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My Tips for Buying Eyeglasses Online

Psyche Skinner is a psychologist and knows the benefit of buying reading glasses online rather than going to the optician.


It has been my experience that buying prescription eyeglasses online is a better option than buying them from a brick-and-mortar store or even an optician's office. Below are my tips for getting the best glasses and the best deal—and avoiding some of the problems that can come from shopping for prescription products online.

Top Tips For Buying Prescription Glasses

  • Use an online sales site that has been open for at least two years. Check offsite reviews to ensure they have a good reputation.
  • Select a site that offers free shipping and a full refund for products returned for any reason.
  • Open a free account and enter your prescription and inter-pupillary distance.
  • Take frame measurements from an old pair of glasses that fit you well; use filters to select from suitable frame designs and sort them in ascending price order.
  • Gather all the coupons you can with the goal of at least 50% savings off the list price; apply your coupons in an order that maximizes savings.
  • If the glasses are unsuitable, ask for a shipping label to return them promptly. Opt for a cash refund unless offered extra value store credit (e.g., 110-120%).

These tips are explained more fully below.

Possible Problems With Buying Glasses Online

I am going to open with the problems you can face with buying glasses on the internet. Firstly, this shows I did consider and, in fact, have experienced the downside. But overall, I find the benefits outweigh the downsides, as I will explain below.

1. Glasses Don't Suit You

Because you cannot try the glasses on, there is always a chance you will get them, look in the mirror, and think: oh, noooooo.

You can minimize the chance of this by using the online photo tool that superimposes glasses over an uploaded picture of your face. Honestly, I don't find these things terribly helpful. Most of us have some idea of what frame shapes suit us and just need to avoid choosing something else based on an impulse or a really low price.

2. You Don't Really Know Where the Products Are Being Made

You want to select an online retailer that has been open for at least two years and has a good reputation. These companies are more likely to be stable and motivated to maintain their good reputations by providing you will good service and responding promptly to any complaints you might have.

Do not depend on reviews or recommendations that are on the retailer's site, as these may not be representative of the normal customer's experience. Look at reviews on business rating sites, for example, on Reseller Ratings or Rip Off Report. One or two bad reviews are normal for any business, and unhappy customers use these sites more than satisfied ones. But look at overall ratings between eyeglass selling sites and compare with sites you know and trust, and look for patterns in bad feedback such as slow delivery, refusal of refunds, or products of inferior quality.

In my experience, the brands for frames are not very important compared with being careful to choose materials and designs that meet your needs (e.g., glass or plastic lenses, hinged or sprung earpieces, plastic or metal frames, rimmed or rimless).

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Problems You Can Easily Avoid

1. Shipping Costs

My advice is to always pick a sales site that offers free shipping. Of course, the price of shipping is built into the price, but by having one single price, you can ensure the shipping cost is included in coupon deals and free/fully refunded if you need to send a return.

2. Isn't the Prescription the Largest Part of the Bill?

Actually, probably not. For a simple prescription without other eye health tests or ordering glasses, you should expect to pay around $50. The optician may act as if all of these things must be done together, but if you politely say you simply want a vision test and record of your prescription, they will be happy to oblige. If you are unsure, ask for a quote in advance and check several local providers to see if lower prices are available. Of course, you want to go to an accredited optician or other qualified professional.

It is important to use a prescription that is no more than two years old if you're under sixty and no more than one year old if you're older. Get a written or emailed copy of the complete prescription and ask for your inter-pupillary distance to be measured (typically, they will do this for free with a vision test).

3. What If the Glasses Do Not Fit Well or Are Otherwise Defective?

Oddly enough, the only time I had a really poorly fitting set of glasses, I had bought them in-store (Visionworks, as it happens) after trying them on. Two different salespeople assured me the width of the glasses does matter very much. So I didn't pay much attention to that and bought a pair I liked.

Turns out they were not wide enough, and so they hurt my ears; the only way to correct that issue was to loosen the hinges. And then my glasses fell off every time I looked down. I have two large dogs and dropped those glasses in dog poop more often them I should really mention (which would probably be once if I had a well-developed sense of ladylike decorum).

The bottom line is you should start with an old pair of glasses that fit well. Measure from the outside edge of the left lens to the outside edge of the right lens (excluding the end piece and the outer hinge). You should look for frames no more than 10mm different on this measurement, preferably not more than 5mm different. The online retailer will list, for each frame, this dimension of the width of the lens and the bridge, which you can add together to get this number (lensx2+bridge). Also, measure the full length of the arms/earpieces of the glasses and ensure you select glasses with a similar measurement.

I would not recommend shopping online for your very first pair of glasses or if you have never had a really good fitting pair of glasses, as you may need more specialist help to choose a suitable pair. Some elements, like the weight of the glasses or the design of the nose pads, are harder to judge. So you may still end up with a pair you do not want to keep. This is why you select a site that accepts and fully refunds returns, no questions asked.

The Benefits of Buying Online

The Price

The cheapest offers available at your local brick-and-mortar store are likely to work out at just over $100, and that is probably before tax. The glasses pairs I buy online have a total out-of-pocket expense of $22 to $45. To ensure you get the lowest price, set the filters to exclude unsuitable frames, and change the order so the cheapest appropriate frames come up first. But take into account the frames offered with a standard mark down may turn out to be more expensive then full price frames that you can use promotion coupons on.

Once you have made your selection add the frames and lenses to your basket ready to check out, but do not check out for three to four days. You should get a discount offer for opening a free account, and may get another to encourage you to purchase items in your shopping basket by sending extra coupons.

Collect all potentially relevant coupon and discounts from the site and from couponing sites. Take some time to work out the best overall discount based on which coupons can be used simultaneous and how they are applied. For example, apply percentage-based coupons (e.g., 10% off) before applying flat amount coupons (e.g., $10 off).

Try coupon codes even if they may be inapplicable or expired. Even if they say only one coupon can be used at a time, try a second to see. I have typically found at least three coupons to apply to each purchase with an overall price reduction of over 50%. If you are not in a hurry and few coupon are available, place the pair you want in your shopping cart but wait until new promotions and discounts are listed. If you subscribe to the retailer's email newsletter you may get extra coupons, you can always unsubscribe or mute the newsletter later.

If You Need To Return the Glasses

If the glasses don't seem right, don't delay in starting the returns process. Generally, you can tell right away that a pair does not meet your needs, or perhaps after 3-4 days if it is a matter of nose-pads that rub or an allergic reaction. I would not recommend waiting longer than a week.

The retailer should send you a printable label to return the glasses for free and offer a 100% cash refund. This is often your best choice. You might consider taking a store credit if it is more than a 100% refund. For example, they may offer a 110% store credit (e.g., what would be a $50 refund becomes a $55 store credit.

I have bought six pairs of glasses online over the years and only had to return one, for which I received a 120% credit. My satisfaction with glasses bought online has been higher than for those I bought from opticians or vision chain stores.

A Final Note on My Experiences

I changed to buying my glasses online initially due to a need to reduce costs, but I have continued to buy online because I genuinely find that the glasses I get from e-tailers are better—and much cheaper. I personally have used GlassesUSA and EyeBuyDirect; however, there are many options out there, and I make no particular recommendations other than my general suggestion to use established retailers with good reputations that offer free shipping and unconditional returns with a full refund. Beyond that, look at what the different sites have in stock and their pricing.

Images adapted from photographs by anneheathen

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Sp Greaney from Ireland on February 07, 2018:

I've recently seen lots of adverts for this type of service, but I was always apprehensive of using it due to the issues you have addressed here. Thanks for sharing these tips.

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