Our Ratings Tables include our evaluations of area outlets that sell
eyeglasses and contact lenses.
Our ratings reveal sizeable differences in customer satisfaction: At the
time of our last full, published article, of the 155 outlets rated on our
Ratings Tables, 38 were rated superior for overall quality of service
by at least 90 percent of their surveyed customers, while 25 earned such
favorable ratings from fewer than 50 percent.
There is plenty of room for variations in quality. How happy you will be
with your eyeglasses depends on how carefully staff specifies how the lenses
are to be ground, how accurately the lenses are positioned within your
glasses in relation to your eyes, the choice of frames for fit and appearance,
and how well the frames are adjusted. With contact lenses, you need good
advice on the type of lenses that best fits your pattern of use and your
eyes plus skilled follow-up care.
Price matters also. We found identical eyeglass frames and lenses cost
twice as much at some outlets than at others. For contacts (with exam and
fitting), price differences were even larger. Our Ratings Tables show
how the companies stacked up on their prices on a number of different types,
makes, and models of eyeglasses and contact lenses.
For both eyeglasses and contacts, we usually found the least expensive
sellers online. For contacts, theres little reason not to buy online,
particularly if youre just replenishing a years supply of lenses and
not changing brands or type. But shopping for glasses online is challenging
because its hard to tell which frames will look good on your face.
You can shop price for eyeglasses without worrying that the glasses you
get will damage your eyesyoull know after a few days if the glasses arent
right. But the wrong contact lenses can permanently damage your eyes; the
first time you get contacts or a new type of contacts, make a follow-up
appointment to make sure there are no problems.
If frames arent comfortable or cause discomfort with your vision for more
than a few days, return to the store and explain the problem. The store
should adjust the frames for comfort at no charge; if the lenses are the
problem, they should check that the lenses match your prescription, are
positioned correctly in the frames, and the frames position the lenses
properly in relation to your eyes.
Ooooh! Look at those GLASSES!!
If you wear eyeglasses (or contacts), youve probably heard these words,
gleefully squealed, while the exclaimer pointed at an old picture of you.
Its all part of the fun of seeing worse than 20/20.
But shopping for eyewear doesnt have to be as excruciating as strolls
down optical memory lane: Our ratings of area eyewear outlets will point
you toward businesses that provide excellent service and low prices.
Our Ratings Tables show how area eyewear outlets were rated by area
consumers we surveyed (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers).
The table includes ratings from more than 3,000 consumers. Fortunately,
most eyewear customers are satisfied with their choices. When there are
problems, the complaints usually relate to second-rate customer servicerude
salespersons, long waits, and indifferent adviceand high prices. But some
consumers also complain of incompetence.
Although most outlets provide eyeglasses and contacts that fit satisfactorily
and properly correct their wearers vision, a lot can still go wrong. For
example, theres the positioning of lenses. Prescriptions specify the power
of the lens, and most eyewear outlets consistently grind lenses to correctly
match the prescription. But the optician or optometrist must also make
sure the optical centers of the lenses, when mounted in your glasses, match
up with your pupils. If the centers are too close together, too far apart,
too high, or too low, your vision may be distorted. If you have astigmatism,
the lens will have an axis that must be oriented to line up properly with
the eye. For those who require strong lenses, rotating the axis by five
degrees might reduce vision from 20/20 down to 20/60.
Another consideration is the base curve of the lensthe curve you feel
if you run your finger over the lens. Your optician or optometrist should
confirm with the lens-grinding facility what the base curve should be based
on the frame manufacturers recommendation for your prescription. Some
eyeglass outlets skip this step, but getting the lens base curve right
helps ensure optimal performance.
It is also important for the frame to fit you well. Fitting the contour
of the nose is critical. A badly fitted frame will either be uncomfortable
or cause the glasses to slip out of position. If you have a strong prescription,
store staff should alert you to the disadvantages of large frames: Not
only will lenses be heavy and look thick at the edges, but theyre also
likely to distort the view at the edges.
Choosing the right frame is important in determining how you see and feel
and also to how you look. A good salesperson will help you find frames
that complement your face. Your selection should look right with the line
of your eyebrows, the spacing of your eyes, and the shape and size of your
Contact lenses present their own set of issues. You will want good advice
on the type of lenses that will suit your pattern of use and your budget.
And youll want proper follow-up when you get a new type of lens, to ensure
that they present no risk to your eyes health.
Given the many ways in which an eyeglass supplier can help you make the
right purchase, you need to choose one carefully.
If you have a prescription from a recent exam, you can go to any optician
or optometrist for eyeglasses. Many of them also dispense contact lenses.
Most will dispense contact lenses based on a recent prescription youve
obtained elsewhere, but some will insist on performing their own exam.
Most suppliers consider a prescription recent enough if the exam took place
within the past year, but some will accept even older prescriptions, particularly
for eyeglasses, depending on your age and eye-care history.
If you dont have a current prescription, you can get one at many of the
listed outlets. Opticians cant perform eye exams, but many outlets either
are run by optometrists, who can, or have an optometrist working in an
affiliated office. (Delaware law prohibits optician firms from employing
optometrists, but the optometrist can be located just one door away; there
are no such restrictions in New Jersey or Pennsylvania.)
Once you get an exam, you have the right to take the prescription anywhere
else to get eyeglasses. In Delaware and New Jersey, you also have the right
to take a prescription for contact lenses anywhere, but optometrists in
Pennsylvania are not obligated to let you take your prescription elsewhere,
and some wont. Their argument is that providing contact lenses is a professional
service for which the exam, supplying lenses, and follow-up care must be
done together in order to produce consistently safe and satisfactory results.
Many practitionersespecially opticians (who cant perform eye exams)dispute
this view, but there is an additional reason for buying your lenses where
you get your exam: If the lenses dont work out (and contact lenses often
dont), there will be no question as to who is responsible.
Because you have the freedom to shop around, you may as well check out
quality stores. As noted previously, providing good old-fashioned customer
service is a challenge for a number of area eyewear outlets. The ratings
on our Ratings Tables show the extent of store-to-store differences
on this front. At the time of our last full, published article, 38 of the
155 listed outlets were rated superior (as opposed to inferior or adequate)
for overall quality of service by at least 90 percent of their surveyed
customers, while 25 received such favorable ratings from fewer than 50
percent. (Click here for further discussion
of our customer survey and other research methods.)
In general, chains and franchise operations received lower ratings than
other firms, but there was variation among chain and franchise operations.
The chains or franchises with the lowest percentage of superior overall
ratings, on average, were Americas Best (33 percent), Sears (44 percent),
Sterling Optical (53 percent), LensCrafters (56 percent), and Pearle Vision
(56 percent); those with the highest percentage were Design for Vision
(81 percent) and Costco (80 percent).
Because there are many outlets that received excellent, or at least acceptable,
ratings for quality of service, you have room to shop for price. Keep this
key point in mind: You can shop price for eyeglasses with no risk of permanent
damage to your eyes; if your prescription or the grinding of your lenses
is significantly off, you will know it right away and can get the problem
fixed or, if necessary, start over with a new pair.
For firms that were evaluated in our last full, published article, our
Ratings Tables provide price comparison scores for eyeglasses and for
The eyeglasses scores are based on prices our shoppers were quoted for
up to 19 models of glasses. This score reflects each stores prices relative
to other stores prices for the same models of frames and basic lenses
for a common low-correction single-vision prescription.
We set the average price comparison score at $100. A score of $110 means
the companys price quotes were about 10 percent above the multi-company
Fortunately, you can find low prices for eyeglasses without sacrificing
good service. Our survey identified many stores with price comparison scores
below $90, some of which also receive our top rating for quality.
Unfortunately, we werent able to compare eyeglasses prices at a number
of big chains, including Americas Best, BJs Wholesale, Costco, Sams
Club, Sears, and Walmart, because their selection of frames differs so
much from other stores. But, in our experience, prices at BJs, Costco,
Sams Club, and Walmart tend to be among the lowest for items they do carry.
Among the chains and franchises for which we were able to compare prices,
For Eyes was the winner for price, with a price comparison score of $88
based on the average across the outlets we surveyed. We found that LensCrafters
prices averaged about 21 percent higher than the all-outlet average.
For many of the chains and franchise operations, we were quoted inconsistent
prices from store to store. Because of this, we have reported separate
price comparison scores for each store we evaluated.
Because price comparison scores for eyeglasses dont always correspond
with contact lens prices, our Ratings Tables report contact lens price
comparison scores separately. These scores show how each outlets prices
for a years supply of six common brands of contacts compared to the average
of prices at all other quoting outlets. We list a price comparison score
for an outlet only if we obtained quotes on at least two of these types
The scores are adjusted so that the average for all companies is $100.
The scores are based on the price of the lenses plus exam, fitting, and
follow-up visits because most buyers pay a package price that includes
an exam and some follow-up care.
As you can see, the variation in price comparison scores is large, with
the score at some outlets more than twice others. Among the chains, BJs,
with an average price comparison score of $78, was the winner for price.
Prices at Costco ($81), Americas Best ($84), For Eyes ($84), Sterling
Optical ($87), and Walmart ($89) were also well below average. As with
our price comparison scores for eyeglasses, we found low prices at some
independent stores, many of which, according to our customer survey results,
also provide better service.
Be aware of variations in refund policies and warranties on contacts. Most
dispensers will refund some or all of your money if your eyes do not adapt
to the contacts within a specified time. A few have no refund policy but
promise to make numerous adjustments, if necessary, to obtain a satisfactory
fit. Neither arrangement provides foolproof protection. Dispensers with
refund policies may give up quickly if you are hard to fit, and then offer
only a partial refund. Promises to make extensive adjustments are not worth
much if they are not made skillfully; and, remember, each adjustment will
require your time.
While choosing the right outlet is important for both service and price,
your ultimate satisfaction with what you buy and what it costs depends
largely on how carefully you choose among your outlets many offerings.
The biggest decision is whether to buy glasses or contact lenses.
The major advantages of glasses are that they usually cost less, do not
irritate the surface of the eye, require less care, are not as easy to
lose, are available in frames that protect against eye injuries, and can
be a fashion accessory.
The major advantages of contacts are that they are virtually invisible,
provide a wider field of vision, do not irritate the nose bridge and ears,
are relatively secure and safe to wear during sports activities, and cause
less visual distortion than glasses because they are fitted closer to the
eyes and move with the eyes. For cases of extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness,
and following cataract removal, contacts can be a real godsend. Because
of recent improvements in contacts, you can now get a better combination
of comfort, safety, and visual acuity than was possible in the past. Individuals
who have previously preferred glasses may now wish to reconsider.
If you are buying glasses, choosing the type of frame is a major decision.
In choosing frames, the main considerations are comfort, positioning, durability,
appearance, and price.
How They Feel
The key points to check for comfort are the bridge of the nose and ears,
where the glasses rest. Although trying on a frame for a minute or two
may not reveal the discomfort that might occur with extended wear, thats
all you can do. Of course, getting glasses similar to ones youve already
had limits your risk.
All things being equal, the lightest glasses are the most comfortable.
These frames are usually made of plastic or thin metal, with smallish-sized
lenses made of thin plastic.
If you are considering metal frames, keep several points in mind. Metal
frames usually have a nosepiece of rocking pads (small adjustable plastic
pads) that are unlikely to slip and easily adjusted. This is an advantage
over plastic frames, which usually have a rigid nose support that varies
in shape among manufacturers. But rocking pads, unlike a properly fitting
plastic nosepiece, concentrate the weight on a small surface of the nose,
which is uncomfortable to some people. If this is a problem for you, consider
a model with an inserted molded plastic nosepiece instead of rocking pads.
Metal frames are also likely to cause irritation on the ears, a problem
many models avoid by covering the ends of the temples with plastic or rubber
How They Are Positioned
The main purpose of eyeglass frames is to position lenses to provide maximum
visual acuity. Some frames may position lenses too far from your eyes,
or too high or too low. If the frames slide down your nose, you wont get
the fullest benefit from the proper prescription lenses. The stronger your
prescription, the more critical the positioning. If you wear your glasses
for driving, sports, or other activities requiring peripheral vision, make
sure the temples (the two side parts of a frame that extend behind the
ears) are located above or below the eyes, not directly alongside them.
How Long They Will Last
When handled with care, glasses should last three or four years, and many
eyeglass wearers want to change style at least that often. If you plan
to keep the frames longeror the frames get knocked around a lot in sports
activities, wrestling matches with your children, or whateverstrength
and durability are important. Both depend on the materials used to make
the frames, their thickness, and the craftsmanship that went into them.
The strongest metal frames are usually made of titanium, with smooth welding
wherever two pieces of metal are joined and flexible hinges.
The strongest plastic frames are made of nylon, but these tend to be thick,
heavy, and plain in style. Among other plastic types, the strongest usually
have at least moderate thickness, metal reinforcing within the full length
of the temple (not needed in nylon or optyl plastic), and flexible hinges.
These are general guidelines. Some other types of frames may be quite durable,
and some that meet these standards may be rather frail.
How They Look
Appearance and style are key considerations for most eyeglass wearers.
In fact, a substantial number of frames are sold with clear nonprescription
lenses to be worn just for effect.
As with anything else you wear, there is no best look for everyone. To
look right, frames must suit the shape of your eyebrows and cheekbones,
spacing of your eyes, height of your nose bridge, and size of your head.
The conventional wisdom is that people look best in frames shaped differently
from their facesquare or oblong rims for round faces, round rims for square
faces, and wide, shallow oblong rims for narrow faces.
Consumers interest in style and brand names gives optometrists and opticians
extra leverage for steering them to high-priced frames. The best approach
is to try on a variety of frame styles and decide for yourself which few
look best and feel comfortable. Then examine the price tags on your favorites.
Chances are some will be relatively inexpensive. If not, take another look
and ask the person assisting you whether the shop carries another cheaper
frame that looks similar to one you like.
What Staff Recommends
The staff at an eyeglass outlet can be a valuable source of information
about selecting frames. They can suggest models that can eliminate previous
problems with comfort or positioning, and steer you away from models that
might cause other problems. But always ask them to explain their recommendations,
and be suspicious if they invariably recommend the higher pricedand usually
the most profitableframes
How Much They Cost
Frame prices vary tremendously. Prices for decent quality frames range
from less than $40 to more than $500.
In choosing lenses for your eyeglasses, you have many options.
One option is glass or plastic. The lighter weight of plastic lenses is
a particular advantage for large-style frames or a strong prescription
that requires a thick lens. The scratch-resistance of glass is a particular
advantage if you frequently remove your glasses and slip them into your
pocket, purse, or briefcase. Federal regulation requires both glass and
plastic lenses to resist breakage from moderate impacts, but no lenses
If you have a strong prescription for nearsightedness, you may prefer lenses
made of materials that have a strong capacity to refract light. Such materials
permit a thinner, lighter lens but cost more.
An increasingly popular choice for individuals who need multifocal lenses
(bifocals or trifocals), but dont want others to notice this sign of aging,
is progressive, or no-line, lenses. But such lenses are more expensive
than regular bifocals or trifocals, and require special care in fitting
to avoid vision distortion.
Several types of lens treatments are available. One of the most popular
options is a treatment to filter out ultraviolet (UV) rays. There is evidence
that UV rays contribute to the development of cataracts and may damage
the retina. UV coating may appeal to you if your eyes are heavily exposed
to UV radiationfor example, if you work or spend a lot of time outdoors,
particularly at the beach or mountain climbing.
Another popular option is anti-reflective coating, which reduces reflection
from your side. This is especially helpful if you do a lot of night driving.
Other options include: scratch-resistant coating; tints; polarizing lenses,
which reduce glare from reflective surfaces such as water, snow, and glass;
and photochromic lenses, which are activated by UV rays and darken as the
sun gets brighter. However, because most car windshields block UV rays,
this doesnt work while youre driving.
With all the possible features and add-ons, buying glasses almost seems
like buying a car.
Whats more, some optical companies push these options harder than high-pressure
car salespersons do. Although the add-ons are more legitimate than car
dealers rustproofing treatments and paint protection packages, you have
to be skeptical about them. If your glasses have not gotten scratched in
the past, or if reflection has never troubled you, dont let them pressure
you into paying to fix something that isnt broken.
Choosing the right type of contact lenses is more complicated than selecting
and buying glasses.
Although a few contact lens wearers still have old-fashioned hard lenses,
most outlets currently supply only two basic types of lensessoft lenses
and rigid gas-permeable lenses.
Soft lenses, first introduced in 1971, are made of a gelatin-like substance
with high water content. Most wearers adapt to them quickly and easily.
The high water content allows passage of oxygen to the cornea, the tissue
covering the eye. This oxygen supply is crucial because the cornea, unlike
other body tissues, doesnt have a blood supply.
Current versions of rigid gas-permeable lenses, first introduced in 1979,
allow oxygen to easily pass through them. This feature, in turn, allows
such lenses to be larger than old-fashioned hard lenses, which had to be
small enough so that oxygen could pass around them to the cornea. The larger
size makes them relatively comfortable because the eyelid doesnt have
to pass over the edge of the lens with each blink.
Soft lenses have several advantages over rigid lenses
They are easy to get used to. You can wear them comfortably almost immediately,
stop wearing them for days or even months, and then start again without
an extended period of re-adaptation.
They are easy to fit. The softness permits some tolerance of variations
in the corneas shape, so custom fitting is not required.
Because they cover a large part of the eyes surface, they work well in
dusty conditions where they prevent dust from reaching the eye.
They are not easily dislodged, making them ideal for use in sports.
They cost less.
With the availability of affordable, disposable lenses, little or no maintenance
On the other hand, rigid gas permeable lenses have important advantages
over soft lenses
They can provide clearer vision. Their rigidity allows precise shaping,
which also means they can be used to correct serious astigmatism that standard
soft lenses are unable to correct (however, special soft toric lenses are
available for this purpose).
They are easier to clean because they are much less prone to collecting
protein deposits. Ease of cleaning means regular maintenance is easier
and cheaper, and youre unlikely to suffer discomfort from wearing dirty
They are safer. Because they can be kept clean, they are less prone to
harboring microorganisms that can infect the eye.
Because they dont absorb moisture, they can be worn by individuals with
relatively dry eyes.
They last longer than soft lenses because they dont get as dirty and are
harder to scratch. While soft lenses typically last for a year or less,
standard rigid lenses generally last twice as long. However, lenses for
extended wear (overnight) have shorter lifespans.
Their relatively long lifespans and ease of cleaning mean they are likely
to cost less in the long-term than soft lenses.
In terms of these two basic types of lenses, there are many variants
Extended wear lenses. While regular lenses should be removed each night
for cleaning and to allow oxygen to freely reach the cornea, extended wear
lenses can have longer intervals between removals. Both soft and rigid
gas-permeable extended wear lenses are available.
Disposable lenses. These soft lenses cost so little that you can afford
to throw them away. Like other contact lenses, disposables are made in
both daily wear and extended wear versions. Daily wear disposables, which
must be removed and cleaned each day, are designed to be kept for a specific
time periodtwo weeks, a month, or even three months. Extended wear disposables,
designed to be worn continuously for one day or up to a month, depending
on the brand, spare you the trouble of cleaning your lenses.
Additional contact lens options include lenses for astigmatism, bifocal
lenses, tinted lenses, and UV-filtering lenses. There are also lenses with
gas-permeable rigid centers that allow oxygen transfer and sharp vision,
with soft perimeters for comfort. All these options cost extra.
What you do when you pick up your glasses or contacts matters. Examine
When you pick up new glasses, they may have to be adjusted to fit your
face or to allow for differences in the height of your ears. Make sure
there is no excessive pressure on your ears or nose, that the frames do
not slip down your nose, and that both lenses are the same height and an
equal distance from your eyes. And, of course, check whether you can see
clearly at a distance and read comfortably.
When you pick up new contact lenses, the practitioner should carefully
check their fit on your eyes using a slit lamp biomicroscope. He or she
should also check how well you see, using a standard eye-chart test. If
these checks indicate no problems, test the fit yourself by looking left,
right, up, and down several times while holding your head in different
positions. And try blinking, squinting, and closing your eyes several times.
If the contacts dont fit just right, you may need new lenses.
Along with the lenses, you should also receive thorough instructions on
how to insert them and remove them from your eyes, on the adaptation schedule
(how long to wear them each day during the first few weeks), and on care
and cleaning. Listen carefully, and practice inserting and removing the
contacts while the practitioner watches you to make sure you can do it
correctly. Ask for a written copy of instructions, and read them right
away. Remember, all contacts can cause permanent eye damage if mishandled.
If the frames you have purchased start to feel uncomfortable after a few
hours, return to your optician or optometrist, explain the problem, and
ask for further adjustments. These adjustments should be free.
If the discomfort seems to be caused by the lenseseither glasses or contactsand
consists of mild eyestrain or objects appearing closer than normal, wait
a few days. Often your eyes and brain need time to adjust to new lenses,
even when the prescription is correct and they are properly positioned.
If you suffer substantial discomfort, mild discomfort that persists for
more than a few days, dizziness, blurred vision, a tendency to tilt your
head when driving or working, or some other strange reaction, return to
your practitioner and explain the problem. The practitioner should check
the lenses to determine if their actual correction coincides with your
prescription. He or she should also check the positioning of the lenses
in the frame and the positioning of the frame on your face.
For contacts, you can expect a little discomfort during the adaptation
period, particularly with rigid lenses, but you should suffer no real pain.
If you do, remove the lenses immediately and return to the practitioner
as soon as possible.
If someone who has sold you glasses that prove to be uncomfortable checks
the lenses and claims the refractive power and positioning match the prescription,
ask what caused your complaints. If the answer doesnt satisfy you, you
wont know for sure whether the seller is right and the original prescription
wrong, or if the seller is wrong and just doesnt recognize his or her
mistake. As a first step to resolving the problem, take a copy of the prescription
and the glasses themselves to a conveniently located optician, explain
your problem, and offer to pay to have the refractive power and positioning
of the lenses measured. Then compare the measurements to your prescriptionthe
measurements will take only a minute or two. Sometimes there will be no
charge, but find out in advance. If refractive power and positioning match
the prescription, go back to the optometrist or ophthalmologist who wrote
the prescription and explain the problem. Your practitioner should check
the glasses and might retest the refraction of your eyes. Sometimes this
is free, but check.
Another strategy is to explain your recent problems to a different optometrist
or ophthalmologist and have him or her perform another eye examination.
This will always incur an additional examination fee, so do it only as
a last resort.
Obtaining compensation for your wasted expenditures can be tricky. Will
the optometrist or ophthalmologist who wrote the erroneous prescription
pay for the new set of lenses? Will the optician who incorrectly filled
a correct prescription pay for the second visit you made to an optometrist
If the party at fault refuses a fair settlement, file a complaint. Below,
we list contact information for agencies that handle consumer complaints
against opticians and optometrists.
Delaware Division of Professional Regulation
861 Silver Lake Boulevard,
Dover, DE 19904
New Jersey Board of Examiners of Ophthalmic Dispensers and Ophthalmic Technicians
Newark, NJ 07101
Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, Bureau of Consumer Protection
Floor, Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17120
800-441-2555 or 717-787-9707
Delaware Division of Professional Regulation
861 Silver Lake Boulevard
Dover, DE 19904
New Jersey Board of Optometrists
P.O. Box 45012
Newark, NJ 07101
Pennsylvania Department of State, Complaints Office
P.O. Box 2649
Harrisburg, PA 17110
800-822-2113 or 717-783-4849
Buying glasses or contacts requires the services of an ophthalmologist,
an optometrist, or an optician. If youre like most of us, you cant remember
which of these three Os does what, even if youve been told a dozen times.
So here it is again.
Ophthalmologists are physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating
disorders of the eye. They are college graduates who have gone on to complete
four years of medical school, followed by an internship and additional
clinical training. They check eyes for vision problems, eye diseases and
abnormalities, and symptoms of general body disorders, such as diabetes
or hypertension. They treat eyes with drugs, surgery, and other means,
and they prescribe corrective eyeglasses and contact lenses. Almost all
ophthalmologists expect you to take the prescription they write for eyeglasses
to one of the other types of specialists, but quite a few do dispense contact
Optometrists are not medical doctors, but they are properly referred to
as doctors. They are college graduates who have completed four years of
post-graduate training in optometry. Like ophthalmologists, optometrists
perform eye exams that diagnose a wide range of eye problems as well as
symptoms of general health problems. Some use visual training techniques
to counter certain kinds of vision problems. They also prescribe, and most
also dispense, both eyeglasses and contact lenses.
Opticians are not required to have extensive training, unlike the other
two types of specialists. To operate in New Jersey, opticians are required
to be licensed by the state, but Delaware and Pennsylvania have no certification
or licensing requirements. Opticians are not allowed to prescribe, but
they fit, supply, and adjust eyeglasses and sometimes contact lenses prescribed
by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. A few opticians grind eyeglass lenses
to the correct prescription, but most purchase lenses from a wholesaler
and then fit them into the frame.
For both eyeglasses and contacts, we usually found the least expensive
We shopped prices at a sampling of online retailers using the same list
of eyeglasses (including lenses for a simple prescription) we used to compare
prices among local stores. On average, prices at all online retailers were
substantially lower than all surveyed local stores42 percent lower. The
lowest prices were from EZContactsUSA.com, which quoted prices about 60
percent lower than the average prices at local outlets. Online sellers
not only offered very low prices, but also carried a much wider selection
of frames than any of the local outlets.
We also compared prices for contact lenses from online retailers with those
quoted by local stores (for price comparison scores reported on our Ratings Tables, we included fees for eye exams and fitting, but for this comparison
considered only the cost of lenses). As with eyeglasses, we found that
prices at all of the online retailers were on average substantially lower
than the average prices found at local stores. The lowest prices were from
ContactLensKing.com, which quoted prices about 50 percent lower than the
average prices at surveyed local outlets. Compare this to the price leaders
among local outlets, which quoted prices for contact lenses about 20 percent
below the all-outlet average.
To sell you contact lenses, any seller will need a copy of a current prescription.
When ordering contacts online, you usually enter your prescription information
when placing your order and then the company calls your doctor to verify
it. At some sites, if you dont have your prescription on hand, the retailer
will contact your doctor to obtain it (although there may be a charge for
When buying eyeglasses online, you can buy only frames and have lenses
installed by local opticians, or you can order eyeglasses with prescribed
lenses already installed. If you order frames with lenses, youll need
to submit information about your prescription. Unless you are replacing
frames with an identical pair, you may as well buy both frames and lenses
together online, because it is likely to end up costing less than involving
a local outlet in the process.
There are some disadvantages to shopping for contacts and eyeglasses online.
Its possible that the prescription may be incorrectly filled or that the
seller may send the wrong contact lenses. But these problems could also
occur with a local seller.
If you are a new contacts wearer, or trying out a new type of lens, at
first buy a minimum number of lenses from a local outlet; then, if the
lenses work out, buy from online retailers in the future. Even better,
ask your doctor for a sample pair of lenses to try out before you have
your prescription filled. By taking this approach, you identify any problems
right away, before youve paid for a years supply of lenses.
An obvious disadvantage of buying eyeglasses online is that, unless youre
replacing frames you like with an identical model, you cant try on various
frames to see how theyll look on your face. One strategy is to visit local
stores, try on frames to find ones you like, and then buy online. Also,
some sites let you upload a picture of yourself so you can try on frames
virtually. Fortunately, liberal return policies are the norm among online
sellers of eyeglasses, so you can return them easily if youre not completely
Another problem with ordering frames online is that youll have to find
a local solution for obtaining any necessary adjustments. Fortunately,
most optical shops make small adjustments for free, even for consumers
who bought their glasses elsewhere.