Sunday, September 30, 2012

Buying Glasses Online has an article reviewing ten of the most well-known sites for buying glasses online. They give good details for each of the sites, but they understandably lack any professional advice to distinguish among the sites.

Something to look for when shopping glasses online, as with anything, is brands. Brands aren't just overpriced names for the same stuff. They are quality products marked with a reputable name to guarantee your confidence in the product.

The cheapest sites have no recognizable brands, which means there is zero guarantee to you of the quality of the product. Sure they're cheap, and most the sites have 100% refund policies. But when the frames won't fit or hold adjustment, or the lenses seem to strain your eyes, produce weird "fish-bowl" effects, or just seem hazy, what are you going to do? If you paid $10, even $20, are you going to contact customer service for a return authorization, package them up, ship them back at your expense, and wait for the refund, all the while without new glasses? Probably not, you'll probably just throw them in a drawer and try again (or just throw them away, as I did when I bought a couple pair online a few years ago just to see how they turned out. They were crap).

The no-brand materials the lowest-price guys use for frames and lenses are so ridiculously cheap, bought in bulk for literally pennies from Asian factories, that much of the time even if you return them for your money back they still turn a profit on the shipping! They have absolutely zero incentive to provide you quality stuff because it costs them more to take the time and use the materials to get it right than it does to churn out poor junk, half of which could be wrong, and just accept the shipping profits on the returns. If you absolutely don't care about the quality of your glasses, go ahead and throw a few bucks around and see if maybe someone accidentally makes you a useable pair. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Not all glasses you buy online are crap. You can get perfectly good quality eyeglass materials online, the same level of quality you get from good opticals, even boutiques. (Note I said materials. The physical product can be the same, however the measuring, product design & selection, and frame fit can all be wrong without a optician's expertise.) The way to be sure you are getting quality is brands.

Several sites in the review sell good brand name frames, which guarantees they were made at least by a slightly decent manufacturer. Framesdirect, GlassesUSA, and all sell the same  kind of brand frames you'll find in mall retail opticals and eye doctors' offices. Of those Framesdirect is by far the biggest and best, with massive selection and a price match guarantee for many of the best designers. If you are going to buy a frame online, buy it from Framesdirect.

However, frames are only of secondary importance for glasses. Is is better to like your frames but not see well, or see well but not like your frames? Neither is good, but the whole point of glasses is seeing better, right? So while frames are more fun to pick out, you really need to think about and put some priority into lenses.

Not all lenses correct vision equally. Poor manufacturing creates lenses with inconsistent prescription and haziness. Vision simply will not be comfortable, clear and crisp even when the prescription is accurate. The only way to know you are not getting $0.15 per pair Asian special lenses is to buy branded lenses, the same used by reputable opticals in the U.S. Because few consumers know anything about spectacle lens brands, this is where almost every online seller skimps. Some claim to use quality brand lenses, and may do so, but they don't make it clear what you are getting. Framesdirect is great for frames, but they are not clear on their lens brands. They charge enough to suggest they are using quality materials, but there is no guarantee of what you get. Only one site in the review specifically lists it's brands, and they are all good:

Look at their sample price list above. Essilor, Crizal, Orma, Thin & Lite, these are brands that guarantee you are getting quality produced materials. Note the prices. No $6.95 glasses here. Because you can't make decent glasses at those prices. However, if you compare to retail stores and doctors' offices, the prices above are excellent and for the very same materials.

These best resource I've found for quality spectacle lenses online isn't in the review, probably because they don't sell frames. Eyeglass Lens Direct only sells lenses, and is and awesome source for most of the high quality spectacle lenses available in the U.S. today. You can select lenses by specific manufacturer, and then by specific lens designs and models. Through this site you can get some of the most technologically advanced and best quality materials there are, products no other online seller offers. The amount if information is daunting and can be impossible for the consumer to decipher, because most of the discrimination among brands and lens designs is the purview of the professional optician. However, because Eyeglass Lens Direct specifically states the products you a re purchasing, you can Google the names and research yourself. Every brand has an informational site to explain their particular benefits.



So then, what's the best process for buying glasses online, to get the best price, best product, and best results?
  •  Research and buy the frames you want on
  • Find a good optician willing to make measurements and guide you to the best lens option for your Rx and frame. Pay him for his professional expertise and time. Don't be a dick. Want my suggestion on a fair price? $30-$60 depending upon your needs and his skill.
  • Buy the lenses from
You now got the best price on frames, a great price on guaranteed quality brand lenses, and if you found a good optician and compensated him adequately for his skills, you got the same accuracy and guidance you would have if you had purchased eyewear from him.


  1. Online shopping-
    1. You can find more variety
    2. Its quiet easy to shop
    3. Lots of offers

    1. Fake websites.
    2. Asking money before delivery
    3. Not the real feel(when you see the glasses)

    Okay now someone have some more points?

    1. Advantage:
      - Far less expensive
      - Equal quality to mid tier glasses at a tenth of the expense
      - Zero risk free return shipping
      - Credit card protects from any possible fraud
      - One week turnaround
      - ANSI approved quality safety glasses for about $50
      - Premium coatings an big name lens brands
      - The ability to educate yourself in how to select your own glasses
      - The ability to afford many more pairs of glasses
      - The great feeling of not having to treat plastic as a priceless possession

      - People fear mongering
      - Have to be able to read a ruler
      - Have to get your prescription from optometrists or ophthalmologists that hesitant to give customers their legally owned prescription

  2. True. The major caveat of buying online is the gamble if it isn't right or just not what you expected. Returns and exchanges can be difficult with less reputable sites, especially with custom prescription glasses. It's not like shopping for commodity items that are the same product no matter where you get them. 10 pairs of equally priced glasses from 10 different shops will all be different quality.

    Only a knowledgeable optician can make quality assessments of optical materials, so that's why if you want good glasses you need professional help, even if buying online.

  3. This is very informed. Thanks for create the blog.

    Customized sunglasses

  4. Hi Daniel,

    I've just stumbled on this site in my search for glasses, and this is by far the most informed site I've found, so thank you!

    Do you have any recommendations for finding affordable glasses with a very high Rx? Mine is -10.50 and -8.75 and I'm worried about finding glasses that aren't horribly thick or in huge frames. Any advice?

    1. Hi Katie! Thanks for the compliment.

      Yes I have very strong advice for you: do not buy your glasses online. Everything that can and does go wrong with "good enough" online glasses is amplified with a strong Rx like yours.

      Decent eyewear for your Rx relies heavily upon frame selection, accurate measurements of not only PD but vertex distance and optical center, and material. You can get the high-index material online, but none of those other significant factors will be accounted for, and your vision will certainly suffer.

      Only about 10% of glasses wearers have Rx needs like yours, and online and retail stores just aren't interested in or equipped to help you. You need a professional optician with the resources to make what you need. If you call a few and get quotes I think you might be surprised how reasonable opticians are for the better materials. I routinely beat the chain stores for high-index and high-power Rxs, and others will too.

  5. Daniel,

    Hi. I haven't worn glasses in over 20 years. I just got a pair of glasses with 1.67 aspheric lenses. I'm experiencing some pretty strong barrel distortion when I'm indoors. I'm fine when it comes to driving. Watching TV is also no problem as long as I keep my eyes focused on the screen and don't look around the room. Walking with them, especially indoors is out of the question though.

    I've been reading quite a bit online about ways to reduce barrel distortion.

    My prescription is -6.50 in each eye with slight astigmatism in the right, -0.25 CYL and Axis 25.

    All things being equal would getting 1.61 aspheric instead of 1.67 aspheric significantly reduce the barrel distortion? I've read that barrel distortion increases as index increases.

    Thank you for any help you can provide.

    1. Material index, asphericity, and lens curvature will all impact the barrel distortion effect. Material change alone may not improve your situation. Though it will make your lenses thicker, spherical lenses (not aspheric) may improve things. Asphericity is primarily employed in spectacle optics to thin lenses, not improve vision.

      The visual systems of regular glasses wearers with your Rx are visually adapted to the distortions. Going into glasses of that power after 20 years is a lot for your visual system to handle. You will adapt, but it could take some time and be uncomfortable in the meantime.

      The best way to minimize these effects is see a good optician and be fit with digital/freeform lenses which will be precisely customized to your exact vision parameters and guarantee the minimum distortion possible.

  6. I've worn glasses for over 20 years and chose to go online for my latest purchase. I've bought from 3 asian vendors a total of 8 pairs, ranging from as cheap as $20 to the most expensive being $45. A cousin of mine who is an optician warned me sternly against going online but I thought I'd spend the money to experiment. He checked each pair in his lensometer and the prescription was fine. He said they stacked up to Walmart and CostCo glasses pretty well to his surprise. He did say that it was only the simplicity of my prescription that made it possible (-4.5 sph) but he was surprised how accurately they all turned out.

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  8. I wouldn't personally be concerned over brand recognition. Many of the big brands manufacture in the same Chinese factories as the no-names. I would instead focus on what quality is actually delivered to the customer. There are several sites that can produce excellent budget glasses for about $30. Unlike the site the author visited, the reputable ones will pay for return shipping if you are unsatisfied for ANY reason. This makes it a zero risk proposition to buy from them. You can measure existing glasses, or you can simply buy a trial pair for $30 and learn which modifications you need. A person has to be intelligent enough to measure the glasses, and enter in the prescription (which is literally copying off paper). Even if you go to an optometrist for your main glasses, the cheap ones are terrific for getting an additional pair (giant computer/TV glasses or sunglasses). It would be a hard decision normally, but with optometrists charging a 10-15 fold premium to measure and bend glasses, the choice becomes easier.

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