Glasses Online - The ABC's

Glasses buying story

The Story

So you realized you've been getting gouged by the friendly face at LensCrafters. For years.

Maybe you got a new pair of specs at a "discount", started bragging to a friend, and after they had patiently listened to your excitement for a number of minutes, you decided to break their silence by asking how much they paid for THEIR glasses.

Your friend slowly grinned, and paused for a moment before replying:

20 dollars.


Shocked, confused, and for some reason a little angry, you drilled them for more information. Short story was that while you paid hundreds in a store, your friend was a little more savvy than you gave them credit for and bought theirs online.

First-time-buyer confusion...

You went online, popped open Google or Bing, and typed in "buy glasses online". A zillion search results showed up. All of a sudden you were being hit with terms like "PD measurement", "polycarbonate", and "lens index". It had all sounded so easy when your friend explained it.....

First-time glasses buying confusion

The help you need...

If that story sounds describes you, don't give up. You're not alone, and while delving into online eyeglass purchases can save you a bundle of money, you're going to want to approach it gradually. Here I'll give you a short recommended guideline, some other resources, and I'll even go over a few of the terms to help you get started.

Getting Started:

There are a few things you'll need by the time you've added glasses to your cart at an online glasses shop. They are as follows:

  1. Your prescription.
  2. Your PD measurement.
  3. A target price range.
  4. A notion of what "features" are really important to you.

Unless you know a guy who gives eye exams "out the back of his van", the RX is something you'll get from your optometrist.

The PD measurement is the biggest stumbling block for most people because a lot of eye doctors do not write it on the prescription - they usually assume that whatever store you go to will take it anyway. If you ask your optometrist for it during your eye exam though, they'll usually be kind enough to give it to you at the same time. And sometimes they'll take it but won't put it on your prescription in which case a quick phone call can usually get that for you.

If you absolutely can't get the PD measurement from your eye doctor:

Your target price range is going to depend on what exactly you're looking for in your glasses. It's like buying a car - you can get something basic for fairly cheap, but as you upgrade or add features the price starts to grow. As a ROUGH GUIDELINE, here is what you can expect:

These are not hard-and-fast rules, but they'll give you a rough idea and should give you a "ballpark" figure when you start shopping.

As for features, I'm not talking about glasses that include a GPS or display your twitter feed on the lens. I'm talking about stuff like:

There is certainly more to consider, but answer those questions for now. It might help to write your answers down before continuing. If you're still a little uncertain, the New York Times had an article from back in 2009 that goes over a 9-step process for Seeing Straight Without Breaking the Bank. While a few years old now, most of it still holds true today in 2014, and it is definitely worth a read.

Taking a PD measurement

Taking your PD measurement

Let's assume your optometrist wasn't feeling nice, and wasn't going to give your PD measurement to you. You've already been to the grocery store, bought some sugar for his or her gas tank (kidding!), and are now left with the prospect of taking this "PD" measurement yourself.

The short version is that the PD measurement stands for "pupillary distance", which is a fancy way of saying the distance between the pupils of your eyes. It's taken in millimetres (mm).

If you plan to take it yourself, I suggest you choose one of the retailers that are newcomer-oriented and have a thorough guide with pictures and examples. But to give you a rough idea, this is usually the process...

  1. Get a ruler that has a millimetre measurement on it (mm).
  2. Stand in front of a mirror, close enough to kiss it.
  3. Hold the ruler across your face (in front of your eyes, above your nose).
  4. Close 1 eye and stare straight ahead with the other eye. Get the mm reading in front of the center of the pupil (black part) of the open eye.
  5. DO NOT MOVE THE RULER - switch eyes (open/close the opposite eyes). Take the mm reading.
  6. Subtract the readings.
  7. Most people should get a number somewhere between 50-70mm. For example, if your first eye was at the 93mm mark and the second was at the 30mm mark, you would have 93-30=63mm.

CHECK AT LEAST TWO OR THREE TIMES to make sure you are getting a consistent reading. "Reset" each time by moving the ruler around a bit, maybe even grabbing a mirror, and taking new measurements. Have somebody else stand in front of you while you stare straight ahead, and let them take the readings too.

Be sure to check the guides offered by retailers too - they can be quite helpful.

Finding a retailer

A few retailers have been around for years and have established records. Here are 4 I would recommend looking at as a starting point.

Remember, those retailers are just starting points. You should definitely check out other retailers too, and do some comparison shopping! Eyeglass Retailer Reviews has these retailers (and more) listed with full-fledged reviews of each. If interested, WKYC (an NBC news station) did a news story on online eyewear being a cheaper alternative, and they go over his experience. A video definitely worth checking out!

Other resources

If you ended up here, chances are you are deep into your research already which is good. Here are a couple other places you might have missed though:

Where to buy glasses & frames online is a pretty basic step-by-step guide that lets you choose your priorities (whether it is price, designer frames, etc) and makes a few recommendations based on what you choose. They utilize the site list provided by Eyeglass Retailer Reviews, and the recommendations should be fairly safe.

USA Today has a more general article on saving money (technology whacking away at prices of high-end products) with a section on glasses.

Google (or Microsoft Bing) are your friends too. Once you've narrowed down your selection of retailers, try a search for "______ review" and look for talk in forums, blogs, etc.