Should You Buy Glasses and Contacts Online?
Last updated in November 2016
For eyeglasses, we usually found the least expensive sellers online. But for contacts, online sellers offer higher prices than the lowest-priced local outlets.
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. For eyeglasses, prices at almost all of the online retailers we shopped were substantially lower than surveyed local stores—several online stores offered prices that were less than half those offered by 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. When we collected prices from local contact lens dispensers, we included their fees for eye exams and fitting. To compare prices at online contact lens sellers with local stores, we added the average cost of an eye exam and fitting at local vision centers to each of the online seller’s prices.
After factoring in the cost of exams and fitting, we found that several online contact lens sellers offered prices that were at least 20 percent lower than the average prices at local stores, but as you can see on the table below, some online sellers offered prices that were only a little bit better than the average prices offered by local outlets. The lowest prices were offered by FramesDirect.com and ContactLensKing.com, but even these two options offered higher prices than local price leaders Sam’s Club and Costco.
To sell you contact lenses, any seller will need a copy of a current prescription. When ordering contacts online, you can enter your prescription information and then the company calls your doctor to verify it.
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, you’ll 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. It’s 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 you’ve paid for a year’s supply of lenses.
An obvious disadvantage of buying eyeglasses online is that, unless you’re replacing frames you like with an identical model, you can’t try on various frames to see how they’ll 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 you’re not completely satisfied.
Another problem with ordering frames online is that you’ll 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 elsewhere.
How Prices at Online Eyewear Stores Compare to Prices at Local Stores
|Price comparison score for eyeglasses||Price comparison score for contacts|
|Local Stores Average||$100||$100|