

The American Optometric Association conducted an experiment with online eyewear purchasing in 2011. As you might expect, the results were not good. Out of 200 pairs of glasses ordered, only 154 ever arrived! Twenty-nine percent of the eyeglasses received had incorrect prescriptions; not only minor errors, but glaring mistakes like shipping single-vision glasses instead of bifocals.

Twenty-three percent of all the glasses received failed industry-standard impact resistance testing, a major safety hazard. Worse, 29 percent of children’s glasses failed impact resistance tests! Until yesterday, I might not have thought this a very important factor. I was doing yard work, and stepped on the "business end" of a garden rake. The handle flew up and hit me directly on the lens of my glasses. Fortunately, it didn't shatter.

Consumer Reports recommends buying frames online to save money and getting the lenses locally. Walmart Vision Centers will fill customer-provided frames for $10 plus the cost of prescription lenses. Costco Optical will do the same for $18. Check with your vision care provider first before going this route.

If you’re going to buy prescription glasses online, at a minimum you’ll need a copy of your eye doctor’s prescription and the doctor’s measurement of the distance between your eyes’ pupils. For bifocals, trifocals, and progressive lenses, other measurements of vertical points at which the prescription should change are critical.

I might try that approach to get a spare set of eyewear, if I already had a pair of glasses that were made locally, and fitted specifically for me. Then at least I could compare apples to apples. How about you? Does the idea of getting your next pair of glasses online sound good? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Buying Prescription Eyeglasses Online"

(See all 46 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

25 Sep 2015

I am a cheapo. I find a good frame at the flea market or garage sale.. usually for a $1 or 2 and my current frame cost $400 new! With gold and all, fits perfect and cost me $1 with case. For the lenses, I get them made locally and they usually cost about $30 for bifocals. So I spend $31 instead of $430!

Posted by:

25 Sep 2015

I think Zenni Optical is FANTASTIC. I've ordered from them multiple pairs of glasses at 4 different times throughout the years.

Last time I made a mistake on a new RX and entered it in wrong. Received the glasses and I of course couldn't see out of them. Zenni gave me a one time credit (for my mistake) and I mailed them glasses back to them. I was able to re-order the correct glasses with the credit. I have nothing but praise for Zenni.

Posted by:

25 Sep 2015

I've been buying from Zenni for several years and they are great! Because I have a very strong prescription, they questioned me the first time I ordered to make sure it was correct. I have nothing but praise for them.

Posted by:

25 Sep 2015

Thank you for this article concerning online purchase of prescription glasses. It is a subject that has been on my mind because I have received proposals to make such a purchase. It is kind of you to offer this independent information.

Posted by:

25 Sep 2015

I began ordering glasses on line in 2006 when I lost vision insurance. The coating wore off my progressives and my eye doctor wanted $600 to replace the 3 year old lenses. I've used, Eye Buy Direct, and 39 Dollar Eyeglasses. It is a lot of work to check the measurements, upload photos, "try them on". I had one bad prescription out of maybe 10 pairs of glasses and that was the eye doctors fault. The company replaced them for free. I now pay about $160/ pair. To me it's worth the hassle to save $340.

Posted by:

25 Sep 2015

I'm surprised at you writing about glasses. With so much going on in the software and computer markets are you running out of topics? This article is one of the few that has provided me no help. I don't look at you for advise on glasses or doctors visits. For the record I do buy my extra pair from Zenni for less than $10 and paid $500 for the same in the US. I have enough brains to realize that the $10 are cheap and only use to watch TV and if I run into a rake I will be wearing my $500 glasses. I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW HOW ANYONE WITH SINGLE VISION GLASSES WOULD KNOW THEIR PRESCRIPTION WAS FILLED INCORRECTLY UNLESS THEY ARE AN OPTICIAN AND HAVE THE PROPER TOOL.

Posted by:

25 Sep 2015

Recently a TV station in Houston, KPRC Channel 2, did a consumer segment on ordering prescription eyeglasses and frames on line. They ordered from two popular companies. When they received the glasses they had them checked for accuracy by a local optician company. Every pair had the correct prescription, quality frame and an amazingly low price.

Posted by:

25 Sep 2015

The only reason these online glass suppliers came about is that the local suppliers charge too much and upsell on things you don't really need. Same reason the discount providers came about.


Posted by:

25 Sep 2015

Well I don't need glasses except for reading. I can buy cheap readers from Amazon ($10 for 3 pairs).

But I also have color vision issues (what is mistakenly called red/green colorblindness).

There is a new company out of Berkeley, Enchroma that makes color vision correcting glasses that work me. I had to get them online and they were expensive. But they work for me! Is it need seeing all the colors properly now.

They won't work for everyone that has a color vision issue.

Posted by:

25 Sep 2015

I have used Zenni for several (7-8) years for progressive lense glasses, sunglasses and computer glasses. All have been fine. My eye doctor has checked them and seen no problems.
The 5 pairs I have bought from Zenni cost less than the last single pair I bought from our previous supplier.
My wife tried a pair and decided she wants to purchase where she can have someone adjust hers.
My son has had several pairs from Zenni and he was the reason I first tried them.

Posted by:

25 Sep 2015

Wow Bob! I was just about to upload a photo and order some glasses from Zenni. Hmmmm....think I will wait now, get mine locally, and then maybe get a second pair there to try......

Thanks for the head's-up!! Great info....

Posted by:

25 Sep 2015

I haven't ever tried online eyeglass purchasing, but I suspect it's like traditional have to look for the signs of a quality shop: longevity, customer reviews (remembering people are much more likely to post a review if their experience was bad), etc. Having poor vision with marked astigmatism, I need the super-thin (super expensive) lenses to avoid carrying 10 lbs around on my face. Frames are the smallest part of the cost; $20 - $30 vs. $300+ for the lenses. I would be willing to try one of the better-known online vendors if it meant some significant savings.

A lot of the "chain" optical shops hire minimally trained people, not licensed, trained opticians, so you're also at risk there for a bad fit. Their lenses are usually manufactured elsewhere in common correction levels, and they just pick out the closest prescription to what you have and pop them into the frame. That's why they can deliver in "1 hour."

As for knowing how you have a bad prescription:
1. You can tell, believe me. Once, the astigmatism correction was off on mine (optical shop @ Dr's office) and I got nauseous every time I turned my head. Another one, the lens was the correct Rx but I couldn't see...turned out the frames were designed so the lenses were too close to my eyes, compared to the standard testing distance.
2.The optometrist or ophthalmologist's office where you got your prescription will usually "read" the lenses for you for free. You can compare to your prescription.

Posted by:

Darcetha Manning
25 Sep 2015

I've had laser correction surgery on my eyes, therefore, I no longer need glasses for seeing. I only use over the counter reading glasses. But, when I was wearing glasses, I would go to my local optical shop.

I probably would not order prescription glasses online. There is too much that could go wrong.

Posted by:

Kathi Anderson
26 Sep 2015

I have been buying glasses online for years...very few problems. Besides, any mistakes were negligible considering that I was paying on average only 10 dollars per pair.
It helps to have balanced vision and only needing magnification lenses. And if I need to be concerned about impact resistance, I wear goggles or a face shield when doing yard work or similar activities.

Posted by:

Jo L. Will
26 Sep 2015

I wore eyeglasses for 51 years before cataract surgery at age 63. We have bought from zenni optical at least five times, and have always been thrilled with everything. Quality wise their glasses are the BEST have I ever had in all those 50+ years. My wife just got two pairs of prescription sunglasses- progressive with the fanciest coatings, for $110 total. She loves them both.

Posted by:

Ken Qualls
26 Sep 2015

a few years ago I bought a pair of bifocals from $39 They fit fine, looked fine and I have had no problems with them. That is my only experience with on line glasses. I paid $89.

Posted by:

26 Sep 2015

My husband and I have bought from Zenni for years. Occasionally I get mine locally for a more fashionable frame but all of our glasses have been great. Both wearing no-line bifocals with the sun-changing lenses. To the person who was 'ready to order' but changed their mind, give it a shot. I think you will be pleased.

Posted by:

28 Sep 2015

Good article. My wife needs glasses and I've been tempted to shop online. We'll probably go with America's Best 2 for $69 with Eye Exam.

I mashed my frames all up falling asleep watching tv. I took the lense to Dollar Tree and matched them to a set of reading glasses frames. The reading lenses just pop out and I pop my lenses in. New frames for a buck! lol

Posted by:

Mike in Colorado
29 Sep 2015

Thanks for the informative article, Bob. I'm glad to see so many positive comments about Zenni. My optician at the VA recommended them so I could get a second pair at reasonable cost. The last set of glasses I got were from Costco. They're progressives with transition lenses. I'm really happy with them and they came out much better than what the VA provides and at a much lower cost than Lenscrafters or a local optical shop. I may go ahead and get that spare pair from Zenni now.

Posted by:

23 Feb 2016

Twice I have recieved glasses through the VA system and twice the lenses blinded me. Not certain what to do about it.Perhaps retain the frames and determine a local provider for lenses. Also I will need a sunglass Rx and owned Persols at one time. Now Luxotica owns most manufacturers and have downgraded all quality. I believe that Maui Jim is the only remaining privately owned sunglass manufacturer. True or not?

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