Buying Prescription Eyeglasses Online – Why You Should Consider It

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buying prescription eyeglasses online

Buying prescription eyeglasses online? Why not?

In 1999, I had Lasik surgery to correct my severe nearsightedness and astigmatism. At that time I was 32 years old, and I had been wearing prescription eyeglasses or contacts since I was 12. I have the ugly yearbook photos to prove it — just ask anyone who went to school with me in Eldorado. 😉

Because of my vision problems, it became a yearly ritual to go to an ophthalmologist or optometrist, have my eyes checked, get a prescription, and get a new pair of glasses; at best there may have been one or two years where I kept my old frames and only replaced the lenses. There wasn’t a single year that went by where my eyes didn’t get worse, although wearing contacts seemed to slow down my eyes’ decline.

Over the years, as my prescription got worse and my lenses grew thicker, a significant amount of money was invested in purchasing the thinnest and lightest lenses available. I also regularly upgraded with options such as anti-glare, UV protection, tinted or Transitions lenses, and for a brief awful while – progressive bifocals. A new pair of eyeglasses could easily cost $400 or more each year.

For the ten years since having Lasik surgery I have enjoyed nearly perfect vision, but as warned when I had the procedure – I’ve noticed some of the signs of nearsightedness sneaking in again: I have to move books a little closer, and things far away aren’t as clear as they once were. By no means is my eyesight anywhere near as bad as it was before Lasik, it’s just not as sharp as it was right after the surgery.

A few weeks ago I went to an optometrist to get my eyes checked. The results were as expected: I needed glasses. I picked out a moderately priced pair – $132 for the frames, and I chose polycarbonate lenses for $195. When I made a face about paying extra to have the lenses grooved for semi-rimless, the tech took pity on me and waived the additional $15 fee. I passed on the additional $40 for anti-glare because the lenses weren’t large, and I figured that it wouldn’t make that big of a difference. I walked out of the eyeglasses store thinking that I had been thrifty, because I had “only” spent $327 on a pair of glasses that would be ready in an hour.

And when I got home with my new glasses, the same ones I had proudly shown my mother and daughter at dinner that evening, I thought about how I buy everything else online … why hadn’t I even bothered to look?

And that’s when I found out that I could have bought the exact same pair of eyeglasses I had just purchased for $150 online. As an alternative, I could have purchased a stylish pair of generic eyeglasses with UV protection and antiglare lenses for under $50 complete.

Let’s just say that I wasn’t feeling quite so thrifty after that discovery.

Welcome to the world of online optical and buying prescription glasses online …

Doing research, I would soon find that just about every single brand name sold at every single eyeglass center is available online – and always at a significant savings when factoring in the frames and lens costs at brick & mortar eyeglass centers. I also learned that if you don’t care about designer names, prescription eyeglasses and frames can be purchased online for under $10 including lenses.

No, that was not a typo.

All that’s needed to order online is a current prescription from a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist along with your Pupil Distance (PD) measurement.

You don’t happen to have a copy of your prescription? No problem – you can ask your eye doctor to fax or mail it to you.

Are you too chicken to call, because you went to an optometrist who gave you a discounted eye exam without handing you a prescription afterward, knowing that you would have to buy glasses from him or her? No problem – by law they have to give you a copy of your prescription.

But if you are honestly too intimidated to call your doctor and ask for your prescription, some of the companies will even do it for you.

So what’s in store for you if you when buying prescription glasses online?

Let me show you four pairs of glasses. Can you tell which ones were purchased at an eyeglass center for $300+? Can you tell which ones were purchased online for under $50?

buying prescription eyeglasses online

Don’t feel bad if you can’t tell; Kevin and I certainly can’t when we are wearing them. Well, I take that back: the antiglare coating (on the pairs purchased online) makes a noticeable difference.

These two are the premium brand eyeglasses, weighing in at a combined total of well over $600.

buying prescription eyeglasses online

ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4

And these are the glasses that we ordered for $96 (for both pair! delivered!) last week from

buying prescription eyeglasses online

If you aren’t convinced that no-name glasses could possibly be just as good as the generic, let’s talk about the glasses I bought at the eyeglass center, the ones I overpaid for by 55%.

These are the Wildflower Wisteria semi-rimless glasses in “brown shadow”; mine are “black cherry”, which is also available.

buying prescription eyeglasses online

As I noted above, they cost $327 complete at the eyeglass center. I found the same exact frames on for $83.22; remember that I paid $132 for the frames alone! Basic plastic lenses start at $32 (including UV protection). I have a low enough prescription that I think I could get away with the basic plastic lens, but for the sake of direct comparison, I’ll go with the “Tough Rx” lenses (polycarbonate) for an additional $20. So let’s see: $83.22 for the frames, $52 for the lenses, and figuring $8 for shipping – the total comes to $150…for the same exact freaking pair I bought at $327!

Grrr. Just Grrr.

If you are worried about ordering glasses without trying them on first, there are a couple of things you can do. First, you can easily compare the numbers written on the arms of a pair of glasses you already own and like, to make sure that the glasses you order will have a similar fit. At the very least, all eyeglasses have numbers written inside them (usually on the arm or nose bridge) which represent the eye and bridge measurements. For instance, the Wildflower glasses I purchased have 52 and 17. The numbers are millimeters, and the first number is how wide a single lens is across, while the second is the distance across the bridge of the glasses’ nose. So I know that if I am happy with a particular set of numbers on one pair of glasses, I would probably be safe buying prescription glasses online as long as they are similarly sized. Another consideration would be the Temple measurement, which seems to run around 135 – 140mm on unisex frames. I think you should be safe ordering within those sizes, unless you have a very large or very petite face.

All sites have tips to help you order frames that will fit your face and its shape; some of the sites have virtual “dressing rooms” where you can upload a picture and “try on” frames until you find a pair that you love. Some of the sites have example pictures of men and women with differently shaped faces wearing the frames you are considering. At least one of the sites encourages customers to send in their pictures to be featured as an example on the particular eyeglass’ sale page.

Here are a list of just a few of the many online retailers I found for eyeglasses. Some carry designer frames and some generic. All glasses ordered online include a case and cleaning cloth, and all of the retailers offer a multitude of frame styles and lens options. All of these sites expect you to have a current prescription from which you’ll place your order; some will expect a scanned or faxed copy, and some may call your doctor to verify. All will walk you through the process of placing your order, explaining how to decipher the Rx and fill out the order form. All have toll-free numbers or online customer service reps to help you place your order.

I’ll just list the basics for each site that I’ve explored so far …EyeBuyDirect – Mostly generic, with prices as low as $7.95 – including single vision plastic lenses. They are currently running a buy one get one free sale, which runs through July 26th. According to their site, they use “lightweight CR39 and Polyxcarbonate plastic lenses. Our standard lens is 1.499 index. We also offer ‘thin-light’ and ‘super thin’ lens upgrades, which are 1.56 and 1.67 high-index lenses respectively. We especially recommend these upgrade if your sphere is +/-2.50 and above.  [They] do not offer glass lenses or Ultra-Thin 1.71 high index. Furthermore, all our frames come with top quality, anti-scratch, single-vision lens. You may select from a variety of coatings such as UV-coating and Tint, each coatings for an additional charge of $4.95 and Anti-Reflective coating for $6.95. You may also choose bifocal lenses or progressive lenses for an additional cost of $19 and $39, respectively.”

Glasses USA – Mostly generic, with prices starting around $20 – including basic lenses composed of “recommended plastic lenses for low-to-moderate prescriptions shown on a prescription as +/- 0.25 to 2.00.” – Mostly generic with some name brands. Prices start at $39 – including “light & thin Rx lenses, UV & Scratch coatings, and polished edges.”

Zenni Optical – Mostly generic with prices starting at $8.00 – including “standard single vision, lined bi-focal and progressive multi-focal lens [that] are produced with premium quality, high-index (1.57), polycarbonate composite, high-impact resistant lens with full UV protection and a strong anti-scratch coating. The US standard is CR-39 plastic, which is a 1.49 index lens. – This is the place where I found my Wildflower eyeglasses for so much less. They carry many designer names, and although the lenses aren’t free, they start at “cheap” and work their way up. Their basic plastic lens is $39, and for $20 more you can get polycarbonate. – This online store is all about designer and popular brand frames. Their lenses start at $45.80 for plastic (polycarbonate is $78.75), and you can add a plethora of other options to create either a very nicely priced or completely loaded pair of prescription glasses for a still fair price. Worth noting is that UV protection is an extra $15 (if the chosen lenses don’t already include it).

The only online company I have personally ordered from so far is EyeBuyDirect, and I am very pleased with my purchase. Not only do the frames fit well, there is no noticeable difference – other than the antiglare treatment – in what I see when wearing the eyeglass center or online purchased pairs. It’s wonderful, but it is also disappointing; I feel scammed.

And just in case you think that I might have forgone some kind of special fitting that was available at the eyeglass center and that I didn’t receive by shopping online? Not so. At the eyeglass center, I was handed my glasses and I put them on. Nothing further was done. The glasses I ordered online fit just as well, but I have no doubt that if I ever need them adjusted I could take them into any eyeglass center and for a nominal fee (if any) I could have them adjusted.

I plan on eventually placing an order for a pair of Persols on The same glasses configuration would cost over $500 at an eyeglass center; online I can get them for a substantial savings.

I can’t help but feel a little bit angry and taken advantage of, because I did overpay so badly. But hey, if my experience helps one of you, then I’ll consider it money well spent. 🙂

buying prescription eyeglasses online

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Editor in Chief of Gear Diary, Secular Humanist, techie, foodie, hoarder of Kindle eBooks, lover of live music, and collector of passport stamps.