6 Things to Know When Buying Glasses Online

Frames can cost as little as $6, but you'll pay extra for certain types of lenses and coatings.
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Glasses Inspection

When you're looking for a new pair of glasses, you may get sticker shock from the prices at your optometrist's office. But you don't have to spend that much, particularly if you just need single-vision lenses. Buying glasses online can be a cheap way to get the eyewear you need without paying a hefty price.

Here's everything you need to know to buy glasses online.

You Still Need a Prescription for Glasses

Have you been wondering, "What do I need to order glasses online?" Even though you're shopping online, you'll still need a valid glasses prescription — typically, one that's no more than a year or two old. The eye exam payment could wind up being the bulk of your glasses cost, meaning you should spend time shopping around.

Your doctor is legally required to give you a free copy of your prescription after your exam, so you can get your glasses anywhere.

Your health insurance may cover eye exams, or perhaps you have separate vision insurance. Either way, review your policy before you pay for an exam out of pocket. But even if you don't have insurance coverage, you should be able to get an exam for around $100. (Note, however, that if you're interested in contacts as well as glasses, your exam will likely cost a little more.) The exact price will vary depending on the doctor you see and where you're located, but reasonably priced exams are available at plenty of national chains. Check with these retailers to see who has the best deal in your area:

Your doctor is legally required to give you a free copy of your prescription after your exam, so you can get your glasses anywhere. Before you leave your doctor's office, check to see if your pupillary distance, or PD, is listed on the prescription. If it isn't, be sure to ask for it, as you'll need this to order glasses online.

How to Buy Glasses Online That Fit

Buying the right frames involves more than just picking out the style you like — you need to find frames that fit your face. There are three measurements to know: lens width, bridge width (the width across your nose), and temple arm length (the length of the arms).

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If you own a pair of glasses that fit, you can start by checking their size. These measurements are usually written inside the frame, listed left to right (lens width, bridge width, temple arm length). You'll find them printed inside the temple arms or the nose bridge. Once you have your measurements, you can use those numbers to find the right frames.

If you're buying your first pair of glasses and have no idea of your sizing, the process is a little trickier. Consider shopping at Warby Parker, which will mail you frames to try on before you buy. And wherever you buy, check their return policy so you know what your options are if your frames aren't a perfect fit. Some retailers offer generous return policies, and some won't take ill-fitting glasses back without charging a hefty penalty.

Figure Out Your Pupillary Distance

Pupillary distance is the distance, in millimeters, between the centers of the pupils in both eyes. When you put on your glasses, the lenses need to be centered on your pupils, so if this measurement is off, you may not get the perfect vision you're hoping for.

If you don't see your pupillary distance on your prescription after you've had your eyes examined, ask for it.

Your PD should be listed on your prescription, but it may not be. If you don't see it listed after you've had your eyes examined, ask for it. (You could go to an optician for a PD measurement, too.) Be warned that if you ask your doctor to measure it, you may be charged extra unless you plan to buy glasses from the office. However, the cost can be around $10-$30 or so, which is far cheaper than what you'll pay for glasses through your optometrist.

If the PD isn't on your script and you don't want to pay extra for it, you can measure it at home. Warby Parker has a tool to measure your PD by snapping a photo of your face, and you can also measure on your own with just a mirror and a ruler, although that may be more difficult.

Add-Ons Make Glasses More Expensive

You're likely to see some extremely low prices quoted when you're shopping around, but it's important to note you probably won't pay the lowest price. Not only do frame costs vary (expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $100 or more), but you'll also pay extra for certain types of lenses and coatings. Like frames themselves, these can vary greatly in price.

While you probably won't need every upsell, some will be useful. Here are the options you're likely to find.

Anti-Reflective Coating
Blocking reflections makes your eyes more visible and can reduce glare. This may be included in your lens price, but otherwise, expect to spend around $5 for a basic coating.

Oleophobic Coating
This makes lenses more resistant to oil or fingerprints, which helps keep them clean. Expect to spend around $15 for this coating.

Scratch-Resistant Coating
This makes lenses more resistant — though not immune — to scratches. It's often included in the price of the lens.

Ultraviolet Protection
UV exposure can hurt your eyes, so you want glasses that block 100% of UV light. Many lenses will block UV light without any extra cost, but less-expensive lenses may not.

Blue Light Filter
Computer screens emit blue light, which can make our eyes tired and interrupt our sleep cycles. Lenses with a slight amber tint can help block blue light. Whether this is worth it is a matter of opinion — some people dislike the tint color, while others consider it a must-have. Expect to spend from $10 to $50 to add blue light protection to a pair of prescription glasses.

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Polycarbonate and Trivex Lenses
These lightweight, durable lenses are ideal for glasses that will see hard wear. With some retailers, polycarbonate lenses are the cheapest options, but others have a small upcharge for them — expect to pay up to around $30 or so.

High-Index Lenses
Lenses with an index of 1.61 or higher are typically called "high-index lenses." The higher the index, the thinner the lens. Expect this to be a serious investment — it can add anywhere from $20-$100 to your cost, and perhaps more in some cases.

Progressive Lenses
These are bifocal or trifocal lenses that don't have the typical line through the lens. Expect them to add anywhere from $30 to $70 to the total price, but you may have to pay more than that.

Light-Adjusting or Photochromic Lenses
These lenses darken in the sun, so you don't need a separate pair of sunglasses. This can be a modestly priced upgrade, starting at around $30, but brand-name photochromic lenses (like Transitions) will add at least $70 to your total.


Eyeglasses on laptop

Where to Buy Glasses Online

While most online retailers brag about low prices, I was curious about what you'd really pay for a pair of lenses. I wear glasses all the time, so I usually spring for fairly nice ones. Currently, I'm wearing high-index progressive Transitions lenses that cost me $199.98 at Costco (without the price of frames included).

If you only need no-frills glasses, Zenni Optical is the cheapest place to get them.

For the retailers below, I've listed both the lowest possible price of glasses, as well as the price for the glasses I'm wearing now. In most cases, the cheapest glasses are significantly cheaper than what you'd pay at a brick-and-mortar store — but higher-end lenses can cost the same or more online. To find the best deal, you'll want to check both options.

Zenni Optical

If you only need no-frills glasses, Zenni Optical is the cheapest place to get them. Frames start at just $6.95, and that price includes basic, single-vision lenses. However, these basic lenses live up their name, and there are a lot of upcharges — many of which are poorly explained, making it hard to decide what you really need to buy.

At minimum, regular glasses-wearers will probably want to spring for fingerprint-resistant, anti-reflective lenses, which add $14.95 to the price. But even with an upcharge or two, you can get a decent pair of single-vision glasses for around $30.

Price: Starts at $6.95 (my glasses would be $209.95)

Includes: Single-vision lenses with anti-scratch coating and UV protection

Returns: Within 30 days. If there's a manufacturing error, they'll remake them for you for free. If you entered your prescription incorrectly or just don't like the glasses, you'll be refunded 50% of the purchase price, or you can get 100% of the purchase price as store credit.

Warranty: 30 days for frames, one year for for anti-reflective coating and photochromic film

Pros: The cheapest glasses you can buy online

Cons: Complicated website, mediocre return policy

EyeBuyDirect

The prices listed on EyeBuyDirect are a little deceptive because unlike many retailers, the frame cost doesn't include the cost of lenses. However, the cost of basic lenses isn't bad, so you won't find yourself paying particularly more. EBD also has a decent return policy that lets you send your glasses back for any reason at all within 14 days.

SEE ALSO: Is Expensive Sunscreen Worth It?

With an easy-to-use website, decent prices, and reasonable return policy, EyeBuyDirect is a good choice.

Price: Starts at $6 (my glasses would cost $234.95)

Includes: Single-vision lenses with anti-scratch coating (select lenses may have additional coatings, like anti-reflective and UV protection)

Returns: Within 14 days. Return for an exchange or a full refund.

Warranty: One year against manufacturer defects

Pros: Fair price, fair return policy

Cons: Not the best return policy

GlassesUSA

Like other retailers, GlassesUSA allows you to try on frames virtually, so you'll get a good idea of what they look like in person. This is especially nice if you're eyeing more-expensive frames, as you can see how they look on your face, with your features, before you shell out a lot of cash.

Frame prices are a little high for the basic lens options included, but sales and coupons are common — so you could find very good deals.

Price: Starts at $39 (my glasses would cost $243)

Includes: Single-vision lenses, no coatings (for an extra $39, add scratch-resistant and anti-reflective coating, plus UV protection)

Returns: Within 14 days. Return for 100% store credit or a full refund.

Warranty: One year for frames and 90 days for lenses against manufacturer defects. If your glasses break within the first year, you can get 50% store credit to use toward a new pair.

Pros: Great variety of affordable and designer frames

Cons: The base price of frames is high considering the low-end options they come with

Warby Parker

Starting at $95, Warby Parker's frames are pricier than most, but the retailer does a lot to take the guesswork out of shopping online. Warby Parker eliminates the biggest pain point of buying glasses online by letting you try on frames before you buy — and that alone could be worth the higher price tag. Just pick five frames and Warby Parker will mail them to you (shipping's free). You have five days to try them on after you receive them, then just send them back and order your favorites. Warby Parker even has retail locations where you can go to browse or get adjustments.

Warby Parker eliminates the biggest pain point of buying glasses online by letting you try on frames before you buy.

The retailer also offers a fantastic return policy, letting you return your glasses for any reason within 30 days. The warranty is great, too: if your lenses get scratched within the first year, they'll replace them for free.

Price: Starts at $95 (my glasses would cost $300)

Includes: Single-vision polycarbonate lenses with scratch-resistant and anti-reflective coating, plus UV protection

Returns: Within 30 days. Return for an exchange or a full refund.

Warranty: One year against scratches

Pros: Great shopping experience, return policy, and warranty

Cons: High price

Want more options?

Though these are some of best options for buying glasses online, they're hardly the only ones. If you're looking for a wider range of styles, check out 39DollarGlasses, Coastal, DiscountGlasses.com, or Glasses.com. Even traditional brick-and-mortar retailers like LensCrafters sell glasses online, so you aren't at a loss for options.

You'll Need to Get Frame Adjustments Locally

When your glasses arrive, the fit may be a little off. And while an in-person optician would adjust them when you've picked them up, it's harder when you're buying online. Some online retailers — like Warby Parker — have brick-and-mortar locations you can visit for adjustments. If that isn't an option, though, you can usually go see an optician for an adjustment. Many opticians will do this for free regardless of where you purchased your glasses, but there could be a small fee.

Readers, have you ever bought glasses online? If so, how was your experience? Let us know in the comments below!


DealNews 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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Critical Consumer
Great information - thanks for compiling it into a terrific resource!