The cost of prescription glasses can easily top $500. And for many years, blurry-eyed consumers had no choice but to pay it.
That’s changed with the arrival of online eyewear providers, which offer frames and lenses at substantial discounts to their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
But it’s tricky. Buying glasses online involves a degree of risk. Then again, so did online shoe purchases once upon a time, and that’s now something millions of people do without hesitation.
“Buying glasses online has been, for me, a great experience,” says Maria Zambrana, a Navy vet who moved from L.A. to Michigan a few years ago.
She used to get glasses for free in the military. Now she buys them online from Zenni Optical for about $30 a pair.
“It’s cheaper to go online to order these things yourself,” she says. “But there is a margin of error.”
You get what you pay for. A real-world optical shop will handle everything. But with a little trial-and-error learning, you can reduce the risk of buying online and save yourself a pile of cash.
Not that brick-and-mortar eyewear shops are taking the threat to their business lying down.
“There’s no substitute for a professional person that actually fits you properly,” says Dan Deutsch, who owns seven optical shops throughout greater L.A.
The cheap prices online, he insists, can’t compare with the service that stores like his can provide.
That’s true. But the online shops are quickly getting better at meeting customer needs.
“We are putting out product that is incredibly high quality at an affordable price point,” says Ryan Alovis, CEO of LensDirect, a fast-growing online eyewear provider.
He says that without the overhead of a brick-and-mortar store, sites like his can offer glasses for as little as twenty dollars.
“We manufacture our own frames,” he observes. “The highest-quality eyeglasses. They look amazing.”
Well, they may look as good, but it’s my experience that the materials can be relatively cheap. Unless price is your sole concern, I suggest sticking with more durable name-brand frames.
I wear Ray-Ban Clubmaster frames. They retail for $200. With progressive lenses, the total cost can be more than double that.
But I got mine online for a total $180. Here’s how I did it.
After you find a style you like, go to eBay and search for the brand and model. There are hundreds of independent optical shops on the site looking to move inventory.
With a little haggling – and compromising on the exact look – I got my brand-new Ray-Bans for $60.
I chose LensDirect, which offers 30% discounts at various times throughout the year. That got the cost of my progressive lenses down to $120.
Yes, you can get glasses online for a fraction of that cost, but they may last only a year or two.
Using my approach, you can get top-quality frames and lenses for less than half what a traditional optical shop will charge.
And when your prescription changes, you can just send in your frames and get new lenses.