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Buying glasses online: What to know

Buying glasses online can be a convenient way to shop for eyewear, for less. But turning to the internet to purchase glasses might seem like an outrageous idea to people accustomed to trusting their vision needs to a local eyeglass retailer. 

The fact is, many people do buy glasses online nowadays, and judging by the reviews, these customers are well satisfied with their purchases, the ease of ordering, the quality of products and the time it took to receive their glasses.

It is important to consider the pros and cons of buying glasses online before deciding if buying online is right for you. 

PROS: 

  • Convenience – You can shop for glasses at a time that suits you, even if it’s 2 a.m.

  • Budget-friendly – Online glasses are typically less expensive than ones you’d buy from a local brick-and-mortar store because online retailers don’t pay rent or sales staff salaries.

CONS:

  • No professional measurements – When you go the online route, you don’t have a trained glasses fitter to take your eye measurements.

  • No personalized advice – You can’t rely on someone familiar with a wide range of eyewear options to advise you on the sizes, styles or colors that are just right for  you.

Another huge benefit of making your purchases online became all-too-clear in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic: Buying glasses online is perfect for social distancing!

Selecting and ordering your glasses from online retailers protects you from contracting germs while being in stores in person — especially considering how close you need to sit when being fitted for frames and having your eye measurements taken.

Ultimately, buying glasses online can help you save time and money — and help keep you safe — if you know what to look for.

Buying cheap glasses online

If the cost of glasses is a concern, you are wise to look into buying them online. You can certainly save money with an online purchase — sometimes 50% or more — as opposed to shopping in person at a local eyewear retailer.

In fact, it’s even possible to buy glasses online for less than $25. Eyebuydirect.com, for example, advertises some glasses for $6, although a scan of their website shows that most pairs begin at $25 and go up from there. 

Be sure you’re comparing the same offerings, too. Low prices offered by some retailers may include both frames and lenses, while others are for frames only.

Keep in mind that buying on price alone is not the best idea. When comparing eyewear prices on different websites, be sure to ask yourself these important questions:

  • Do frame prices include lenses?

  • Are there additional charges for higher strengths of prescriptions?

  • Are the frames the same quality and the same brand names available at other online and in-store retailers?

  • Is shipping included in the price?

  • What is the guarantee or warranty? Can the glasses be returned if I don’t like them for any reason? Will I be refunded the full amount that I paid?

  • How long does it take to receive the glasses I order?

Getting satisfactory answers to these questions can help you decide if purchasing your glasses online is worth it.

Finding discounts

In addition to saving money by buying glasses online, you can often find periodic sales, clearances, buy-one-get-one (BOGO) deals and other types of discounts — sometimes even on designer frames. 

When you see a discount advertised, though, be sure to figure out what you’ll pay for each pair of glasses based on the style you like. Some discounts are only on certain frame styles, and BOGO deals do not always result in the cheapest glasses overall when compared with another discount. 

Shopping for glasses frames online

Online glasses, which some say cost more, are available in a much wider selection of frame styles than you’d typically find at most brick-and-mortar shops — meaning you’re more likely to find frames that look and feel good on you.

Frame choice is one good reason to look at several different online websites before making your final decision on glasses. You may see the same frames — especially designer brands — on several sites, as well as identical looking frames from different manufacturers. 

You may also notice that frame designs have the same general look across many online platforms. For instance, many popular frames today are larger than styles available a few years ago, and can be found in round, square and cat eye shapes

Some websites also have frame styles they call “retro,” for a vintage look, as well as discontinued lines — browsing older lines, you may be able to find a certain style that’s perfect for you, even if that design isn’t currently considered the height of fashion.

When you’re shopping, you may want to consider an eyewear retailer’s reviews and any background information you can uncover about the company. A brand that specializes in eyewear for athletes, for instance, may offer special features that nonathletes can also appreciate, such as rubber tracks to help you get a custom fit and glasses that stay on your head. Keep in mind that extra features and durability cost more, but may be worth the price. 

Once you have a few different pairs picked out, how will you decide which frame styles suit you best if you can’t try them on in person? Luckily, most glasses retailers offer tools to help you “match” different frames to your face.

Trying on glasses virtually

One of the major disadvantages of buying glasses online might be the inability to try on a pair (or several) to see how they look on you. Many online retailers have taken care of that problem by offering a way to virtually “try on” glasses to see if they suit your face and style.

To use this feature, you upload a current photo of yourself, choose a frame and then see how the frame style looks on you. Try different colors of the same frame as different hues may work better with your skin tone. Or try a selection of very different frame styles because, why not? 

Take a risk and try something that’s totally out of the box for you, just for fun, while you’re in the comfort of your home, sitting at your computer. 

You may find you love the look of something unexpected! And if not, you’ll begin to have a better sense of what you want — and don’t want — in a frame style.

Trying glasses at home before you buy

Some online glasses websites will even ship several frame styles of your choosing right to your home. You’ll then have a chance to try different pairs for a week or so to see what works best with your face shape and personality. 

Most of the time the frames are empty; you’re just looking at the style, shape, size and color in person. However, a few retailers will send glasses with your prescription in the lenses, which will give you a sense of how well you’ll see (and feel) in what may end up being your actual glasses. 

The best part? If you don’t like them, you just send all of the frames right back — online retailers include a postage-paid return package that makes it easy and convenient to return the glasses in at the end of the try-on period. 

Buy prescription glasses online

Online eyewear retailers make it very easy to transfer your glasses prescription to them. The way to do that depends on what you are buying:

  • If you want new glasses using your current glasses prescription, use the website’s prescription reader and follow the directions.

  • If you have a new prescription from a recent visit to an eye doctor, follow the site’s directions to upload it.

If you don’t have a recent prescription from an eye doctor, you may be able to take an eye test online via some of these glasses retailers; there are also independent apps that offer at-home eye tests. 

Eye doctors advise against relying on these or any other do-it-yourself eye tests, however, as these tests alone don’t measure the full health of your eyes. 

In a May 2020 press release, the American Optometric Association (AOA) explained that eye doctors do much more for patients than provide a prescription for glasses. They also examine the health of your eyes and perform tests, looking for signs of eye diseases and other problems.

SEE RELATED: Eye exams: 5 reasons why they are important

Buying reading glasses online

At some point, usually around the age of 40, most people start having difficulty reading small print, such as the text in a book or menu — even if they’ve never had an issue with their vision before. This condition is called presbyopia and it’s a normal part of aging.

Luckily, eye strain associated with presbyopia can be alleviated with reading glasses, or “readers,” which magnify close-up words and images and enlarge nearby objects.

Readers can be purchased from some of the same online retailers that sell glasses for myopia (nearsightedness), as well as from specialty retailers that only sell reading glasses. 

Even if you’re buying online, you should first visit your eye doctor to find out the strength of the magnification you’ll need in your lenses. The power levels of magnification in the lenses begin at +1 and increase by .25 (for example, 1 to 1.25 to 1.50 to 1.75 and so on). 

If you know which online seller you’re going with, your doctor may even be able to upload the prescribed power to their website for you. Or, you can use an online tool to determine the strength of the readers you need. From there, you can select one of the following types:

  • Single readers – Single readers provide only the prescribed lens strength (that is, the magnification power) that you’ll need for reading. 

  • Bifocals Bifocal glasses contain two lens powers for a full range of vision. The prescription for correcting your nearsightedness is in the upper portion of the lenses and the required reading strength is in the lower portion. 

  • Progressive lensesProgressive lenses are multifocal lenses minus the unsightly line that would otherwise divide the prescriptions. These change more gradually from one prescription to the other. 

SEE RELATED: Reading glasses: How they help with up-close vision

How to buy kids’ glasses online

Online retailers typically sell glasses to fit men, women and children. However, it’s important that children see an eye doctor for their first prescription, just as you did years ago. 

Kids eyeglasses are not just smaller versions of adult eyeglasses. A pediatric optometrist or pediatric ophthalmologist who has experience working with children can determine their proper prescription, sizing and fit. Eye doctors understand the issues that are unique to children’s eyesight and know what to look for. 

While buying a second pair of glasses online for children might make sense in case one pair is lost or misplaced, kids should still see their eye doctor annually for their updated prescriptions as eyesight can continue to change until they are adults. 

An eye doctor will also check their eyes for other problems they could have that would go untreated if you only tested their eyesight online.

SEE RELATED: Eye exams for children: Why they’re important

Buying glasses online with insurance

Many glasses websites accept vision insurance, but you first need to determine which ones accept your particular insurance. Once you do, online retailers will walk you through the process of using your insurance on their site. 

The other option is to pay for your glasses and get reimbursed from your insurance company. However, this means that if the retailer doesn’t accept your insurance, they will be considered out-of-network and your reimbursement will be lower than if your insurance was in-network.

Using online reviews to purchase the right glasses for you

One of the benefits of buying glasses online is that you can get the opinions of people who used these online retailers, without having to ask all of your friends where they shopped and how it went. 

Look for reviews on each retailer’s website, as well as on review websites like Bizrate Surveys and ResellerRatings. Many reviewers give details that may be helpful to you when you’re ready to purchase, including what they were looking for in glasses, the quality of the product they received and any problems they encountered.

You may also find recent articles by reputable companies that give a roundup of the best places to buy glasses online. For example, an October 2020 Good Housekeeping article rated online glasses retailers that were tops in various categories, such as best overall, best selection, best value, etc.

Ultimately, ordering glasses online can be a convenient and money-saving method of purchasing quality eyeglasses. Just be sure to compare different online retailers and what they offer for the price —  in terms of selection, ease of using the website to order your glasses, product quality and fit, warranty and the company’s return policy — before making a final decision. 

READ MORE: How to buy glasses online and Buying glasses online: A step-by-step guide

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