Although glasses are often necessary purchases for those with vision correction needs, they do not have to be expensive. Nor does the buying process need to be tedious or time-consuming; in fact, today it is easier than ever to find the perfect pair of frames at an affordable price without even leaving your home.

Thanks to the Federal Trade Commission’s eyewear and contact lenses prescription rule, an eye doctor is obligated to give you a copy of your glasses or contact lenses prescription following each comprehensive eye exam regardless of whether or not you ask for it. This allows you to take your measurements home and use them to buy glasses from any online retailer you prefer.

Buying glasses online has many advantages: there are plenty of great retailers like Glasses.com, DiscountGlasses.com, Lensabl, CVS Optical, and EyeBuyDirect. Some even specialize on different types of glasses as seen with RX Safety for safety glasses.

But beware: there are many components that go into calculating the prices when shopping on the internet. Whether you are looking to purchase your first pair of glasses online, your second pair after buying your first pair in person, or your tenth pair after exclusively buying locally your whole life, this guide will include everything you need to know to buy quality glasses online as affordably as possible.

The Process

Before making any purchases, first concern yourself with finding a pair of frames that best fits both your needs and your personality. For many, this is a task that is easier said than done, especially considering the multitude of choices across hundreds of brands, shapes, materials and colors. Thankfully, online try-on tools can often help you preview how different frames and lenses might look on a picture of yourself.

Once you’ve picked your frames, you’ll usually be presented with a guided set of options to choose your lenses, materials, and coatings. In sum, these three components are typically the most expensive elements of your purchase and will be the primary drivers of the final price. Select these options carefully.

First, you’ll need to decide what kind of vision correction you’re expecting from your new pair of glasses. For example, you can opt for single vision glasses (which includes near and distance vision), progressive lenses, or sunglasses.

Next will be the lenses. The lenses include many options as well, starting with lens thickness and material. Normally there are four levels to this: basic lenses (these are usually plastic) and polycarbonate lenses, which come in standard, premium, and superior with a higher index (the higher the index the thinner and more expensive the lens). If you don’t mind paying a little more, higher index lenses are compatible with almost all prescriptions and provide thinner lenses for a more stylish and comfortable feel.

In addition, you can select any special filters or coatings for the lenses, such as blue light filtering, anti-scratch, anti-reflective and anti-smudge coatings. Sometimes features and materials are sold as bundles, which make price comparisons more difficult.

As part of this guided process, you will be asked to enter the numbers on your prescription (which come in three or four sets for each eye: sphere, cylinder, axis, and ADD for progressives), along with your pupillary distance (PD), often measured by your eye doctor’s optical department.

Cost Calculation

After all is said and done, how is the cost of your glasses truly calculated? How does the price differ from other options and retailers? And what is the best way to know you’re getting a good deal on glasses?

The glasses selection process highlighted above has many moving parts, with each playing a role in the final price. Ultimately, the cost differences of glasses are the sum of the options and features that get added in.

To summarize - the main product specific cost components are based on:

  • The type of vision correction (single vision, progressive, sunglasses)
  • The lens materials and thickness of the lenses (plastic, polycarbonate, thin, extra-thin with higher index)
  • The finishes and coatings (anti-smudge, UV filtering, anti-fog)
  • Whether the glasses are adaptive (transitions) or non-adaptive.
  • The overall quality and colors of the frames.

Coupons, Discounts and Sales

Eyewear Discounts and Sales

The availability of coupons can also help drive down the price of your glasses significantly. Many online retailers promote hefty discounts for new buyers, as well as sales on the total price, specific components, coatings and upgrades, and free shipping. While these markdowns are great, they make comparing prices even more difficult.

Handling Fees

Be wary of retailers that appear to offer lower prices for their glasses and contact lenses, but then add in an extra handling/processing fee at the point of purchase. This additional charge tends to catch shoppers unaware, so be cautious!

Shipping Cost and Insurance Coverage

Many online stores will waive shipping costs if your order exceeds a certain amount. If you find your price just barely beneath the cut-off point, it might be worthwhile to add an extra feature to your frames or an accessory (e.g. a microfiber cloth or a case), as the the cost of the additional items might offset the shipping cost. There are also insurance options to protect your glasses while being delivered and enhanced coverage for accidental damage or loss in the future.

A Real-Life Scenario

Savings are significant! To illustrate the research process of online prices, let’s look at a fictional scenario of how a user might conduct price comparisons of eyeglasses and lenses:

Eyewear for runners

Tanner is a sports enthusiast in need of high-performance glasses. Being an avid marathon runner, he loves the Oakley brand and needs something new after his prescription was updated. He’s considering the Oakley Hyperlink or the Oakley Litebeam, as they seem to perfectly match his active lifestyle.

In order to support his running, Tanner’s single vision glasses need to include thin lenses for a lighter weight, the ability to auto-darken when outside, anti-scratch and anti-smudge coatings. An anti-reflective coating would be a bonus, but isn’t required.

By configuring his customized glasses and checking prices across multiple websites, it becomes clear to Tanner that the prices of frames are hardly any different between retailers. What does majorly influence the prices, however, are all of Tanner’s lens options. This is where the biggest savings can be found, as different retailers charge different amounts for the additional components.

Tanner finds one retailer who offers his customized glasses for $290, whereas another retailer offers the same product for $396. That’s more than 30% cheaper for Tanner without even counting coupons that could bring his price down even more.

Other Things to Consider

Sometimes getting slightly more expensive glasses from a retailer with a better return policy or product warranty will be more beneficial than saving a few bucks. Furthermore, customer service is always an important factor to consider; if the going gets rough, poor customer service will leave you wishing you did business elsewhere! Buy from a company that is trustworthy and authoritative in their space to help alleviate these concerns.

Conclusion

To sum it all up, do not worry too much about embarking across the internet to compare frame prices for brand name frames, as they are all mostly equal (unless they offer a special discount on the frames). Instead, take the time to consider the precise function of your glasses as they pertain to your life and make a list of the features you need (as opposed to features that would be nice to have). By comparing prices for lens components and upgrades between online retailers, you can learn which one offers better rates for the glasses style you are looking for, allowing you to potentially save hundreds of dollars on your purchase.

References

The Contact Lens Rule: A Guide for Prescribers and Sellers
By: Federal Trade Commission

Your Eyewear Prescription Rights (with video)
By: Federal Trade Commission