Cheap glasses websites well worth a look

Aug. 22, 2012 at 2:33 PM ET

Chanel. Prada. Gucci. Dior. There they are, all lined up — not in the window of Saks but on the wall at the optometrist’s office, within spitting distance of fake floral arrangements and 3-year-old copies of Prevention magazine. Consumers who wouldn’t dream of spending hundreds of dollars on a designer handbag have found themselves with few alternatives when it comes to eyewear. These days, though, the visually challenged have the option of ordering online, where you’ll see prices so low you might wonder if you need a new prescription.

Below are Cheapism’s top websites for affordable eyeglasses.

  • Zenni Optical (starting at $7 for frames and single-vision lenses) wins fans for its vast selection of ultracheap glasses, complete with anti-scratch and UV coatings. The site provides a full range of frame and lens measurements and lets consumers upload a photo to virtually “try on” glasses. If they don’t look as good in person as they did online, the site offers only a 50 percent refund. But with prices so low, many consumers opt to take a chance and keep the cheap pair as a backup if it doesn’t work out. (Where to buy)
  • 39 Dollar Glasses (starting at $39, naturally) charges more for its cheapest pairs, but the glasses have polycarbonate lenses in addition to the standard UV protection and scratch-resistant coating. Consumers also have the option to order new lenses for existing frames. The company claims to process basic orders within five business days and offers a full refund or free exchange, including free return shipping, if notified within 10 days. Experts laud the workmanship and easy-to-use website. (Where to buy)
  • Goggles 4 U (starting at $7) does “re-lensing” in addition to selling new glasses with anti-scratch and UV coatings. The site offers virtual try-on and live support, and its customer service earns plaudits in online reviews. Customers displeased with the look or quality of their glasses can send them back for a refund of 50 percent on the lenses and 100 percent on the frames. (Where to buy)
  • Eye Buy Direct (starting at $7) stands out with a guarantee of a replacement or full refund (minus shipping) for any reason within 14 business days. Lenses come with anti-scratch coating, and a virtual try-on tool lets consumers compare frames. Those in the know stock up during the site’s buy-one-get-one-free sales. (Where to buy)

Complex prescriptions, including bifocals and progressive lenses, cost extra and may be more prone to error. These websites all correct mistakes at no cost, but unless you take the lenses to an optometrist to confirm the prescription, you might not notice a subtle difference until you start getting headaches.

To complete an order, you need not just a current prescription but also your pupillary distance, or PD. This measurement is not automatically included as part of your prescription, so be sure to ask for it specifically. (If your eye doctor balks, you can trot out the Federal Trade Commission’s Prescription Release Rule, which compels optometrists and ophthalmologists to provide a copy of your prescription free of charge.)

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