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By Jody Rohlena

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 

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:

  1. Your prescription.
  2. Your pupillary distance. When having your eyes examined, ask your doctor for this number. You’ll need it if you shop for glasses online. (These sites typically give instructions for measuring as well.)
  3. What type of lens is best for you. You’ll also want to ask the doctor what type of lens is best for you, such as a bifocal or a trifocal.
  4. What frame style you like. It's smart to try on some glasses before you buy online so you know what frame style looks good on you. You can do this virtually, using a photo, but it's even better to try them on in person.
  5. Your insurance coverage. Does the site take your insurance? If not, can you pay for your glasses yourself and submit for reimbursement? 
  6. Where to shop safely. Always check out a new online retailer before you buy something. The sites we featured all pass muster according to our vetting process. But some eyeglasses vendors didn't. Two easy checks: Google the name of the retailer and the word "complaints" and check out the retailer at (the website of the Better Business Bureau).
  7. Shipping and returns info. It's important to know this up front. Make sure you can return glasses if they don't work for you.  

    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.

Video: How to pick the perfect glasses on a budget