Constantly changing fashions means a constantly changing selection at eyewear outlets. But apart from revolving styles, there have been design evolutions: Today’s glasses are lighter and available in more styles than ever before. Improvements have also been made in contacts: New lenses are more comfortable to wear and disposables require no maintenance.

Despite these innovations, shopping for new specs and contacts can be a major hassle. Our surveys of local consumers found that many vision centers get very low scores for the advice their staff offers, promptness, and other issues. And our undercover shopping research indicates many stores have prices that are way too high.

Our ratings tables show how area eyewear outlets were rated by area consumers we surveyed, primarily Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers but also other randomly selected consumers we invited to participate. We report scores for locations that received at least 10 ratings on our surveys. For large chains, we also report chain-wide scores from ratings submitted by consumers in the seven metro areas where we publish Checkbook. Click here for further discussion of our survey and other research methods.

Most eyewear customers are satisfied. When there are problems, the complaints usually relate to second-rate customer service—rude salespeople, long waits, indifferent advice—and high prices.

But many things can go wrong when buying glasses: Lenses can be positioned wrong or be defective. Opticians and optometrists must understand a slew of complex matters including matching your lenses to your eyes, fitting frames to your face (the contour of your nose is critical), and knowing what to recommend for people who need big corrections. They should also be able to help you suss out which specs make you look spectacular with tips on flattering your eyes, your brows, and the shape of your face.

Contact lenses present their own set of issues. You’ll want good advice on the type of lenses that will suit your pattern of use and your budget. And you’ll want proper follow-up when you get a new type of lens, to ensure that it presents no risk to your eyes’ health.
Given the many ways in which an eyewear 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 sell contacts, and most will dispense them based on a recent prescription you’ve obtained elsewhere, but some insist on performing their own exam. Most suppliers consider a prescription recent enough if the exam took place within the past year, but some accept even older prescriptions, particularly for eyeglasses, depending on your age and eye-care history.

If you don’t have a current prescription, you can get one from an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Opticians can’t perform eye exams, but many vision centers either are operated by optometrists, who can, or have an optometrist working in an affiliated office. (Delaware law prohibits optician firms from employing optometrists, but the optometrist may 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 won’t. 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 practitioners—especially opticians (who can’t perform eye exams)—dispute this view, but there is an additional reason for buying your lenses where you get your exam: If the lenses don’t work out (and contact lenses often don’t), there will be no question as to who is responsible.

Because you have the freedom to shop around, look for outlets that provide the best service. As noted previously, customer service is a challenge for a number of area eyewear outlets. The scores reported on ratings tables show the extent of store-to-store differences on this front. Several outlets were rated “superior” (as opposed to “inferior” or “adequate”) for overall quality of service by at least 85 percent of their surveyed customers, while several others received such favorable ratings from fewer than 50 percent.

In general, chains and franchise operations received lower ratings than independents, but there was variation among chain and franchise operations. Costco and Warby Parker received positive overall ratings from their surveyed customers.