Buying Eyeglasses Online

I was thinking of buying eyeglasses online and turning to one of my fave sites Lifehacker, was not at all suprised to find the following article posted there.

Full text for archive only, go and read the actual article and see the reference links, pix, and extra stuff, always more useful.  This is simply in the event they delete it.

Anybody who wears eyeglasses knows how much you pay for two tiny pieces of glass. Take our advice on shopping for glasses online to save yourself a whole lot of cash.

Last year I discovered that a light lens prescription would make my long hours logged at the computer all the more comfortable. I’d never had glasses before in my life, and wasn’t conditioned to the astounding cost of prescription eye wear. When the bill totaled over $600 for my modest frame and lenses, and my wife’s not-so-modest pair, I was floored. I justified it at the time via the added comfort and headache-free computer time; I told myself that, for that price, surely the lenses had been polished with the tears of angels and would last forever.

Less than a year later, I scratched the Hell out of one of the lenses by hastily cleaning it on my shirt, and I shivered at the thought of ordering another $300+ pair of glasses just to get back to scratch-free vision. I remembered reading various accounts online about people buying glasses sight unseen, using their prescriptions from recent eye exams. We discussed just such a trick here several years ago, and more recently here. Our coverage of blogger Matt Haughey scoring a pair of perfectly fine glasses for $50 when he had previously been playing $500 or more for custom glasses really stuck in my mind. So much so that I was more than willing to gamble with the technique—even if I had to order multiple pairs of glasses to get it right, I’d still come out ahead by a C-note or two.

In January I placed an order with Zenni Optical. They were the cheapest, but still most reputable-looking place I found online. How cheap was it? Prescriptions glasses start at a mere $8 and rise from there, depending on how fancy you want to get with special coatings and tinting. After searching through the hundreds of glasses on the site, I selected two pairs that looked nearly identical to the pairs my wife and I were currently wearing. A pair of titanium-framed glasses matching my previous $300+ pair in style and prescription was only $16. My wife’s more intense prescription and the need for high-index, thinner lenses were a whopping $32. Shipping brought the total for the order to heart-stopping $53.85.

Six weeks later, a small package from Hong Kong was delivered via my friendly local postman. I popped the new pair of glasses on, and was immediately, extremely pleased. The new pair felt and looked almost identical to the old pair, minus the scratches, of course. They looked so similar, in fact, my wife didn’t even notice I was wearing the new pair. After she tried her pair on, we agreed that it felt a bit silly that our perfectly fine $50 pairs had set us back over half a grand the year before.

What do you need to know to snag the same great deals? The following list will help you get the best deal and fit:

  • Use Google to search for references to any company you want to shop with. I found enough positive references to Zenni Optical that I felt comfortable using them. Other well known discount eyeglass places include 39 Dollar Glasses and Goggles4U
  • You need to know your prescription. It’s a violation of federal law in the U.S. for your optometrist to withhold your prescription from you, so don’t feel pressured to buy a pair of expensive retail price glasses after you go to get an eye exam. While most sites won’t require you to scan or fax your prescription—Zenni Optical didn’t—you still need to know the right numbers. Make sure to ask if you can’t read the optometrist’s handwriting.
  • Ordering is even easier if you know your pupillary distance—the measurement between your two pupils. While the PD of most adults falls in a pretty close range and using an average will work in a pinch, knowing the exact distance for your face ensures the center of the lens is placed directly over your pupil. The more powerful your prescription, the more important the lens be properly centered. You can ask to be measured for your PD when you get your eyes examined, or have a friend photograph you with a ruler for scale and check the distance that way. Be prepared to get a lecture about the dangers of buying eyeglasses online if you ask for your PD at the optometrist.
  • Keep your eye out for deals on websites devoted to mail-order-glasses like the blog Glassy Eyes. Not only are the reviews informative, but there are entire forums devotes to discussing eyeglasses and related information. A stop there can easily score you a coupon for 15% off, with some great tips to boot.
  • If you already have a pair of glasses you like, carefully measure the size of the lens for reference. It may not seem like much difference, but if your current lenses are 65mm wide and you like the way they look, 55mm wide ones might feel awkward.

So what are the downsides to ordering online? You don’t get the tweaking you get when ordering from a local shop. If you need the frames adjusted or the nose pads swapped out, you’re largely out of luck, unless you want to ship them around or pay to have a local shop work on them. Also, short of taking them into a local place, you’re taking it on good faith—with your eyes to verify—that the prescription is accurate and filled correctly. With savings in the range of 200%-1000%, though, it’s pretty easy to write off these issues. After all, had I spent the amount my wife and I sunk into the expensive retail pairs we bought last year at Zenni Optical, I could have easily bought a pair to keep at the office, at home, in the night stand, and added a pair of prescription sunglasses for both of us—and still had enough to splurge on a complete Rock Band set.

If you’ve bought glasses online, tell us your experience, whether awesome or horrible, in the comments below. Provide your story and help other readers decide if online lens shopping is the way to go.

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