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6 Things to Know When Buying Glasses Online

You can save money on eyewear via the web, especially if your prescription isn't complicated. Just do your research first.
eye exam

If you're shopping for a new pair of eyeglasses, you may get sticker shock when you pick up a pair of frames at your local optician's office. It certainly doesn't help that vision insurance doesn't always cover glasses — and when it does, it may not cover the whole cost. Another option is to take your shopping to the internet, where you'll find a better selection and lower prices.

Here are six things to know when buying glasses online.

Your Prescription Status

You'll need a current prescription to order glasses online. How recent your prescription has to be varies from state to state, but expect prescriptions to be valid for a year or two. Check to see if yours has an expiration date. If it doesn't, contact your eye doctor to ask. If your current prescription has expired, you'll need to schedule an eye exam first.

SEE ALSO: Yes, You CAN Shop Around and Haggle for Medical Procedures

The Right Frame Size

The great thing about shopping for glasses at a local store is you can try them on to see how they fit. Fortunately, some online stores will mail you frames, so you can test them out at home to find the perfect fit, just like you would in the store. But if you've found the perfect frames at an online retailer that doesn't offer this service, there's a solution: Take a pair of glasses that fit and shop for frames in the same size.

These are the three measurements used for frame sizing:

Lens width: Exactly what it sounds like.

Bridge width: The size of the piece that fits over your nose.

Temple arm length: The length of the arms that extend back toward your ears.

Assuming you have a pair of glasses that fit, you'll find these measurements written inside the frame from left to right (lens width, bridge width, and temple arm length). They'll typically be on the inside of one of the temple arms, but may be on the back of the nose bridge. The hardest part of getting these numbers is being able to see the small print when your glasses are off; if you can't make out the measurements, snap a picture with your phone and then work from that.

Your Pupillary Distance

Pupillary distance is the distance, in millimeters, between the centers of the pupils of both eyes. It's a crucial measurement because your lenses need to be centered on your pupils. If they aren't, the glasses will likely cause eyestrain and make it hard for you to focus.

Your pupillary distance may be written on your prescription. If not, you can typically call whomever prescribed your glasses and ask, or simply go to your local optician's office and see if you can get a measurement there. There may be a fee for measuring, but it isn't likely to break the bank. You can also find plenty of online tutorials on doing this yourself, or your favorite online retailer may offer its own method for finding your PD. Warby Parker, for example, lets you submit a photo that its staff will examine to determine your proper PD.

glasses on laptop

Lens and Coating Types

Whether you buy online or offline, someone will probably try to upsell you on lenses and coatings. Anything beyond a basic, single-strength lens will add to the cost, but some upsells can be worth it. Here are the lens types you're most likely to hear about:

Polycarbonate and Trivex lenses
These lightweight plastic lenses offer great durability. They're an ideal choice for kids or for general wear when playing sports or doing other outdoor activities.

High-index plastic lenses
As the name implies, these lenses have a higher index of refraction. In plain English, that means they're the thinnest lenses you can get — and they can stay thin while providing clear vision for people who need stronger prescriptions. The higher the refractive index of these lenses, the thinner they are.

Progressive lenses
Made for people who wear bifocals (glasses that have two strengths for seeing near and far) or trifocals (which have three strengths), progressive lenses don't have lines where one strength lens meets the next. This is definitely a cosmetic improvement, but can also make it easier to see because there isn't a line in the middle of your lens.

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Photochromic lenses
These lenses change color in the sun, making your standard glasses work as sunglasses, too — though they won't necessarily get as dark as sunglasses. The biggest brand in photochromic lenses is Transitions.

For lens coatings, some — if not all — of the coatings we're about to list may be included with your lenses. However, that doesn't mean you won't be offered better (and more expensive) versions of these coatings. Are higher-quality coatings worth it? Maybe... and maybe not. Find out exactly what you're getting so you know if it's worth it to you.

Anti-reflective coating makes your eyes more visible, but can also help you see by reducing glare. The latter can be especially good if you work with computers frequently.

Scratch-resistant coating is just what you think it is. No glasses are fully scratchproof, but having some scratch resistance is good, especially if you're hard on your glasses.

Ultraviolet protection is important, because your eyes can be damaged by exposure to UV light as much as your skin can. Many lenses are capable of blocking 100% of UV light without any additional coating, though.

Anti-fog coating can keep your glasses from fogging up when you come in from the cold.

eye exam instrument

What to Do About Adjustments

Even the perfect pair of glasses could require some adjustment to fit just right, but ordering online doesn't mean you're out of luck. You can make adjustments on your own if you have some idea of what you're doing, and most eyewear retailers — like Zenni Optical — offer instructions on how to get your lenses just right.

If you aren't keen on the DIY option, most opticians will adjust glasses — even if you didn't buy from them — for a small fee. Some online retailers partner with local stores to provide in-person adjustments (or they have their own retail locations), and others may refund you the cost of an adjustment. Check before you buy!

Is the Retailer Trustworthy?

A web search for "buy glasses online" brings up dozens of stores, but which one's right for you? Look at the retailer's Better Business Bureau rating and read any reviews you can find. When you decide to make a purchase, check that you're entering your credit card information on a secure page (look for a little lock icon in your browser).

SEE ALSO: 5 Ways to Deal With Common Warranty Pitfalls

Also check the store's return policy and warranty. Some retailers won't allow you to return prescription lenses, while others offer generous return windows. When ordering online without the opportunity to try your glasses on in person, it's important to have a good return policy to be sure you get a pair of glasses that's right for you. A solid warranty is also a good sign that the company stands behind its products — certainly something you want for a product as important as your glasses.

Readers, have you bought glasses online? Would you do so again? Share your experiences in the comments!

Contributing Writer

Originally working in IT, Elizabeth now writes on tech, gaming, and general consumer issues. Her articles have appeared in USA Today, Time, AOL, PriceGrabber, and more. She has been one of DealNews' most regular contributors since 2013, researching everything from vacuums to renters insurance to help consumers.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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dealnews-jramhold (DealNews)

The short answer is that it depends. When I purchased a pair from Zenni Optical, the price was technically for the frames only. I bought $12 frames, but the basic lens were free. However, I then added a particular coating, so it pushed the price up and then I also had a coupon for 20% off. All together I spent about $30 on that pair of glasses.
When purchasing glasses online, is the listed cost for the frames only, or for frames and lenses? I am wanting to purchase new glasses for my daughter's (back up pairs if they lose theirs or want another pair). I have their prescriptions, but have always got their glasses from their optometrist's office.
I just purchased my 2nd pair from Zenni Optical and they are perfect, and about 20% of what i would have paid at Sams Club. These were titanium frames, progressive bifocals, with Transition lenses, for under $100 delivered. I'll never buy glasses anywhere else again. Similar at Sams Club would have been over $400.

The lenses on my 1st pair held up very well...Better than previous retain purchases.

Oh, and SamsClub refused to measure my pupilary distance, even though I have been going to them for decades.
Rather than lens width, I think the overall width is more important -- otherwise can wind up looking clownish. Temple length can be measured two ways -- following the behind the ear curve or point to point -- so I think it's best to find out what the seller uses, then measure a pair that fits. The easiest way we've found to measure PD is to put scotch tape on the lower part of the lens with glasses you have now, look straight ahead in the mirror, & mark the centers of your pupils on the tape. For bifocals/progressive lenses you need to really pay attention to lens height -- the list of compatible frames on the seller's site will include some that are too short to work well. If you have a friendly optometrist, they'll tell you how good [or bad] the lenses are when you go to have your eyes checked -- it won't help before you buy a pair on-line, but can tell you to avoid a seller in the future. The paper measuring tapes from Ikea work well.
I have bought glasses online for the last 8 years with 100% success. The article gives excellent advice.
I have bought them for as little as $5 and am very pleased.
If you're unclear about your Rx, just copy and send it to them.
PD (Pupillary Distance) is critical and easy to measure. Several sites offer a printable "ruler" to measure that.
If you've paid $100's for glasses, they are worth trying...!
I've purchased glasses online for several years, from the same retailer, with mostly good results. However, my retailer does NOT show the eyeglass measurement marked anywhere on my glasses. That makes it difficult to shop anywhere other than that retailer.
I've ordered several pairs online with success, but did have one bad experience when the tint wasn't correct and they wouldn't correct the error. Best way to order is to attach a copy of your prescription along with the order... don't try to fill out the information yourself.
Bifocals, especially progressives, would fall under the category of complicated prescription. Measurements for these should be made while wearing the frame, and if they are slightly off you will have difficulty adjusting to the new glasses. I would not recommend buying them online.
Recently was told I need glasses for the first time. I was floored when they charged me over seven hundred dollars.
7) It's a pain in the butt and not worth the hassle!