Save on Eyeglasses, Try Buying Online
By Mary Johnson, editor
A pair of eyeglasses can cost hundreds of dollars, but Medicare doesn’t cover them, nor does it cover routine eye exams. Problems with lenses or even the fit can make new glasses virtually useless, leaving you out of the money, unless your optical shop offers a good guarantee. Recently I shopped for new glasses, and here is what I learned in my efforts to save. (I did not receive any commissions or advertising from any of the optical shops mentioned in this article. The following is just my unvarnished opinion.)
Consumer Reports’ latest survey on eyeglass stores gives buying club retailer Costco top ratings. I gave them — and the optician connected to their store — a try, with mixed results. While the selection at Costco is more limited compared to other optical shops in our area, the frames and lens prices are too good to pass up. Not counting the store’s membership fee, I paid $199 for a pair of glasses with progressive lenses — one-third of the cost of my last pair six years ago (about $600 from a local independent eyeglass shop). The trouble was, I couldn’t read with my new glasses. Everything was out of focus and I had to manually tilt the glasses to read.
The problem sent me back to my former optician (not the one at Costco), forking out $126 for another eye exam. The prescription from my former optician was different from that of the new optician. While I had to pay for the second eye exam, at least the eyeglasses were under a Costco 60-day guarantee. When there’s a prescription change like this, the store will replace the lenses in new glasses for free, if this occurs within 60 days of purchase. The replacement pair using the corrected prescription work pretty well for me. Other optical shops have similar guarantees, but find out before you buy. If you do have trouble with your new purchase, let the retailer know immediately.
You can also save a lot buying glasses online, especially the frames, which can be 50% less than what you pay at local walk-in optical shops. That’s how I shopped for my second pair of frames. I was leery of adding lenses to the order, especially since I use progressives, but gave to give it a try having found an online optician, DavidKind.com, with an outstanding return guarantee. The pair I got works absolutely perfectly for my needs which require a smooth transition from the computer screen to reference materials with small print. Wherever you do business online, carefully check the warranty and return policies. Frames should be covered against manufacturing defects for at least a year.
Here are five of my favorite online optical shops, based on my own shopping experience. Most of these shops let you buy just frames, or just frames with plain lenses, that your local walk in optical shops will fit with your own prescription lens.
- DavidKind.com is unique among the online eyeglass retailers. It’s your best choice if you are looking for personal assistance, and like the hand - crafted look and details of designer eyewear at a price that is less than most local walk-in optical shops (about $355 for frames with progressive lenses). The company sends you six pairs for free home try on with free shipping both ways. You pick three you like and the optical stylist who works with you picks out three more. David Kind has the best warranty, 10 years on the frames, and one year on the lenses, and can refurbish their older frames putting in new lenses the same as the original prescription for $145.00.
- Warby Parker has both walk-in stores and an online website. They sell their own line of nerdy eyewear. Frames start for $95 including prescription lenses, progressive lenses can add about $200 to that price. Warby Parker lets you try on up to five styles of frames at home for free, including free shipping and return. Website easy to use, and excellent customer service.
- Classic:Specs is a similar website with some walk-in stores. This site allows “virtual try on” with 3D virtual face mapping using your webcam. You upload a photo of yourself (if everything goes right). They also offer free home try on kits with five styles, free shipping and returns. Frames alone start at $89 and a pair of progressives including lenses, frames, coatings, and free shipping starts at $275. Site easy to use and excellent customer service.
- ZenniOptical.com is one of the best for low prices, with frames under $39. The site offers photos of models of various ages for virtual try - on (I found one who looked my age), or you can attempt to upload your own photo. The website has a big selection of frames.
- Eyebuydirect.com is another good choice if you are looking for low prices. The selection is good, including frames under $39. The website has a variety of “how-to-buy glasses” video guides making it a good place to find answers to some of your questions about shopping for glasses online. It also has a more user - friendly virtual try-on system. They don’t offer any free home try-on, though, and the return process for purchases takes longer than other online eyeglass retailers. They ask customers to allow up to 48 hours to receive a return label by email and to contact them by email once you put your return in the mail. Crediting your account can take up to 5 business days.
The process of at home try on sessions is not for the impatient. If you break your glasses or just don’t want the fuss of try on and returns, then you will want to stick with the walk in shops, perhaps Costco. The draw-back, is that it’s wise to take someone you trust along to give you some feedback when you try on frames. This is especially true if your eyesight is as bad as mine — all you see when you try on frames is a blur.
Trying on frames at home allows plenty of time to take selfies in your trial specs. You can then view your different photos with your glasses on to see what you really look like, and think about what you like or don’t like about each trial pair.