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All About Vision survey: Where consumers buy eyeglasses

mother and son purchasing eyeglasses from an optical store

Today’s shoppers enjoy a virtual cartload of options for buying goods and services, including prescription eyeglasses. But while e-commerce continues to consume a bigger slice of the retail pie, buyers of prescription eyewear remain committed to old-school brick-and-mortar stores.

A survey commissioned by AllAboutVision.com found that just 10% of Americans who bought prescription eyeglasses in the previous 12 months had made those purchases online. The bulk of buyers — 60% — got their eyewear at optical and retail stores, while 30% purchased eyewear from independent eye care providers.

Some consumers remember their eye care provider as an “eyeglasses store,” so the survey data may be somewhat skewed. However, there’s no question that buyers are sticking with traditional outlets when it comes to prescription eyewear.

Of course, every shopping option offers pluses and minuses for eyewear buyers. We asked Jennifer Barger, editorial director of Consumers’ Checkbook, a nonprofit consumer organization; Craig LaManna, ophthalmic marketing director for the Maui Jim brand of sunglasses; and Kristin McGrath, editor and shopping expert at deal website Offers.com, to weigh the pros and cons of purchasing prescription eyeglasses from an optical or retail store, an independent eye care provider and an online retailer.

Optical or retail store

Buying at an optical or retail store enables you to try on a “zillion” pairs of glasses before picking the pair that you prefer, Barger says.

“You can take a pal to help you choose. And if you have a tricky prescription — an astigmatism in one eye but not the other — you can get advice on lenses or maybe on which pair of glasses best suits your issues,” Barger says.

McGrath says an in-store purchase helps you determine right away whether a set of eyeglass frames provides the look you’re searching for in terms of shape and color. By contrast, an online purchase requires more time, including the wait for frames to arrive and figure out which pair to select, she says.

You might end up paying a hefty price for eyewear from an optical or retail store, though. "You can pay as little as $100 for a pair of glasses or upward of $1,000, and it’s pretty hard to see the difference,” Barger says.

Furthermore, LaManna says, these stores might serve a lot of customers every day, potentially reducing the level of attention that you receive compared with an independent eye care provider.

Independent eye care provider

Buying glasses from an independent eye care provide,r such as an optometrist, furnishes one-stop shopping, McGrath says. You can undergo an eye exam and be fitted for new frames during a single visit, she points out.

“While online sellers have found ways to do quick prescription checks and will happily accept valid prescriptions,” McGrath says, “you’ll still have to wait for your order to be processed and for your glasses to ship.”

Plus, as with purchasing from an optical or retail store, an independent eye care provider can easily ensure your prescription is correct and your frames fit properly, McGrath says.

“You can look up tutorials for adjusting your frames yourself, but an experienced professional can often assess the issue on the spot and make a quick adjustment,” she says. “Many shops offer free adjustments if you realize a week later that your frames don’t fit exactly as you’d like.”

LaManna says an independent eye care provider very well could deliver the best service of any eyewear seller.

On the downside, some independent eye care providers might charge higher prices compared with traditional or online retailers, Barger says. If you decide to buy from an independent eye care provider, ask upfront about the cost, she adds.

“You might spend a little more money on the glasses,” LaManna notes, “but you may also get better-quality brands versus e-commerce sites.”

LaManna cautions, though, that it might take a while to see an independent eye care provider whose schedule is packed.

Online retailer

The biggest advantage of purchasing prescription eyeglasses online is that it’s usually cheaper than buying from a traditional retailer, Barger says. Plus, many online sellers supply virtual tools for trying on frames and some will even ship sample frames to your home.

“Buying online lets you roll the savings into getting a few pairs of glasses at a time. If you use an online promo code, which online eyewear sellers often offer, that’s even better,” McGrath says.

Online sellers also provide a broader selection of frames than traditional retailers do, she adds. On top of that, shopping online lets you filter results based on color, shape, material and brand — something you can’t do at a brick-and-mortar shop.

McGrath says the benefits of online shopping add up if you already have a prescription and don’t need to undergo an exam. If you go this route, you can order glasses, without leaving your home, and have them delivered right to your door.

But if an online retailer doesn’t send sample pairs to try on, it can be hard to gauge the quality and comfort of the frames you’re considering, Barger says. And in many cases, she says, you could wind up relying on a local store or independent eye care provider to tweak your frames or prescription.

“An independent eye care provider can troubleshoot with a patient in their office, whereas the e-commerce consumer may feel like they’re on their own,” LaManna says.

Another caveat: McGrath stresses that online sellers might not accept your vision insurance.

SHOPPING FOR YOUR NEW GLASSES? Find an independent eye care provider or optical store near you or shop online.


Survey methodology

Conducted in February 2019, the survey questioned American adults who had purchased prescription eyeglasses for themselves or others in the previous 12 months.

About 10,000 people, representing a national demographic sample, were screened for the survey. Of those, 30% qualified for the full survey (about 3,000) based on an eyewear purchase in the previous 12 months. 

The survey questioned people who had bought prescription eyeglasses, prescription sunglasses or both for their use or for the use of someone else in their household. The survey did not include people who had purchased contact lenses or reading glasses. 

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