Adventures in Online Eyeglass Purchases

How to Buy Eyeglasses Online | Corporette

2016 Update: links have been updated below; please also check out our latest discussion of the best online glasses stores for women!

Readers, have you bought eyeglasses online recently?  A number of new stores and services have come out, and since I personally needed some new eyeglasses, I thought I’d write a post summarizing my experiences.

After some cornea troubles a few years ago, I wear eyeglasses about 85% of the time — and I recently decided that I really, really needed some new eyeglasses.  See, I used to have a LOT: three metal eyeglasses (two that were super old, one through the LensCrafters thing in 2011), two plastic framed “stylish” glasses, and two prescription sunglasses.  Of the eyeglasses, my son basically destroyed three pairs (ah, toddlers — in his defense they were old anyway), one pair was only comfortable for wear in short spurts (my “going out glasses,” for when I was too lazy to put in my contacts), and the final pair — which have became my “everyday” glasses — somehow yank out a few strands of my hair every time I wear them.  Ow. (As for the sunglasses, I didn’t need any new ones, I just WANTED them. So sue me.)

Now over the years I’ve read a lot about the huge markups on eyewear, and how one company basically makes all eyeglasses (so a “branded pair” is generally the same quality as a non-branded pair).  We had last experimented with online eyeglass-shopping with my husband a few years ago, buying a $26 pair of metal eyeglasses for him to wear around the house — but we both joked about the experience as resulting in “Grandpa glasses.”  Considering that it had been a few years, I thought I’d poke around and see if I could find some chic, affordable eyeglasses online.  I was looking for maybe one new pair of plastic/stylish eyeglasses, one or two new pairs of metal eyeglasses to wear around the house, and thought I might also be open to buying a new pair of prescription sunglasses.  I often feel like eyeglasses darken my face/eye area, so I was looking for a colorful frame if possible (and I was open to “edging up” my look, as well as getting geek-chic glasses, but ultimately didn’t want something too outside my comfort zone).

Before you start: 

  • Measure some previous eyeglasses to get an idea of height, width, length of arm, etc.
  • Get your prescription.  Getting a new eye exam is probably the recommended route here — just an exam is not that expensive,and a lot of times it’s included in a Groupon or Living Social deal.  I used an old prescription for me (from 2011); my husband got a new prescription (through a Living Social deal we had with Macy’s.  Because they were included in the deal we also wound up getting the absolute cheapest frames Macy’s had to offer in the store — at $219.)
  • Get your pupillary distance.  It often isn’t written on your prescription, but the optician also needs to measure that — my husband asked what his was during his eye exam; I called the last place I had an eye exam and they gave it to me over the phone.  There are also a lot of apps and other methods out there now — but if you can just leave it to the professionals.
  • Consider using Pinterest to compare frames if you’re considering frames from different stores.  It’s helpful to see them all in one space.
  • Take a photo of yourself to use for virtual try on — face forward, don’t tilt your head, keep your hair off your face, etc.

Some bullet-pointed thoughts on specific stores:

  • Best Curated Selection for Women: (Both now defunct — see our 2016 roundup instead.) Rivet & Sway (see more below). Mezzmer was a close second, but they don’t offer home try-on. A lot of other places offer selection for women, but these two were my favorites for browsing.
  • Online shops that send you frames for in-home try on, for free:  Warby Parker.  Rivet & Sway.  Glasses.com.  ClassicSpecs.  I LOVE THIS SERVICE.  It’s so much more fun to sit around with a bottle of wine, a mirror, and a camera, and try on glasses with your friends.  My husband and I took three pictures for each frame we tried on:  a) a picture of the label so later we could tell which frame it was, b) a picture of the frames on our face, straight on, and c) a profile picture.  I will say that it’s also great if you have someone in your life (partner, parent, sibling, roommate) who you think needs new glasses but refuses to go to the eyeglass shop — I just picked out a bunch of frames I thought my husband would like and had them sent to us, for free.  Every place offers free returns, and it’s super easy to pack ’em up and send ’em back.
  • Online shops that have great first-time deals:  Coastal.com (get your first pair free, but limited selection), GlassesUSA.com (right now they have a coupon code offering 70% off your first pair).
  • Virtual Try-On Mass Page View:  Almost every online glass shop lets you upload a picture to “try on” glasses virtually, but at a few of them (Coastal, GlassesUSA.com) you can choose to view a page full of eyeglasses (24 frames and more) with the “try on view.”  It’s kind of amazing how quickly things jump out at you that wouldn’t otherwise.  (See the picture at the top of this post if I’m doing a poor job describing this.)
  • First purchases (none of which have arrived yet):
    • Eyebuydirect.  No in-home tryon, but for general around-the-house metal glasses I was happy to pay $80 for two pairs. (The pair my husband got at Macy’s was even plainer than these two — his are just black metal ones.)
    • We next got a pair of fun lenses for my husband through Warby Parker ($95 total).
    • We also bought a pair of sunglasses for my husband ($33 through 39dollarglasses.com) and a new pair of prescription sunglasses for me (through GlassesUsa.com — $84 after getting a “70% off your first pair” coupon code).
    • I may still get another pair through Coastal, Rivet & Sway, or Glasses.com, but this seems like a good stopping point since we now both have three new pairs of eyeglasses. :)
  • A few other general tips: 
    • Almost every shop I looked at had really friendly return policies.  Some were limited in time (30 days seemed usual); some make you pay for return shipping, but most of them offer a full refund if you didn’t like the glasses (with the option of exchanging the glasses for something else). Of course, check out the return policy before you pull the trigger (and again after the glasses arrive).
    • Watch the calendar if you’re doing the home try on options!  For most of the places you have less than a week to return the eyeglasses, so try to be quick about it.

Some deeper thoughts:

-------Sponsored Links--------

Warby Parker – I feel like Warby Parker is the new standard in fancy glasses on the Internet. It’s a curated, hip collection, they’ll send you up to SIX pairs to try on at home (for free), and when you do decide to buy, a complete pair of eyeglasses is $95 (prescription sunglasses are $150-$195). Unfortunately, I didn’t really think any of the eyeglasses they had would work for me — so I ordered six pairs for my husband. We wound up loving the Theo, and ordered it.  I just placed another order for in-home tryon for the sunglasses selection.

Rivet & Sway (NOW DEFUNCT) – Rivet & Sway is just for women, and — huzzah — they’ll even suggest frames by face shape. Like Warby Parker, they have a very curated collection, as well as free home try-on (three pairs at a time), and all of their glasses are one price: $199. The price includes “ultra thin Rx lenses (1.60/1.67), scratch and glare-free coating, free FedEx 2 day shipping, and a 60 day free return policy.” My favorites were the Derring-Do (in purple), the Core Strength (in “confetti”), Street Smart (in Cherry Bomb), and Character Study (in purple).  Use code CORPORETTESWAYS (thru 12/31/13) to get $25 off your first order.

Glasses.com – After having fun with the home-try ons at WP and R&S I ran a Google search to see if any other companies with home try-on (and cheap eyeglasses) existed, and Glasses.com came up.  Although many of their eyeglasses are branded (meaning it’s pretty easy to spend $300 and up once you choose your lenses, coatings, and so forth), they DO have a “$90 complete pair” collection.  I picked out four pairs to try on at home, and actually really loved the Arabella GLW10 in red/pink.

Classic Specs – For $89 complete pair plus home try on, I thought I’d give these a shot.  These all have a thick frame/vintage vibe, though — I wound up ordering five pairs for my husband to try on and one for me.  We didn’t love any of them, but it was still a great in-home try-on experience.

Readers, have you bought eyeglasses online?  Which are your favorite shops and brands?

(L-#)

 

Comments

  1. Brooklyn Paralegal :

    Early TJ: I quit smoking! Or I’m trying to. Right now I would usually be outside for my regular afternoon break, so if anyone has tips, tricks, words of advice or general wisdom, I would so appreciate it!

    • Anonymous :

      Continue to take breaks from your work life. Instead of going for a smoke, go for a walk if you can. Have a fizzy drink (with a straw) or a snack to keep your hand and mouth occupied while you’re outside. Keep gum at your desk and maybe silly putty, to keep your mouth/hands occupied if you start to get antsy. Drink extra water and go to the ladies room more often (helps break up your day).

      Congrats and good luck!!! Stick with it!!

    • Congratulations! For general wisdom, just recognize that it will be hard and don’t be afraid to use help (gum, patch, etc.) if needed.
      For other advice, if you get a craving, know that it will pass and if it’s really bad, take the money you would have spent on a pack and put it in an envelope. Do that each time. Then treat yourself to something fun. With NYC prices, you’ll be able to get something cute from your savings very quickly!

  2. Does anyone know why these online glasses shops can’t make lenses for super strong prescriptions?

    I love some of the frames, but I can’t get lenses for them unless I buy the frame, then take them to somewhere like Lenscrafters. It’s generally more expensive.

    • Chitown Lawyer :

      I had the same issue with both Warby Parker and Glasses.com. I ended up ordering frames from Warby Parker and then I took them to Costco for the lenses. All in all, still much less expensive than going to an eyewear boutique.

    • I was able to order single vision lenses in my super strong prescription from Zenni Optical, but they wouldn’t do progressive that high. I used Zenni for my computer glasses.

    • Anonymous :

      I get mine done at Costco. The cost is pretty minimal. $10 to bring in frames, and about $100 for my perscription.

    • Snarkster :

      Another vote for Costco for lenses here!

    • how strong is your prescription? i generally have to special order lenses because mine is so strong, but warby parker was able to do mine for an additional $30. my husband’s is even worse than mine, and they were able to do his as well.

      as an aside, i highly recommend warby parker. i’ve had several great experiences with them, and their customer service absolutely cannot be topped.

  3. Equity's Darling :

    I’ve used clearly contacts for glasses, and while I was content with the customer service, speed etc., I just found that the quality of the lenses was much lower – they scratched more easily, etc- which is fine for a back-up pair of glasses, but not great as my main ones.

    I actually loved the frames I picked, and I think they’re great for weekend/less classic frames, but my every day pair are from a brick/mortar store, simply because I’ve found the quality of lenses is much higher and I like that I can wander over on a Saturday to have them adjusted or whatever.

    I’ve been debating ordering some sunglasses from Warby Parker, but I’d love some reviewes on lens quality… Too bad Rivet doesn’t ship to Canada , I really like some of their frames.

    • I’ve had my pair of Warby Parkers for about three months, and so far the quality appears just as high as the last pair of glasses I purchased from the doctor’s office (about 5 years ago). Three months isn’t terribly long to abuse lenses, so perhaps someone who’s had theirs for a longer period can expand.

  4. This is such a timely post! I ordered 6 frames from Warby Parker to try and will be receiving them today. I’d also like to suggest Lookmatic. As long as you don’t order the ultra thin lenses, they offer free returns. Most of their selection are the $95 plastic hipster glasses. Since I have a flat nose, I need frames with nose pads which cost more. I found only limited selection at Lookmatic (and Warby Parker). But Lookmatic also has decent coupon codes out there. Will definitely have to look into the other sites you mentioned.

  5. I got a pair of glasses from Warby Parker a few months agon and love them. A lot of their styles are on the trendier side, but I’ve gotten several compliments on mine (the Leah style). Something Kat didn’t mention is that Warby Parker includes all the anti-glare, anti-scratch, etc. coatings in their $95 cost. That was the selling point for me, since I spent $300 the last time I bought a pair. I did go for the ultra thin lenses (I have a very strong prescription), but that only brought my total to $125. I’m a fan.

  6. Chitown Lawyer :

    I bought a pair of glasses from Warby Parker and I absolutely love them. I live in Chicago and was able to go to a store and try on a bunch of frames before selecting (although I would have been happy to do an at home try-on as well). I have very bad eyesight, however, so Warby Parker couldn’t make my lenses for me. I ended up taking the frames to Costco and they handled the lenses. All in all, I spent $85 on frames from Warby Parker (they give you a 10% discount if you are only ordering frames) and the about $120 at Costco for the lenses…which still keeps me far below the $750 that it would have cost me for the frames that I liked at the local eye boutique where my optometrist works.

    • Did not know about the Warby Parker discount. I think I will be needing bifocals, which I am pretty sure they don’t do. Plus I like transitions lenses because I cannot tolerate sunlight. I tried some frames at the Warby Parker B&M store in NYC and liked them (the Reece? Reese? Rhys?) so maybe I will consider ordering the frames – $85 is not bad! – and then go to Costco for the lenses.

    • what is your contacts rx so i can get a feel? mine is -6.5 is that going to be too thick for lenses?

      • Chitown Lawyer :

        My contacts prescription are -11 (yes, my eyes are that bad). I think Warby Parker goes up to about -7 or so but I don’t remember.

      • i recently ordered a pair for my husband – his rx is -7.5 – and they were able to do it, so i think you’ll be fine. i believe we were told they can handle up to -10.0.

  7. I wear glasses most of the time, so discovering Warby Parker was a godsend for me. I bought both a black and brown pair from them. I’d love to get more, but my face shape only looks good with a very limited shape of frames.

    That would be the only downside for me. They have a limited amount of selection for the more traditional frames, and a lot of trendier pieces. I just don’t happen to look good in what’s currently trendy.

  8. Anonymous :

    suggestions for places to look for sports goggles online?

    I have a higher perscription, and I want to get goggles so that I can play soccer, bike, and run without potentially wrecking my nice frames.

    thanks,

    • ZenniOptical appears to do goggles & even swim goggles. I haven’t tried them yet, but the pricing is hard to beat. I have my “rarely wear sunglasses” prescription from them, and have been very happy with it.

      • Mine came from a local optometrist, but I’d like to make a very loud recommendation for prescription goggles. I love swimming and used to find it impossible (I can’t wear contacts), because I’d hit my head against the end of the pool while doing laps, have problems swimming in straight lines, and consistently lose my towel/bag/friends when emerging from the pool because I couldn’t see anything properly. All that is gone! OK, one looks silly at the beach, but it’s worth the inconvenience.

      • I use aquagoggles.com for swim goggles. $25 or so, they are awesome.
        I get contacts for soccer, and just wear rx sunglasses for cycling.

  9. Nolakitty :

    My eye doctor told me that he would never recommend anyone buy eye glasses online, as he spends a lot of time fixing eye problems of patients who buy glasses online that don’t fit them properly. Apparently, when glasses don’t fit properly, they can cause additional eye problems .

    • I had a pair from a cheapy optometrist that gave me vile headaches because as it turned out, the lenses were slightly off-centre. Horrible experience.

      I’m intrigued by people who have multiple pairs of glasses. I come from a family with terrible eyesight where it’s more or less traditional that one goes yearly or slightly less freqently to the opthamologist, gets a new prescription, and then spends a lot of time and money buying a single, perfect pair. The pair from the previous year then becomes the reserve. This may sound odd, but I couldn’t imagine having to choose a different pair each day! I suspect my colleagues would also find it a bit odd.

  10. Somewhat related threadjack:

    I want to use my vision insurance policy for glasses this year. My insurance really only covers the large franchises: LensCrafters, Site for Sore Eyes, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical, and JC Penney Optical.

    Any recommendations about which is best?

    • I’ve been happy with jc penney optical over the last 5 years. I wasn’t unhappy with LensCrafters but eyeglass styles changed and I really didn’t like anything that they had so I switched. and yes I buy 4 or 5 new pairs every year. and so you could stay confused my best girl friend has several fabulous pairs of glasses and she got hers at Sears.

    • Do they cover Costco Optical? I’ve had great luck with them in the last.

      (Except for this year. They didn’t have my style, so I had to go to the local LensCrafters. One of my local LensCrafters has great customer service, one doesn’t.)

    • I have a high prescription and have gone to Sears Optical the past few times, but after the last time I’m swearing off them. The first go-around they screwed up both the prescription (went back to my eye doctor and they wrote a note on my prescription saying what needed to be fixed) and the lense type (those glasses demonstrated exactly why I need 1.67 high-index lenses). They were remade for free, but it was a hassle. Plus, I wasn’t advised against the wide lens width that I picked out, which doesn’t work well with my high prescription.

  11. I’ve tried on glasses from classicspecs and warby parker. I ultimately have bought two pairs in two years from classicspecs because I have a wide head! The classicspecs frames tend to come in wider sizes than warby parker’s selections.

  12. just came by to add in another vote for warby parker, and i’m discovering from some of the previous comments that my prescription must not be as bad as i thought because they can still handle it, albeit with a $30 upcharge for the lightweight lenses. this is still an insanely good deal because as another commenter mentioned, it includes the anti-reflective coating, which is usually like an extra $100 or something ridiculous.

    anyway in terms of longevity – my first pair i had for at least a year, they seemed to hold up fine. i switched to a new pair that i’ve worn every day since sometime in december, they are holding up fine as well. i also get compliments on them all the time, which is great. their customer service is also excellent, i had one pair that they redid for free because they came out a bit weird (the eye doctor ended up rewriting the prescription slightly so they’d work better in the frame). plus there is the added bonus of them donating a pair of glasses for every pair you purchase.

  13. I have a first pair free from Coastal (I think I ended up spending about $23 with lens upgrade and shipping) and I’ve been buying glasses from Zenni for years. Zenni is great for backup pairs since they’re SO cheap- you can seriously get a pair for under $20. I haven’t had vision problems with my online glasses, and I’ve been wearing for going on 5 years now. I also bought contacts from Coastal – they were significantly cheaper than the best deal my optometrist could give me.

  14. Anonymous :

    How much should I expect to pay for an exam? No insurance–I paid for it last year and never made it, so I opted out this year. I don’t have access to Costco.

    • Do you have medical insurance? After some bad experiences with various optometrists, I see an ophthalmologist (eye doctor with an MD) who can bill my health insurance.

      FWIW, I agree that vision insurance isn’t worth it. At least, the vision insurance my firm offers isn’t worth it.

    • I paid $85 for my exam recently.

    • I’ve paid $ 45 in each of the last three years. and my company’s vision insurance cost me more than the eye exam did. and the cost reduction from the insurance company wasn’t as much as the regular sale savings. I use flexible spending – so it’s pre-tax money – and yes I go between Christmas and New Year’s.

  15. Veronique :

    I have an old pair of glasses that I’d like to get refitted with new lenses. Has anyone ever done this? Any suggestions on where to go and how much it might cost? They’re plastic lenses, which I’ve heard are easier to replace the lenses.

    • I had lenses replaced a few years ago by one of the really cheap online places (either zenni or eyebuy direct). Paid a few dollars to send in the old frames and they refitted them – it worked well, allowing me to reuse very expensive frames that I loved.

  16. I just ordered from Rivet & Sway (new computer glasses) – tried on the 3 pairs they suggested, loved one, ordered, and had new glasses within the week. I am extremely happy with them. Had looked at Warby Parker, too, but it just seemed like Rivet & Sway had more fun styles and unique colors. Since I only wear these at my desk, I felt like going funky and got a pair in Cherry Bomb, a really pretty red.

  17. Lyra Silvertongue :

    Any suggestions for eyeglasses to suit big eyes? I have a really hard time finding frames to fit because the tops of the frame always seem to bisect my eyes. Since I have a really bad RX, it’s even more annoying b/c it’s not just an aesthetic issue, it’s a vision impairment/safety issue.

  18. Another fabulous site that allows you to take home the frames to try is www.framesdirect.com
    This is the most comprehensive selection I’ve found.

  19. At this moment, I have 8 pairs of glasses on my desk ( and a few more scattered around my house). 6 of the pairs on my desk are from Zenni Optical. Overall, their quality is good enough. The frames from independent opticians are sturdier. I have had more success with Zenni’s plastic frames than with metal. If the glasses cost me $25 including prescription lenses and Magnetic clip-ons, I’m a lot less picky.

    I have had zero problems with the prescription on glasses from Zenni. Zero. I have had chains give me glasses with a prescription that was off and gave me massive headaches. Get a good prescription and ask for the PD.

    If you are going to buy glasses in person, Costco FTW. My next choice would be an independent eye doctor. I have had really, really bad (and expensive) experiences at chains.

  20. This sort of article always befuddles me. Readers of this website don’t think twice about spending $1,000 on a bag or suit, but don’t want to spend $300… on something that goes on your FACE. Every day. And helps you see. And totally reshapes how people perceive your overall daily “look.”

    Yes, if you go to Lens Crafters, you are getting totally ripped off and it is not worth it. But if you live in any decent-sized city, go to a trendy boutique. There are at least two in your medium to large town, I promise. Your frames (not necessarily your lenses) will last you for YEARS, and will be triple to quadruple the quality of anything you buy online or from a national store. Pro tip: buy from a brand you have never heard of, and it will be miles better than a “Dior” frame (which is not really Dior). It will last longer, fit better, and look better than anything you get online or in a national store.

  21. Mamiejane :

    I love Zenni Optical. I have on some conservative cat eye style glasses that I get loads of compliments on and I also have some cool wayfarer style sunglasses. I have a fairly strong progressive prescription and recently bought new eyeglasses and sunglasses for about $160 for both pairs.

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