Are Online Glasses a Good Deal?

Super glue and I became best friends over the summer. My prescription sunglasses broke after just two years of use, and I could not accept defeat until, many glue jobs later, the remaining hinge fragment broke off and there was nothing left to glue.

About six week later, my regular glasses broke. Neil soldered them for me, but I also ordered a new pair immediately.

So I’ve been buying a lot of prescription glasses lately. Which reminded me that I’ve been meaning to post on this topic for years now.

Neil and I both wear prescription glasses and sunglasses. Neither of us wear contacts so we use our glasses every single day. We’ve been purchasing eyewear online for years and have tried out many different websites. We’ve also purchased through our opticians’ office with vision insurance, and even bought glasses in another country! Today I’ll compare these options, ways we’ve learned to save, and pitfalls to avoid.

Online or Insurance?

I found the world of online eye glasses when I asked my fashionable sister for advice on choosing my third pair of frames. She sent me a picture of utterly adorable Kate Spade cat-eye half-rims. They were over $200 at the local opticians, but I found a pair for around $85 with lenses online (from a company that no longer exists).

When that pair needed a repair a year later, the manufacturer fixed them for free and they went strong for another couple years.

My next two pairs I purchased from Coastal.com for $15 (Very Bradley) and $65 (Vera Wang).

That brings us up to today, when the hinge on that last pair broke 2.5 years later. I consider that not so bad for something I wear every day. And my husband claims I’m rough on glasses.

Meanwhile, my husband has tried various super-cheap sites like eyebuydirect and goggles4you. They did the job, but last year he finally opted (pun intended) to get Ray-Bans from J.P. Optician ($100). I have to say, he looks a lot cooler compared with the discount options.

Neil has also purchased glasses abroad when his broke while on vacation in Mexico. So he went to an optician and got an exam and glasses for a total of $25 USD. Not bad! (This was like 15 years ago FYI.) While it isn’t worth traveling just to get glasses, it’s not a bad option to look into if you’re planning to travel abroad.

We both purchased prescription polarized sunglasses recently, Neil with vision insurance, and me online without insurance. For similar quality, mine were a little cheaper in the end, especially when considering the cost of the insurance premium.

Tips for Buying Online

When purchasing online, I recommend buying a brand name vs. the online glasses web site brands. I say this because I had a bad experience with my Coastal brand sunglasses. Technically I had them 2 years before they broke, but it’s not like I was wearing them all day every day like normal glasses. They offered nothing in the way of repair, replacement parts, or discounts on another pair. I suppose it’s not in the warranty. But if I spend as much as I did on those prescription, polarized lenses, I’d hope the frames would hold up longer.

What about trying them on first? Free returns seems to be standard in the online glasses biz, but it can be annoying to wait for delivery only to realize you don’t like them. You can always order multiple pairs to try. Or visit a local opticians’ to try some on, then look them up online. I’ve had good luck with this; it can get you in the right ballpark of size, shape, and style even if you don’t order the same exact pair. (Of course, if they’re priced well, it makes sense to support local business.) Referencing previous pairs you’ve owned also helps. I know I need a smaller frame and look good in a subtle cat-eye.

Favorite Online Glasses Sites

So where to buy? I shopped around a lot (imagine that) and GlassesUSA had the best deal going for the sunglasses because they were offering 70% off lens upgrades, and polarized lenses aren’t cheap. The downside of GlassesUSA was that I waited about 3 weeks for the glasses to arrive. This was rough as I didn’t have back up sunglasses and I’d waited till mine were broken beyond repair. And my eyes are very sensitive to the sun. They took longer than they said they would for several of the steps they kept updating me on.

I was a big Coastal fan for years. They have great promos especially for first-time customers, and fast shipping. I had good luck with “designer” brand glasses from there, but not with their brand.

For my new glasses, I just ordered from J.P. Opticians as I wasn’t finding anything I liked from a brand I trusted that didn’t cost a lot at other sites. Their prices for high quality glasses are better than the other sites I saw, and they offer 10% off your first pair. I also like that J.P. Opticians includes a 1 year manufacturer’s warranty; other sites charge $25 for this or simply don’t offer any protection.

What about Zenni? I’ve heard only abysmal things about Zenni. Over and over again. Sure, $5 glasses are tempting but who wants glasses that break almost immediately? It’s just more a hassle than it’s worth to me. FramesDirect and Warby Parker don’t carry super inexpensive options. As you compare prices, note whether basic prescription lenses are included in the frames price.

Unless you have HSA money to burn, you’re probably better off buying your glasses online. Even with vision insurance. As with anything, shop around, look for quality, and search for coupon codes and promos.

What the best online glasses sites you’ve used? What brands (or off-brands) have you found to be durable?

6 Responses to “Are Online Glasses a Good Deal?”

  1. Jonathan says :

    As you may well guess, I am vehemently opposed to trying things out at a brick and mortar establishment with intention to buy online. It takes time away from employees who are payed by the store as well as potentially keeping them from assisting paying customers. In addition, the physical establishments have payed for the displays, the stock and the environment of the building.
    As a commissioned salesman, I make my living by what I sell. I think taking my time to learn about a product from me with the intention of buying elsewhere is a form of theft. I am particularly annoyed when someone informs me that they bought something online and wants me to demonstrate it for them.

    • Kalie says :

      I would be happy to purchase in store if the prices were anywhere near competitive (as we did recently purchase frames from our opticians’ office to support them when we had vision insurance). I see it as shopping around. If I saw something I liked and was slightly more expensive, I’d be happy to buy local, as many people would be. Twice as expensive? You’ll have to find ways to compete.

      I’d feel differently about taking up someone’s time to learn about a product fully knowing I’d purchase elsewhere. (In the case of the glasses, the receptionist didn’t get up to recommend $300+ frames.) But I can certainly see how annoying those scenarios would be for a commissions-based salesperson.

  2. Dave says :

    Improve zenni for glasses

  3. Dave says :

    I love zenni I meant to write

  4. Dave says :

    Eyeglasses have been at ripnoff prices for years. Now with zenni and other online sites my glasses are a fraction what I pay in store. My pair has lasted for years now. Even living in Canada and with the poor USA/cad exchange I still come out way ahead price wise buying from sites like zenni.

    • Kalie says :

      I agree, the in-store prices are often outrageous! You’re the first person I’ve heard a good review of zenni from. Maybe I’ll have to try them.

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