Tara has done a lot of investigation into saving money on glasses.
Gone are the days when you just pick out the best pair you could find at your eye doctor's shop. Below is an overview of five established and upcoming sites to check out to find your new glasses.
Quick Overview Summary Review of Five Online Prescription Glasses Retailers
|Zenni Optical||Eye Buy Direct||Discount Glasses||39 Dollar Glasses||Goggles 4 U|
Frame Option Variety
Lens Price/ Option Variety
$6 for any #
$6 for any #
Ease of Website Use
Try On Virtual Frames
Select Frames Only
Zenni Optical (www.zennioptical.com)
Zenni Optical is one of the most popular and well known online eye wear sellers. Although it doesn't have quite the most fabulous frames I've seen, they have a lot of nice ones and there is quite the wide selection. They definitely have some unique and interesting ones. Quality is ok to good depending on the specific frames and reviews I've looked at, but the price is low enough that it's not too much of a risk. They also carry sports frames and goggles.
The website itself is fairly easy to navigate. You choose through categories of frames, which I actually don't like. There are some filters, but they are typically size related. I much prefer to be able to assign a variety of filters to a search so I can both see more frames at once but also zero in on the specific qualities I am looking for. For example, not having spring hinges was a deal breaker for me. Instead of using their default browsing with limited filters and searching for something you want, I suggest doing a search for a trait (like "spring") and then you can refine your search with their filters from there. On the plus side, you can upload your photo in order to digitally "try on" glasses very easily. Your image hovers on the side of the screen, and as you roll your cursor over each pair of glasses, your photo will instantly and seamlessly try on each pair without making your browser freak out much at all.
You can get free single vision prescription lenses with the frames or pay $17 for bifocals. They also have more lens options than the other sites, and those options are usually cheaper. Although blue blocker coating wasn't the best deal (very thick lenses with anti-glare and anti-scratch coatings for $17 and thinner blue blockers at $30 or $50), if you are interested in photochromic lenses (Transitions types that turn dark in sunlight), Zenni really shines. You can get their generic photochromic lenses in the typical gray or amber (brown) for only $19! You can also get photochromic lenses in other colors, like purple, blue, and yes, rose. Nothing like rose colored glasses to make you happy. You can also get the name-brand Transitions lenses for $69 if you want. Alternatively, if you want something lighter than polycarbonate but still strong, they offer Trivex for $30.
In addition, Zenni has some other great options you can't find elsewhere. Most of the glasses I checked had the option of adding on a sunglasses clip tailored to the glasses you chose for just $4. Recently, they even added the option of gradient faded clips for a couple dollars more! For some people, this is better than photochromic lenses because you won't always want dark glasses outside. Or maybe you just want shades for driving (photochromic lenses don't change in the car because the windshield will block most of the UV). You can also engrave your frames' arm, inside or outside, with a cool catch phrase, your name, phone number, or anything else (up to 15 characters) for $2 If your frames work with that type of thing (thin metal frames probably won't, but plastic ones generally will). If you have kids that lose their glasses a lot, this will help them find their way home.
Shipping is $6 no matter how many pairs you get.
Zenni doesn't seem to have as many promo codes as I've seen for other sites. I have seen 10% off codes, and there are often introductory promos, so do check out the deals you can score. However, the prices are low enough that you might not need them. They also have a refer-a-friend program. If you send a friend a coupon for $5 and they use it, you will get a $5 coupon too.
Zenni has good reviews throughout the internet, including YouTube. But quality was an issue for some, and less so for others who are not so tough on their glasses.
Eye Buy Direct (www.eyebuydirect.com)
Eye Buy Direct has glasses a little nicer and more stylish than Zenni, but they cost a little more too. Various online reviews indicate similar anecdotal trends about quality as well, but side by side comparisons are difficult. There are not as many options as Zenni, but they are good options, and good enough to make you consider them above other sites. They are still much cheaper than any physical glasses shop I've ever seen anywhere. A really nice pair of glasses for under $30 is still totally doable here.
Using their website is easy. They have useful search filters to help narrow down the choices to what you really want, including the option to filter only for glasses with spring hinges, important for me. You can upload a photo of yourself to "try on" any frames you like, and you don't have to keep uploading the photo for trying out lots of different frames.
You can get free single vision prescription lenses with anti-scratch coating. Choosing the best deal for additional lens options you want can be a little tricky since the prices seem to change a little depending on which feature you chose first. So if you want multiple coatings and can consider various thicknesses, it is worth trying out the various options with different starting points, ie, choosing a blue coating package first, or going with plain clear lenses and adding each option as a customization. One good package is the EBD Blue lenses that have anti-scratch, anti-reflective, blue light filtered, UV protected, water repellent coating for $19 at the cheapest thickness. I personally bought this package and found them to be high quality for the price. Bifocals are $36 minimum for the lenses.
Shipping is $6, regardless of how many you buy.
They have a loyalty program where if you get enough points for various things like signing up for their email ads or getting certain coatings on your lenses, you get perpetual savings of one kind or another, ie, free shipping, some % off, etc. Their referral code is more straightforward where you get a $10 off coupon if your friend you refer uses a $10 off coupon you send them. Promo codes are the most immediately useful. Sometimes you can get a code for 15-25% off and/or free shipping. There has also been a code for buy one pair get one frame free. So checking into the promo codes is definitely worth your time.
Discount Glasses (www.discountglasses.com)
Discount Glasses has a wide variety of frames, from some very nice cheaper frames under $50, to some name brand ones, some under $100. Their prices for lenses have sadly gone up unfortunately (and stayed there even for Black Friday). Before, you could get UV protection, anti-scratch, and anti-reflective coated lenses for $10 total. Now, you can get anti-scratch for free, but if you simply want to add UV protection (and I consider this critical), it is a minimum of $19 and anti-reflective coating is another $10 on top of that. This is significantly more expensive, and a consideration since other online retailers offer much more and better options for less (free or $5-$10 total).
There don't seem to be a lot of discount codes available for this site, so definitely pay attention to sitewide sales and specific prices for individual frames on this site. But if they claim that specific individual frames are on sale, don't necessarily believe them. One pair of glasses frames I particularly liked jumped in price up $20 when a back-to-school sale ended. However, what happened on the frames' webpage was interesting. The frames never stopped being posted as "on sale." The original non-sale price of the frames changed from roughly $64 during the sale (sale price of $40) to $84 after the sale (sale price of $60), and then claimed the $60 sale price was 30% off. That smelled fishy to me. While they have the right to change a sale price, changing the original price just doesn't make sense. So the pricing scheme looks to be a bit non-transparent and dodgy, and you should only trust the final price you are quoted.
One big downside to this retailer is that you can't upload a photo to "try on" the glasses like you can do with many other sites. True, this feature on other sites is often imperfect, but at least you can get a rough idea of what it will look like on you. So this is one area where Discount Glasses should improve. It definitely caused me to make a decision more slowly and eventually choose elsewhere, especially when the frames I considered jumped up in price afterwards.
*UPDATE: Discount Glasses now offers an excellent digital try on feature for select frames! The site will allow you to take video of yourself turning your head left and right and then will overlay a rough view of the frames on your face. It is fabulous, and I love it... Check it out! However, it is not available on all frames yet.
A good thing though... There's free shipping! And free returns!
39 Dollar Glasses (www.39dollarglasses.com)
According to their website, 39 Dollar Glasses is run by eye doctors. Because prescription glasses are the product, I would hope that doctors would be part of any of these sites, but it's good that it's specifically acknowledged.
Many frames are $39, and there are others that were more than that, but the frames still cost much less than typical retail. The frames do have an ok variety of style, although the website is difficult to manage. The search filters aren't great. Even if you want to sort frames by price, the sorting feature doesn't produce a properly sorted listing, and you can't limit a search to a specific price range. However, most of the frames cost similarly, all between $39-$49, so that doesn't hurt too much at least. You can try on glasses, but you have to upload an image and readjust it every time you want to try on a pair, a serious pain. So you would have to pick out a few favorites at most before deciding to "try on" any of them.
They come with free lens package that have impressive qualities: polycarbonate, thinner and lighter weight (1.59 index), 100% UV protective, anti-scratch, and polished lens edges. That is an excellent deal - most sites charge extra for these! Other lens options would be an additional charge on top of that. They now offer many colors of tinted lenses for only $10 extra, such as the classic brown and gray, but also including blue, green, orange, yellow, and rose. Adding an anti-glare/ water resistant coating is an extra $25. Transitions lenses cost $70 extra (the same as Zenni, but no generic option like Zenni has). If you want bifocals, I suggest going elsewhere. Bifocal lenses will cost at minimum $80 additionally.
One very useful service they provide is selling lenses for your own frames. So if you already have glasses you really like but just need new lenses, then this could be for you. Keep in mind that there are some risks though. If they scratch or break your frames in the process of swapping the lenses, they don't take responsibility. If your frames look fragile to them, they may choose not to do it. This is not a risk you normally have to take. When a local eye wear retailer broke glasses I purchased from them during an adjustment, they paid to completely replace the glasses. So I would suggest this service more for frames that are easier to open and close around lenses. Some frames have a screw that easily tightens the frame to the lens allowing easy access. This would allow you to also remove the old lenses before shipping if you want to keep them since the website states you may not get them back.
Shipping is $5, and they offer free returns.
Goggles 4 U (www.goggles4u.com)
Goggles 4 U is another decent site. I don't like their frames as much as the other sites though. I have joked with others that some of their frames actually look like goggles, so they aren't kidding when they call themselves "Goggles 4 U." But their frames do strike me as being on the cheaper end (small lens sizes, no frills frames). Their selection has improved in the past couple months, but I personally couldn't find any frames that fit me size-wise that also had spring hinges.
You can get plain prescription lenses free - no extra features at all. Most of the other sites offered at least some feature for free. However, you can add on anti-UV (a necessity I believe), decently thin (1.57 index), anti-scratch, anti-glare for only $5 more for all 3, a good deal that should be sufficient for most people. Tinted lenses are only $5, and you can get gradient tinted for $10 or mirrored tinted for $20. Other features, such as polycarbonate, blue blocking, etc were as a whole not the cheapest I've seen, but not the most expensive either. Bifocals lenses alone are $33 minimum here, so they aren't super impressive pricewise compared to the other sites mentioned above, BUT I have seen promo codes for 50% off. With shipping being $6, it makes it possible to get single vision prescription glasses for $10 or prescription bifocals for $26 with shipping. That's not bad if they have some frames you like or just want a cheap backup pair.
The website itself is workable, but could stand improvement. Search filters are again wanting. Forget about filtering with special features like spring hinges. You can run a search for "spring" which will filter that for you, but when you use the search feature, you can't use any of the filters anymore! What filters they have do seem to work (not true for all sites unfortunately). When you are choosing lenses, some of the extra features come with "coatings" (such as blue blockers with "coatings") and it's not clear which coatings they are talking about. You can upload a photo to try on glasses, and you can adjust the photo for each pair of glasses, something I appreciated.
A Couple More Places to Look...
Fortunately, there are several more sites than these. Here are a couple more worth checking out:
Glasses Shop (www.glassesshop.com) - Students always get a 25% discount with verification of status. Suggested by Better Homes and Gardens. They have a nice selection with plenty of pretty frames, but few with spring hinges sadly. Although I needed to look elsewhere, it looks promising and prices looked good.
Eye Wear Insight (www.eyewearinsight.com) - Another very nice website with nice designs, including frames made out of bamboo. However, they also have very few frames with spring hinges (I could count them on one hand when I looked), so it wasn't an option.
Warby Parker (www.warbyparker.com) - They sell their own branded frames and have a useful free program where you can choose from a selected set of their frames, up to 5, to have shipped to you for a free trial to try on at home for 5 days before shipping them back in a prepaid shipper. They are significantly more expensive though. All of the frames I looked at were $95 and include single vision anti-reflective prescription lenses. They accept some insurance, provide 30 day returns, and shipping is free.
Optical 4 Less (www.optical4less.com) - This is a site I've seen mentioned by others online. It appears to be from China. They had cool prescription SpyCam glasses (I fully embrace my nerdy self). What bothered me was that the website was not secure, so I am not sure I trust making a purchase there.
Honorable Mentions: Semi-Discount Name Brand Sites
Some sites are significantly more expensive than the other sites, and I wouldn't be surprised that some of the higher priced retailers are starting online sites to capture some of the online glasses market. Who knows if some are also run by Luxottica. Now, it's true that these sites have a lot of name-brand frames that the other sites definitely do not have. You might argue that name brand frames imply better quality, and that is maybe true in some cases, but definitely not when comparing similarly priced items. The prices are disproportionately high compared to any better quality you might get, and the other sites are so much cheaper that you can buy multiple pairs of nice glasses for the same price you can get one from these sites. But if the other sites fail you, these may be worth a look. Here are some examples:
- Glasses.com (www.glasses.com)
- Glasses USA (www.glassesusa.com)
- Frames Direct (www.framesdirect.com)
However, if you really, really want a specific frame or a name brand frame because you can't find anything else comparable or have trouble trusting this whole online shopping thing (and I hope you don't need name brands for self-esteem issues... there are so many better ways to boost your self-esteem than wearing someone else's name on yourself), you can get them for a lower price than you'd get in a shop. Wait for a holiday sale, and you sometimes get better than 50% off, or 70% off just the lenses. Not bad I guess, but it reminds me of the vastly overpriced glasses you see in glasses shops with boasts of big sales where you still end up with a pair of a bit less but still overpriced glasses in the end.
How Do I Buy the Right Glasses Online?
This article assumes you are totally ready to jump into shopping for your new "must-have" fashion accessory! If you've never done this before, read How to Buy Your Glasses From Budget Online Eyewear Retailers to get you ready to look for and buy the right pair.
© 2017 Tara Snoples Lacome