“where cheap is chic” — wisebread

Cheap Eyeglasses Buying Guide

Our top picks for cheap eyeglasses sites, Zenni Optical (starting at $7) and 39 Dollar Glasses (starting at $39), impress both users and expert bloggers with generally decent customer service and a high quality-to-price ratio. Eyeglasses sites Goggles 4 U (starting at $7) and Eye Buy Direct (starting at $7) also rate well overall; the former occasionally turns out lenses of sketchy quality but wins points for problem resolution.

Eyeglass wearers with online buying experience say Optical 4 Less (starting at $15) is a suboptimal choice because customer service is less than reliable.

Eyeglasses Website Reviews
Cheap Eyeglasses Frames: Fit and Selection
Eyeglasses Prices
Buying Eyeglasses Online
Online Eyewear Newcomers

To order eyeglasses online, you'll need a copy of your prescription. If your eye doctor balks, remind the doctor that the Federal Trade Commission's Prescription Release Rule requires optometrists and ophthalmologists to give this information to patients. Make sure your pupillary distance (PD), a critical measurement not typically written down as part of your prescription, is included. As a backup plan, you can have someone else measure your PD using the eyeglasses websites' tools.

You should also have an idea of what frame style suits you and what size best fits your face. Experts recommend trying on glasses at a brick-and-mortar store, then writing down style and size info or taking photos of yourself wearing those frames for reference. Alternatively, you can refer to an old pair of glasses that you like.

Once you have your information in hand, you're ready to shop online for eyeglasses. Sound easy? It is. However, there are risks involved and aspects of the online buying experience worth noting. While most customers are satisfied with their purchases overall, long lead times, inconsistent order tracking, and problematic customer service are issues that dog most of the cheap eyeglasses websites we researched.

Still, the lure of affordable frames is an attractive proposition, and one that many frugal consumers find worth experimenting with. If all goes well, you will have procured prescription glasses for an incredible value. If things go south, at worst you're out a maximum $50 (for a basic prescription).

Important note: Purchasing glasses online should never replace regular visits to the eye doctor. First of all, prescriptions tend to change over time, and you need a current prescription in hand to successfully purchase a pair of eyeglasses. Additionally, an optometrist or ophthalmologist can test for eye diseases, such as glaucoma or macular degeneration, which can cause permanent blindness if left untreated. And because some specialists offer free eye exams, expecting compensation through the purchase of eyewear, it's only fair to notify providers ahead of time that you'll be purchasing your eyeglasses elsewhere.

Eyeglasses Website Reviews

Reviews of online eyeglasses vendors are largely absent on traditional review sites. In order to educate consumers about the process of buying cheap eyewear online while sharing their own positive experiences, two bloggers independently launched eyeglasses review sites in 2006.

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"It made me really angry that a lot of people in stressful financial situations have to go spend hundreds of dollars on glasses because they don't know there's another choice out there," said Eyeglass Retailer Reviews blogger Matt Gadient of his motivation to start a website. "I wanted to let them know that, hey, there are these other places you can go."

Both Eyeglass Retailer Reviews and Glassy Eyes, run by Ira Mitchell, follow the same formula. Each blogger periodically orders eyewear from various retailers without revealing their identity, then posts honest eyeglasses reviews of the ordering experience, customer service, and product received. The bloggers do not accept free eyewear in exchange for eyeglasses reviews, preferring to eliminate all possibility of special treatment.

Neither eyeglasses review site has been significantly updated since 2009, but both bloggers insist that they are still very involved with their sites and the content, blaming the lag in new information on an industry that has plateaued. The bloggers are in the process of placing a new round of orders and plan to post the results within the next few months.

Leveraging the research of these eyeglasses review experts and the user reviews we found on discussion boards, Epinions, and Reseller Ratings, we learned that the online eyeglasses trend has won converts far and wide. Most consumers are happy with the cost, quality, and performance of their budget specs and in eyeglasses reviews have plenty to say about the experience.

Cheap Eyeglasses Quality.

The cost of buying eyeglasses online is so much less than you're used to paying that you can't help but wonder, will the quality be the same as glasses purchased locally? There are differing opinions about this expressed in eyeglasses reviews, and the short answer is, for some consumers it is, for others it isn't. A writer for Slate found his Goggles 4 U (starting at $7) specs to be every bit as good as those purchased from his optometrist, but a customer who posted an eyeglasses review of Zenni Optical in Insider Pages is far less impressed and says you get what you pay for.

Most consumers on the hunt for cheap eyeglasses fall somewhere in the middle. A three-time Goggles 4 U purchaser writes in an eyeglasses review on Reseller Ratings that he's satisfied with the pairs he ordered but recommends steering clear of the cheap rimless frames. And a review of Zenni Optical broadcast on YouTube declares that the $20 specs are "good enough."

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Many Internet purchasers choose to place test orders first, selecting from the cheapest frames and buying from one or more different vendors. If the quality falls short of expectations, they use the glasses as a backup pair or donate them, as did a Goggles 4 U customer who posted an eyeglasses review on Glassy Eyes forums. Although you may not end up the convert that this Zenni Optical enthusiast did, evidenced by a posting on Viewpoints, you may decide that discount eyeglass frames are a deal you can't ignore.

One of the biggest dangers of ordering eyeglasses online is the potential for receiving an incorrect prescription. Although significant differences in prescriptions quickly become apparent, you might not notice subtle errors. Wearing lenses with the wrong vision correction or PD (pupillary distance) can cause headaches and deterioration in your sight. For those reasons, it's best to take eyeglasses purchased via the Internet to an optometrist to confirm whether the prescription and PD are accurate.

Cheap Eyeglasses Frames: Fit and Selection

Buying cheap frames online means you don't have the opportunity to try them on. To overcome this disadvantage, many eyewear websites provide web tools that let you try on frames virtually by uploading your picture. Others let you print out to-scale representations of the eyeglass frames you're interested in. Some purchasers visit a local optical store and try on frames ahead of time, taking photos of those they like and jotting down the measurements. Still others seek out cheap frames the same size and style as previous pairs they've owned. A blogger who works in the optical field recommends having an optician give you the measurements of the frames you currently wear for reference. If that isn't possible, you could take the advice of this online eyewear shopper and check your existing specs to see if the measurements are printed inside the frames.

The end result of these efforts is generally positive. A satisfied buyer writes in a review on Reseller Ratings of being more impressed with the fit of glasses purchased from Eye Buy Direct (starting at $7) than with those obtained from an optometrist. An optician blogger reports she was blown away by the price and quality of the brand-name eyewear she purchased from Coastal (starting at $27), which is also a major retailer of contact lenses. And in an eyeglasses review on Yelp, a 39 Dollar Glasses (starting at $39) customer comments that his prescription sunglasses are an excellent value despite having to visit the eye doctor for minor adjustments.

You might worry that your doctor will refuse to adjust cheap frames that you bought elsewhere. The truth is it's possible, but as reviews of frames note on Urban Honking, most eye doctors are willing to help. If yours isn't, you could try visiting a local chain store. In a discussion on the Glassy Eyes forum, one buyer mentions that Lenscrafters will adjust outside eyewear for a nominal fee. If all else fails, you can educate yourself on how to make the necessary adjustments on your own. Several guides, such as Las Vegas Optometry Care, walk you through the process of making simple tweaks to cheap frames.

Sometimes more significant fit problems occur with cheap eyeglasses frames and lenses bought online. A blogger on PD Rater and a customer posting a review on Cool Computing report running into similar base curvature issues with glasses ordered through Goggles 4 U, although the blogger adds that the company rectified the problem quickly.

Eyeglasses Selection.

Online vendors offer a wide range of specs at modest prices, be they sunglasses or regular glasses, plastic or metal construction, rimless or semi-rimless frames.

One of the major differences among vendors who sell cheap eyeglass frames online is the number of styles they carry. With more than 3,500 frames to choose from, Zenni Optical (starting at $7) boasts a seriously large selection of frames. Goggles 4 U sells more than 2,500 styles, and Eye Buy Direct carries around 780 different frames, including nearly 60 with price tags under $7. 39 Dollar Glasses offers about 450 styles and Optical 4 Less (starting at $15) stocks approximately 130 frame styles. Coastal offers just shy of 500 eyeglass frame varieties, and the Glasses Shop boasts an eyeglasses selection that exceeds 860 designs.

Parents of active children particularly appreciate low eyeglasses prices, and most providers carry kid-size specs. As one Goggles 4 U customer notes on Epinions, however, if a retailer doesn't have a kids' glasses category, it's not always obvious whether it stocks sizes small enough for children; read the measurements carefully to determine which frames, if any, might fit. One blogger who was seeking cheap frames for her forgetful daughter was dismayed to find Eye Buy Direct carries only eyewear sized for ages 12 and up, according to a post on Mom's Take On Things.

Eyeglasses Prices

Eyewear websites offer a wide variety of options, but each "extra" you choose adds to the final eyeglasses price, as does shipping. Choosing the fewest add-ons gets you the biggest bang for your buck in the discount eyewear department, and more importantly, reduces the margin of error.

Eyeglasses prices for a base-model pair, including single-vision lenses and anti-scratch coatings, runs pennies less than $7 at Zenni Optical, Goggles 4 U, and Eye Buy Direct (the first two also throw in UV protection). This is a notable price drop from 2011 and reflects how competitive this market has become. 39 Dollar Glasses still charges $39 for the most basic eyewear, although that price covers polycarbonate single-vision lenses in addition to the frames, and anti-scratch and UV coatings. Optical 4 Less now advertises eyeglasses prices starting at $15, but we counted a mere handful at that level. Most single-vision lens and frame combos offered by this site start at around $29 and include anti-scratch, anti-reflective, and UV coatings. Frames plus lenses start around $27 at Coastal; the cost of anti-reflective, anti-scratch, and UV coatings is included. (By the way, Coastal now offers a free pair of frames to first-time customers.) The day we clicked on the Glasses Shop, we saw roughly 60 options at $5, but prices on newer styles run around $35. With frames at this site you get free single-vision lenses, anti-scratch and UV coatings; an anti-reflective coating adds $5 to the price.

We also researched prices for bifocals and progressive lenses. With Zenni Optical, bifocals add $17 to the overall eyeglasses price and progressive lenses add $22. At 39 Dollar Glasses, bifocals and progressives are $89 and $99, respectively, including frames and polycarbonate lenses. Eye Buy Direct sells bifocals for $19 more and progressives for $39 more than the price for single-vision lenses. Bifocal lenses at Goggles 4 U start at $19 and progressives start at $29, which includes anti-scratch and anti-reflective coatings. Progressive lenses at Coastal add about $149 to the cost of the frames and bifocals are an additional $99. Progressive lenses add at least $22 to eyeglasses prices at the Glasses Shop and bifocals raise the stakes by $17 or more.

We last priced out bifocals and progressive lenses at $92 at Optical 4 Less, including anti-scratch, anti-reflective, and UV coatings. When trying to update these costs, however, we encountered a buggy registration process and a confusing shopping interface that made it impossible to clarify eyeglasses prices. Still, we noted a surcharge of $59 for certain prescriptions and a $3 per lens charge for each degree of prism correction.

Prescription Capabilities.

Shopping for the best eyeglasses prices is one thing. Finding the online provider with low prices that can accommodate your particular prescription is another.

For starters, a stronger prescription calls for a higher lens index. High index lenses are thinner and lighter, reducing the overall bulk of prescription glasses. If a high index lens is important to you, check out Optical 4 Less, which offers ultra-high index glass lenses of 1.8 or 1.9 for single-vision glasses and progressive lenses with an index up to 1.67. The highest index lens that 39 Dollar Glasses carries is 1.67, and that's for single-vision lenses only. At Zenni Optical, single-vision lenses are available in three indices -- 1.57, 1.61, or 1.67; progressives and bifocals are available in one index only. Eye Buy Direct has a standard index of 1.5 for all its glasses and offers a maximum index of 1.6 for bifocals, 1.67 for progressives, and 1.74 for single-vision lenses. Goggles 4 U's single-vision lenses extend up to a 1.71 high-index glass or 1.67 high-index plastic, but bifocals and progressive lenses stop at an index of 1.56. Coastal offers an index up to 1.74 for either single-vision or progressive lenses. Glasses Shop can accommodate an index of up to 1.74 for single-vision or progressive lenses, but offers an index up to only 1.59 for bifocals.

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A word of warning: Eyeglasses prices increase as the prescription gets more complex. The likelihood of a prescription error also increases along with complexity, as customers of 39 Dollar Glasses note in reviews on the Glassy Eyes Google group and Epinions. Ditto for a Zenni Optical customer who posted on Epinions. Because customer service is spotty with online providers of cheap eyewear, you may decide to stick with a brick-and-mortar provider if your prescription is unusual.

As an alternative to low-cost eyewear websites, the Glassy Eyes expert recommends Costco and Sam's Club, whose eyeglasses prices have adjusted downward in the past few years to stay competitive with online sellers. "They have really good rates for eye exams, their eyeglass prices are not outrageous, and they're a good place to start for people not entirely comfortable buying online," he explains. "They're certainly a good option for people with complex prescriptions." Gambling $35 on a common single-lens prescription is one thing; risking $135 on a complicated eyeglass order is something else entirely.

Buying Eyeglasses Online

One of the biggest challenges when buying eyeglasses online is inconsistent and unresponsive customer service. According to review comments, getting hold of a live person on the phone, or even in live chat, can take Herculean effort, as this former Optical 4 Less customer points out in a post on XP Bargains. Miscommunications are also a frequent frustration with online eyeglasses customer service. Another patron of Hong Kong-based Optical 4 Less who posted on the same site suspects the language barrier may be partially to blame. A critical review of 39 Dollar Glasses on Glassy Eyes forums laments that service agents are rude and disorganized and no one seems to know what's going on. Based on the comments we read, customers' experience with Eye Buy Direct and Zenni Optical seemed less fraught and Goggles 4 U did try to resolve problems.

Return policies, another aspect of online eyeglasses customer service, vary by site. 39 Dollar Glasses provides an unconditional six-month replacement guarantee for all frames and a 30-day replacement guarantee for damaged lenses. Eye Buy Direct's guarantee is one of the best, given its offer of a full refund if, for any reason, you're dissatisfied with your frames (shipping not included). You must, however, contact this online eyeglasses customer service department within 14 days of receiving the cheap frames -- after that, you can get a 70 percent refund or replacement glasses for half the original order cost. Goggles 4 U replaces or refunds lost or damaged eyewear or specs with an incorrect prescription for full cost; customers dissatisfied with the quality can return them at their own expense for a refund equaling 100 percent of the frame cost and 50 percent of the lens cost. Zenni Optical offers a 30-day warranty and a 50 percent refund on glasses within the first four weeks; glasses must be returned at customer expense, and the refund is credited when received by the vendor. The Glasses Shop offers a full refund within five days of receipt if you're dissatisfied for any reason. You have up to 30 days to return damaged or poor-quality merchandise for a full refund, and quality-related returns occurring between 30 and 90 days are reimbursed at 100 percent of the frame cost and 50 percent of the lens cost. Coastal's return policy, like its shipping guarantee, is unclear when dealing with non-contact lens purchases. Optical 4 Less has a 30-day quality guarantee, but a recent history of online eyeglasses customer service giving buyers the runaround has caused many, including former partisan Glassy Eyes, to steer clear of this eyewear etailer.

Ease of Ordering.

Whether you're a veteran or a novice Internet shopper, the ease of ordering affects your decision to complete the process. Our research found that most eyeglasses websites pass the user-friendly test and to some degree may offset qualms about online eyeglasses customer service.

According to Eyeglass Retailer Reviews, 39 Dollar Glasses provides one of the best sites in terms of simplicity and ease of use. Frame choices are broken down into intuitive categories and can be filtered by gender. You can view high-res photos of each style in available colors and lens tints. Measurements are provided and fully explained for each frame. Although you can't upload a photo and virtually try on frames, you can use the proprietary SmartFit guide to see what each option looks like on a variety of face shapes. You can also download an actual-sized picture of each frame to print, cut out, and try on.

Eye Buy Direct also maintains a simple-to-navigate website with helpful tools that let you compare frames side-by-side and narrow your search by criteria such as size, price, and material. An EyeTry feature lets you upload your photo to "try on" the styles you're considering, but it pops up only when you click on a frame for more info. This site, like 39 Dollar Glasses, has live-chat online eyeglasses customer service agents who are sometimes described as unsympathetic in user reviews. Experts also nitpick that the tools provided for measuring your PD aren't as elaborate as those of other sites.

Zenni Optical's online interface, though functional, is plain-Jane and sometimes drives people round the bend, according to the Glassy Eyes blog. On the other hand, Zenni Optical provides all necessary frame and lens measurements, which Glassy Eyes points out is a missing component on many other sites.

Goggles 4 U features search capabilities that are sometimes described as "robust" and offers many of the same tools you find on other sites, including live chat and virtual try-on. It's worth noting, however, that this latter tool offers no measurement scale, although you do get a 360-degree view of all available frames.

Optical 4 Less has most of the functionality, but none of the polish, of other sites in the online discount eyewear category. You should be able to find what you're looking for fairly easily, but information isn't always clearly written. The site includes a "Try Now" tool, which works well as long as the photo you upload is optimally sized. There's no live chat, but you can open a customer service ticket to request help with an order.

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Online Eyeglasses Turnaround.

Order turnaround time is an area in which all eyewear sites we researched seem to suffer. Generally speaking, U.S.-based companies without overseas production, such as 39 Dollar Glasses and Eye Buy Direct, boast the shortest lead times. International companies, such as Optical 4 Less, and companies with foreign production facilities, such as Zenni Optical and Goggles 4 U, take longer to fulfill orders and face the threat of customs delays. Even so, domestic companies aren't always a sure bet. Orders can still get lost in the mail, as a disgruntled 39 Dollar Glasses customer notes on Epinions, or hung up online, as an Eye Buy Direct customer relates on Bizrate.

Eyeglass websites usually give shipping times as two to four weeks. 39 Dollar Glasses states that most orders are processed and completed in three to five business days and slightly longer for complex prescriptions; shipping times depend on the method you choose. Eye Buy Direct, with fewer shipping complaints than most competitors, promises a turnaround of 14 business days from placement to delivery but says shipping may take longer during buy-one-get-one-free sales. Zenni Optical estimates that most U.S. orders will arrive within seven to 14 business days. Optical 4 Less tells customers to expect a wait of 11 to 20 business days, and Goggles 4 U states that eyewear spends 10 to 12 days in transit but doesn't specify how long order verification and production take. The Glasses Shop estimates transit time at seven to 14 business days for U.S. orders, but will expedite for an additional charge. Coastal specifies processing time of three to ten business days, depending on the prescription, with shipping time that depends on the option you choose.

Online Eyewear Newcomers

Although the online eyewear niche is well saturated, several as-yet-untested online eyeglasses newcomers are worth a mention.

Fledgling companies Urban Glasses and 1800 Specs actively promote themselves in forums and blog comments, but customer reviews of these online eyeglasses newcomers are conspicuously absent. Neither company is listed by the Better Business Bureau, so we consider them order-at-your-own-risk.

Just Eyewear was recently acquired by Coastal and will presumably stick around a while. Reseller Ratings gives this online eyeglasses newcomer more than eight out of 10 stars, but most of the posted comments we found were elicited through free giveaways, and the BBB awarded the vendor an "F" due to a dozen unresolved complaints.

Perfect Glasses receives an "A-" rating from the BBB, but again, the only available reviews are from bloggers who received gifts of free eyewear. Neither the impartial Glassy Eyes nor Eyeglass Retailer Reviews bloggers have this online eyeglasses newcomer on their radar.

New York-based Warby Parker stands out from the crowd with hip eyeglass designs and a unique business model that includes a vow to donate a pair of glasses to a needy someone for each pair purchased. The up-and-comer is attracting double-takes from media sources including the New York Times, Inc., New York magazine, and Daily Candy. While Warby Parker struts the cool factor and offers a steep discount over traditional optical shops, each pair of glasses carries a price tag of about $95 -- significantly higher than the other eyewear websites we researched. The experts at Glassy Eyes and Eyeglass Retailer Reviews admit to being impressed -- e.g., the company will ship five frames to try before you buy -- but neither has featured the online eyeglasses newcomer on his site due to the price. If you're willing to pay up for designer-looking frames at less-than-designer cost, Warby Parker may belong in your sights.



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