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How to buy prescription glasses online

pair of prescription eyeglasses on top of computer keyboard

So much can be accomplished online today that it shouldn’t be surprising that you can buy prescription eyeglasses online too. 

Even if your prescription is outdated, you can get new glasses in a snap, thanks to handy tools available on many retailer websites that can help you determine the prescription strength you’ll need. Most sellers will also guide you, step-by-step, through the process of selecting frames and lenses, so it’s important to do your research to make sure you get what’s right for you. 

Some companies will even send you your glasses via free shipping — and pay the return shipping if you don’t like your new eyewear! The bottom: There’s never been an easier time to order prescription glasses online.

Buying prescription glasses online 

When it’s time to buy new prescription glasses, there’s a lot to consider — especially if you go the online shopping route. For instance, how will you know which lenses are right for you? What should you look for in frames type or materials?

Another important factor might be budget. Luckily, many websites offer inexpensive prescription eyewear — and a cheaper price may encourage you to purchase multiple pairs. Why not check out prescription sunglasses and kids’ prescription glasses online while you’re at it?

Buying online also has advantages if you plan to invest in designer frames. You can model Ray-Ban, Oakley, Coach, Tory Burch and other top designers from the comfort of your own home before making a final decision on a pricier purchase.  

No matter what you choose in terms of frame styles, lens upgrades and more, ordering prescription glasses online can be fast and fun, if you know what to look for.

Update your prescription — and have it ready

It’s important to see your eye doctor regularly, as they check the overall health of your eyes and assess any vision needs. When it’s time to get eyeglasses, they can provide you with the most accurate prescription and measure your pupillary distance (PD) — a measurement you’ll need to know for purchasing new glasses.

Don’t have a recent prescription? No worries. Many eyewear retailers include a vision test (or tests) on their websites and a process for you to obtain an updated glasses prescription online. 

Similarly, if your eyecare professional didn’t include your PD with your prescription, you can measure it yourself at home using a mirror and a millimeter ruler.

How to interpret your prescription

Perhaps you have a prescription from a recent appointment with your eye doctor. But as you look at it, you wonder what it’s telling you. It may be displayed as a grid or a chart or it may just be scribbled in the doctor’s handwriting. The good news is that quality online prescription glasses retailers can help you make sense of your prescription

Single vision prescriptions These prescriptions include the abbreviations O.D., O.S., SPH, CYL, AXIS and PD. Carefully transfer the numbers written in those categories to the appropriate places online. Notice that SPH and CYL always have a + or - with them. These are very important to include.

Multifocal prescriptions — Prescriptions for bifocals or progressive glasses will have ADD or NV with a plus sign + and possibly D.V. for distance vision/nearsightedness and N.V. for near vision/reading. 

PRISM prescriptions — This type of prescription will include values for PRISM and BASE, which correct for eye misalignment problems, such as double vision (diplopia).

Where to buy prescription glasses online

The next step is to research and compare online eyewear retailers to find the perfect pair of glasses for you. 

There are a lot of options out there, but the “best” place to buy prescription glasses online will depend on a number of factors, including your budget, frame selection and whether or not you need to take an eye exam.

If you know you want designer glasses, you can start at the websites of various designers, including Coach, Ray-Ban, Oakley, Tory Burch and other top brands. 

Avoid these, however, if you’re on a budget, and opt instead for retailers that advertise affordable, cheap or “the cheapest” glasses. These sellers typically have a wide variety of different brands to consider — as well as replica models that mimic the frame styles of high-end versions — which can be a big advantage.

SEE RELATED: Best places to buy eyeglasses

Finding cheap prescription glasses online

“Inexpensive” and “cheap” are descriptions that can have different meanings depending on who is using the word. For instance, a person accustomed to paying $500 or more for a pair of glasses may think buying glasses online for $100 is cheap. Others might think that’s very expensive because they’re looking for the $6.95 or $19.95 glasses that some websites advertise.

Whether a pair of online prescription glasses is affordable depends on how well it fits into your budget — and there is no universal family budget. What matters is what is affordable to you, as well as what you want to pay.

Look for extra discounts 

Often, the first time you go to an online retailer, they’ll offer you an additional discount of 10%, 15% or even 20% if you give them your email address. This applies to prescription eyewear sellers too, so be sure to take advantage of this when you see it pop up. It can usually only be applied to your first order, but it’s on top of their already discounted prices.

In the first pop-up window, enter your email address. When you do so, you may receive a welcome code via email for a percentage off (which you can apply at checkout, if you decide to purchase from the retailer) or you may see an additional pop-up indicating the savings you’ll get on purchases, along as well as any information on shipping discounts.

You can repeat all of this for as many online shops as you’d like. Just keep in mind that getting your email address is an important marketing goal of online retailers, because they can subsequently send you messages on a regular basis announcing coupon sales, sitewide sales, seasonal sales, clearance sales, etc. 

If you don’t want to get these communications, you can always unsubscribe from each company’s mailing list later.

SEE RELATED: Where to buy cheap glasses online

Which discount is the best?

At first glance, it might seem that 65% off a pair of glasses would be the best deal. But it really depends on your situation. If you’re only buying one pair of glasses, this kind of discount sounds great — unless the website you’re shopping on is more expensive than others or if you have to pay shipping.

If you’re buying prescription glasses online for four kids, a BOGO offer can cut your expense in half. Some of the first-time discounts you’ll find are big money savers but not if you’re a returning customer.

Choose your frames

Now that you have chosen the company you want to buy from, it’s time to select your frames. You’ll find there’s a vast array of frame styles out there, as well as a range of materials, including colorful plastics and lightweight metals. 

It may be helpful to first determine the shape of your face to find glasses frames that will look best on you. If you’ve never really thought about your face shape before, get started by looking in a mirror. Pull the hair away from your face, including bangs if you have them, so you can see your face’s overall shape, contours, etc. 

Once you have a sense of your face shape, consider the following guidelines to help you figure out the best frame style for you:

  • Narrow frames can make an oval face appear longer, but otherwise, oval faces can handle just about any style.

  • Square faces have a strong jawline, so look for rounded frames that will soften angles. Rimless and semi-rimless frames will also work well.

  • Angular frames look great on round faces, helping to add definition to features, whereas circular frames can make features look lost on a round face. 

  • Heart-shaped faces are wide at the forehead, narrowest at the chin and have high cheekbones. Thin frames that are either round or oval will flatter the angles of heart-shaped faces.

  • Rimless, oval and rectangular frames balance the features of a diamond-shaped face, which is the most rare of all face shapes.

Using these tips, choose frames you like. Don’t be afraid to go outside the recommendations to include frames that attract your attention, too, because what matters most is how you feel in your glasses. 

There’s no harm in trying on wild or funky frames and bright colors if you want to. If you have a budget in mind, don’t choose frames that are more expensive than what your budget allows.

Try on your frames virtually

Most online eyeglasses retailers offer a “try-on” feature — typically, you can either upload a photo of yourself or use one of their models. (If you’re using their models, choose one that most closely matches your face shape, hair length and skin tone.) 

Since you don’t have the help of an objective staff member with an online purchase, consider asking someone whose opinion you value to watch as you model the different styles. Narrow your choices down to your favorite two and then pick the one that will be the most versatile, no matter what you’re wearing, what you’re doing or where you go.

Adding special lens features

After you’ve decided on frames, enter that prescription you have on standby along with your PD (this may be done later in the checkout process with some websites). 

As for lens types and materials, some things to look for include:

  • Polycarbonate and Trivex – Thinner and lighter than most other plastic lenses. Ideal for children’s glasses.

  • High-index lenses – A lightweight option for people who have a strong prescription but want to avoid thick, heavy glasses.

  • Photochromic – Light-adaptive lenses that automatically darken when exposed to sunlight. 

Glass lenses, the original lens material, are still available as well, though this option is heavier and more likely to break.

From here, you can add lens extras or upgrades, including anti-scratch coating and blue light blocking coating, which can help improve the look and comfort level of your glasses.

Read prescription glasses online reviews

Throughout the process of buying prescription glasses online, keep an eye out for reviews of the products and websites you’re considering. 

Generally, you’ll find positive reviews on the more popular sites because they’ve worked hard to overcome initial service flaws and make the shopping process more user-friendly. But negative reviews are there too, and it’s up to you to decide if these are warranted and mean you should keep away, or if they simply indicate a glitch here or there. The most important thing to check for, perhaps, is how past customers say the website handled any complaints. 

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