July 2, 2014 at 9:19 AM ET
While forking over hundreds of dollars for a pair of prescription eyeglasses may seem inevitable — and painful — most glasses shoppers don't realize they can skip the eye doctor or retail shop for a number of cheaper alternatives online.
The almost 19,500 readers who responded to a 2013 survey said they spent a median of $244 out-of-pocket on their last pair of prescription specs.
Yet their suffering may soon be over. Because of volume sales and no overhead, websites are able to sell lenses and frames at steep discounts.
With cheaper prices online, that's no doubt why this 34 billion dollar industry is migrating to the web — since 2007, the share of prescription eyeglasses purchased online has grown from 1 percent to 3 percent, according to Statista.com.
But before getting your glasses online, you need to know what to look for. ShopSmart magazine shares smart, practical tips:
Things you need to know before buying online:
Where to buy online:
New customers can get their first pair of glasses for free by entering a discount code "firstpairfree" at the checkout. After your first free pair, frames and prescription lenses start at $48. They also offer 365-day free returns – if you don't like your glasses, you have a year to return them and get a full refund. Customers must choose from a set selection for the free frames, and pay for shipping and handling (around $10 to start).
Prescription eye-wear starts at $59 (including lenses!) and ranges up to over $500 for some designer frames like Roberto Cavalli and TAG Heuer. All prices include lenses, and shipping is free. Shoppers can shop by trend (like geek chic, cat eye or hipster), or chat with a glasses guru while they shop online. And they have a 30-day return policy, with a full refund.
All eyeglass frames are $69, including poly-carbonate prescription lenses. Mezzmer also donates 3 percent of every completed purchase to a charity, and they ask shoppers to select the charity (from a list of five) that they’d like to donate to. However, shoppers have to pay a $15 return fee if unsatisfied with their pair.
Does the fact that these glasses are cheaper mean they’ll be of lesser quality?
Not necessarily, since glasses prices vary widely. ShopSmart shopped for the same pair of glasses online and at walk-in stores and found prices ranging from $80 online to $160 in-store. That's twice the price! Online retailers say they can offer steep discounts because of volume sales and no overhead. Many frames cost more because they have a designer name on them, but if that's not important to you, you can save big.