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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.

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.

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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.

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