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How to buy glasses online

woman buying glasses online

If you are thinking about buying prescription glasses online, you may be asking yourself: “How do I know the provider will get my prescription correct?” or “How can I make sure the glasses will fit? Will they be high quality?” Luckily, most online eyewear retailers understand your concerns and have developed some tools to guide you through the process — including frame selection and virtual try-on.

We can buy almost everything online these days — and many of us do! When it comes to prescription glasses, however, you may hesitate. After all, this is an important purchase, and choosing the wrong pair for you could negatively impact your vision and eye health. But knowing what to look for when buying glasses online is the key to a stress-free and straightforward shopping experience.

Have your prescription ready

It is essential to see your eye care professional regularly. It’s recommended that adults have a comprehensive eye exam at least every two years. Some groups — including seniors, people who wear contact lenses and those with a personal or family history of eye disease — should have their eyes checked every year. 

Your eye doctor will be able to notice signs of eye disease, such as glaucoma. They may also detect the symptoms of other health conditions, including diabetes or high blood pressure. Having a current prescription will help keep your eyes healthy and ensure your glasses help you see as clearly as possible.

An eye doctor or an optician can also measure your pupillary distance (PD), the distance between the center of each pupil. This is used to determine the spots where you look through your glasses’ lenses. With an improper PD, your eyes won’t focus together. 

If you don’t know it, you can measure your own PD at home with a millimeter ruler and a mirror. 

Do your research

Before shopping, make a list of the features that are important to you. Learning about frame types and lens materials (and coatings) can help you to choose from all the available eyewear options out there and ensure that you end up with the pair that is right for you.

Some eyewear retailers provide blogs on their websites covering a range of topics — frame color, how to read your prescription, how to measure your PD, etc. — that may also be helpful to you.

Frame options

During a quick internet search, you’ll find everything from streamlined and functional glasses to the latest high-fashion eyewear from top designers. In fact, online retailers often have far more frame styles to choose from than your local optical store, which can make it hard to decide which to purchase. 

Despite the vast selection of frame types available online, though, you can narrow down your search by focusing on the following factors:

  • Materials — Metal frames, or ones made from aluminum alloy (a mixture of metals), are generally considered the most durable, while plastic frames are usually less expensive and available in more colors and styles. For something really different, you can even opt for wooden frames.

  • Color — There’s a seemingly endless variety of frame colors available online — from muted hues to bold, vibrant ones — so you’re sure to find something to suit your taste. Want to play it safer with plain black or classic tortoise-shell? Online shops have got you covered there, too.

  • Shape/style — Do you like rimless glasses, or prefer ones with cat eye, square or round frame shapes? While you may love a particular frame style, it’s crucial to first determine whether it will suit your face. For example, frames that are wider at the bottom or entirely rimless suit a heart-shaped face. 

Not sure of your face shape? Use our guide on choosing the best glasses for your face shape and skin tone to help you figure it out.

Lens materials and types

While you may think that having your prescription is all you’ll need for choosing your lenses online, there are other essential features to consider. 

The lens material and even the best type of lens for your particular prescription also play a role in making sure your glasses are right for you. Lens materials and types include:

  • Polycarbonate and Trivex lenses, which are thinner and lighter than most other plastic lenses, making them ideal for children’s glasses.

  • Photochromic lenses, such as Transitions lenses, which are lenses that automatically darken when exposed to sunlight. 

  • High-index lenses, which are an ideal, lightweight option — especially if you have a strong prescription but want to avoid thick, heavy glasses.

Also available are glass lenses, the original lens material, though this option has fallen out of favor due to a heavier weight and breakability.

After you’ve chosen your preferred lens type, consider add-ons — for example, anti-reflective and scratch-resistant coatings — that can be added to your lenses according to your specific needs. 

Lens coatings

Lens coatings can improve the look, durability and comfort of your glasses. When you’re looking for new eyewear, take note of the following lens treatments: 

  • Anti-reflective coating, which reduces distracting glare from the front and back sides of your lenses. This is particularly good for night driving and computer use. 

  • Anti-fog coating, that can help prevent your glasses from fogging up when you come inside from the cold. 

  • Anti-scratch coating, which, as the name suggests, adds an extra layer of protection to your lenses, making them less likely to get scratched. (Just keep in mind that no lenses are entirely scratch-proof.)

Another option is an invisible dye that blocks ultraviolet (UV) light to protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays.

Choosing where to buy glasses online

Take some time to figure out where you want to buy your glasses online. Consider factors such as price range, customer service options and frame selection. Ask friends for their recommendations on the best place to buy glasses online. Read reviews on Google, Yelp, or directly on retailers' websites. 

Choosing glasses is an important decision, so take the time to browse different retailers and do a little comparison shopping. You want to feel confident about the provider you choose for such an important purchase.

One benefit of buying glasses online is that it’s easy to compare different websites and retailers. When checking out a retailer, look at its:  

  • Return policy — Policies vary between retailers, with many accepting returns between 14 and 30 days of the delivery date for your glasses. LensCrafters, for instance, will replace your glasses or give you a full refund within 30 days of the date that your order arrives at your home. Choose a retailer that offers a return policy with which you feel comfortable. 

  • Customer service — Compare retailers' customer service options. Is it easy to find contact information? Are their customer service hours convenient? For example, EyeBuyDirect’s customer service team is staffed by opticians who check every order for accuracy and ensure the frames you chose suit your lenses and prescription. They will also answer a range of questions, from choosing the correct frame size to correctly entering your prescription. Opticians are available to speak with you from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. 

  • Warranty — Look at the warranty that each retailer offers. It’s common to see a one-year replacement or repair warranty for defects to the frame or lenses. Make sure you understand the requirements and limitations of the warranty. 

  • Shipping time — You’ll also want to compare shipping methods, shipping costs and the estimated time it will take to receive your glasses. Many retailers offer free shipping for any purchase, while others offer free shipping only on purchases over a certain price point. Standard shipping times vary, though most are generally between about 7-21 days. 

See which retailers accept vision insurance

Some eyewear retailers let you buy glasses online using insurance. Others require that you pay out of pocket — but they’ll usually provide the proper documentation needed to request reimbursement from your insurance. 

You will need to research which vision plans each retailer accepts. You can also check with your vision insurance provider for a list of online retailers that do take your plan.

If a retailer doesn’t accept your vision insurance plan, you may want to use your flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA). Your FSA funds should cover any type of prescription lens, as well as some features, such as scratch-resistant coatings. Meanwhile, HSA funds will cover prescription lenses, bifocals and progressive lenses, as well as safety lenses or sports protection lenses. You can also use these funds for eyeglass frames.

Try on glasses before you buy online

Knowing how to try on glasses before you buy online may be the most daunting part of your shopping experience. The good news? Most online eyewear retailers have worked hard to provide a virtual try-on experience, allowing you to get a feel for how your glasses will really look. 

Each seller uses a different system, but most ask you to upload a photo or video of yourself. You can then add other glasses to your uploaded face to see which ones look best.

Once you’re ready to “try on” glasses virtually, take a close-up photo or video of your face. Be sure your face is level, avoid tilting your head to the side, and don’t use a picture in which you’re already wearing glasses. 

Some companies offer a try-at-home service, where you can have a few frames sent to your home. After a trial period, you make your decision and return the samples.

Go shopping!

After you choose your favorite frames, you’ll be able to enter your prescription and PD. Then you can select features such as lens coatings. 

Before you finish checking out, be sure you look for any coupon codes or sales that the retailer offers. (If you have found a great deal and had an excellent shopping experience, you may even want to order a back-up pair of glasses. Why not?)

Next, you can review your order and make sure that your selections are correct and your prescription is accurate. Once you check out, all you have to do is wait for your perfect pair of glasses to arrive at your door.

If you can’t find what you need online

Sometimes, you may feel that you need an optician’s guidance to tell you which frames are best for your face and to perform a final fit check when your glasses are ready. If this sounds familiar, you may prefer to buy glasses at your eye doctor’s office or in a brick-and-mortar retail store.

People who have a strong or complex prescription, in particular, may benefit from the hands-on approach. For example, if you’re purchasing multifocal or progressive lenses, you need precise frame, lens, and pupillary distance (PD) measurements to ensure the lenses’ different optical areas are appropriately positioned for clear vision at all distances.

READ MORE: Buying glasses online: What to know

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