Cheap eyeglasses: What are the pros and cons?
If you had sticker shock last time you bought new glasses from your eye doctor, you may wonder if it would be better to buy cheap glasses online next time.
You can keep more money in your pocket by ordering glasses online, but you generally will get more personalized service at an optical store.
Some glasses wearers who have weighed these pluses and minuses take a hybrid approach to get the best of both worlds.
“What I do to get cheap glasses that fit is to go to an actual store and try them on first,” says personal finance blogger Becky Beach.
She snaps a photo of the style number of her chosen frames and later searches for a website that sells the same ones.
“Brick-and-mortar stores charge so much for glasses, and I can purchase them online much cheaper,” she says.
Trying to decide whether you should try to save on glasses or opt for the personal service and often higher prices at your eye doctor’s office?
Here’s a quick look at the benefits and disadvantages of buying cheap glasses:
The benefits of buying cheap eyeglasses
Buying glasses online can save you money, time and trips to the eye doctor or vision center. Here are four reasons to consider buying cheap glasses online:
1. Cheap eyeglasses cost less
A standard pair of glasses may cost more than $400 when you add a few extras such as shatter-resistant lenses with anti-reflective coating, according to VSP, the largest provider of vision insurance in the U.S.
You often can buy cheap glasses online for less than 25% of that price.
For example, stylish aviator glasses with mid-range frames and lenses with anti-scratch, water-repellant and UV protective coating ring up at less than $85.
2. Stack your savings with special deals
You can save even more money by taking advantage of online coupon codes and deals on glasses.
Many online retailers offer seasonal sales that can save you 20% or more on a pair of glasses.
Optical shops and vision centers that sell glasses also have periodic sales. For example, LensCrafters holds half-off sales on frames at certain times of year.
Some eye doctors also offer discounts on eye exams and glasses or contact lens purchases.
Tip: Sign up for your eye doctor’s emails and check your eye doctor’s Facebook page or Twitter feed.
3. Order cheap glasses quickly and conveniently
You can order cheap eyeglasses from your couch in less than 30 minutes at any time of day or night.
That’s much more convenient than trying to squeeze in a visit to an optical shop during business hours.
You also typically need to go to the optical store twice – once to choose frames and place your order and a second time to pick up your glasses.
When you buy glasses via your smartphone or computer, your new designer cat-eyes are delivered to your door.
4. Comparison shop for glasses easily
When you buy eyeglasses online, you can quickly browse several websites to decide what and where to buy.
How to find the best place to buy cheap glasses online?
Check the online retailer’s reputation, customer reviews, selection of frames, prices, lens options and return policies. Oh, and don’t forget to note any price-match guarantee.
When you’re looking for glasses at brick-and-mortar optical shops, comparing prices can take hours, and you could burn through the gas in your tank as you zip from place to place.
RELATED READING: How to buy glasses online
The disadvantages of buying cheap glasses
Buying cheap glasses online may mean that you sacrifice personal service, do more legwork and might not get the perfect fit.
Here are four of the disadvantages of buying cheap glasses:
1. No hands-on help choosing frames
When you order online, you’ll have to try on glasses virtually using a photo of your face or an app. You also may have to measure your own pupillary distance.
How will the frames feel on your face? You’ll have to wait and see when they arrive.
An optician also can help you sort through your options for lenses (bifocals or progressives?) and lens coatings. Do you need photochromic lenses? Do you want blue-light filtering glasses to reduce your digital eye strain?
2. Complex prescription? Cheap glasses may not be an option
An optician can mark the exact spot where you look through lenses so they can be aligned precisely in the frames. This is your pupillary distance, and it’s important to ensure your glasses best correct your vision.
Glasses bought online may be more likely to be made with the center of vision placed in the geometric center of the lens, according to a test by Wirecutter, a consumer review site owned by The New York Times.
This “one-size-fits-all” design may be more likely to bother you if you have a strong prescription. Wirecutter ordered glasses online from six companies and they all had this issue.
Wirecutter recommends getting glasses from your eye doctor if you have a strong prescription or distinctive facial features, such as a low nose bridge, that may make it more challenging to fit you with frames.
3. Paying for cheap glasses with vision insurance may be tougher
Buy glasses online and you may have to pay out of pocket and request reimbursement from your vision insurance company. The claims process may involve jumping through multiple hoops.
For example, a VSP reimbursement claim requires you to: gather copies of itemized receipts, fill out a claim form and mail in or submit your claim online.
Submitting online? You’ll need to snap photos of your receipts. After you file, you’ll have to wait about 10 business days to get your money.
4. What if the glasses you bought online don’t fit right?
Say you followed the online face shape guides to find the glasses that should look best on you and carefully measured your pupillary distance, but the specs in the mail just aren’t what you expected.
Call customer service or talk with a chatbot and explain the problem, then send back your glasses. If it’s not an easy fix, the online retailer may offer you another pair instead.
Remember that you didn’t pay hundreds of dollars for your glasses online like you likely would have through your eye doctor.
Worth noting: Even buying glasses through your eye doctor’s office doesn’t guarantee they will fit right when they are ready for pickup.
Page published in August 2019
Page updated in February 2021