People Are Flocking to Buy Cheaper Glasses Online

People Are Flocking to Buy Cheaper Glasses Online

The author with his stylish — and inexpensive — frames.

SourceSean Culligan. Composite by Ned Colin.

Why you should care

You can get Warby Parker styles without Warby Parker prices.

After a tortured childhood relationship with glasses, I decided in my mid-20s that I couldn’t go without them any longer. I started with wire rims, then switched to the thicker styles now en vogue. And soon, to my shock, I was getting compliments on them all the time, with people inevitably asking: Where did you get those?

To the outside observer, my glasses look straight out of a Warby Parker ad. Only when you pull them off do you see the brand name: EyeBuyDirect.com. Yep, those Wayfarer-style glasses, with the glossy black-and-yellow tortoiseshell pattern, were purchased online — for less than $40 after taxes. And that’s including prescription lenses.

The prices were so affordable that I bought three different pairs a year later … for a total of $103.71. There are other online options too. Zenni Optical has bare-bone frames for $6.95 a pop, and great deals can also be found at the self-explanatory 39DollarGlasses.com. There are even international options, such as French startup Lunettes Pour Tous, where you can get glasses for as little as 10 euros ($11). “This is a line of people for a line of product where everybody has the same goal: high volume, low cost, low customer interaction,” says Nashville ophthalmologist Rebecca Taylor, clinical spokeswoman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Compare them with other, better-known online retailers, like Warby Parker, where the cheapest pairs are advertised “from $95” and up.

Indeed, you’ll have to get your eye test elsewhere and you aren’t likely to receive great customer service if something goes wrong with your order. For those worried about fit, however, most online retailers offer a time frame — 14 days for EyeBuyDirect, 60 days at Zenni Optical — to return them and receive most or all of your money back.

The prices are cheap compared with those of other, better-known online retailers, like Warby Parker, where the lowest-priced pairs are advertised “from $95” and up, and typically run much higher. Glasses purchased in-store are notoriously more expensive, typically between $100 and $300, according to optician John Seegers’ 2019 “OpticianWorks Consumers Guide to Buying Glasses.” “The higher the brand recognition is, the higher the cost will be,” Seegers writes, noting that while designer frames do often look better, they are not necessarily a better product. “In fact, it was most likely made on the very same assembly line and from the very same materials as the company’s house brand,” he notes.

And glasses wearers are increasingly going online for purchase options. While Warby gets the headlines, Zenni controls 50 percent of the market, made $176 million in revenue in 2017 and has sold more than 20 million pairs since it began in 2003 — equal to, as Zenni puts it, “the five-year sales volume of 1,000 brick-and-mortar stores.”

There are circumstances in which you might not want to purchase glasses online. If you are looking for single-vision specs, online is fine, but those who are extremely near- or far-sighted, have moderate to high levels of astigmatism or require bifocals should look elsewhere. Buying glasses online “is most appropriate for those ages 18 to 39,” Taylor says, since young children and older adults are most adversely affected by a wrong prescription or wearing eyeglasses that have been inaccurately centered.

But apart from those specific situations, Taylor says online retailers have been a positive development. “There are a number of patients who can now get glasses, where they financially couldn’t before,” she says.

That’s an experience I’m familiar with. As a preteen, I tried contacts, and they didn’t stick (literally … I never figured out how to keep them in). All was well when I switched to frames, except that I would lose them, again and again. Finally, I decided to suck it up and go without rather than eat the high price. There are some who prefer paying more for the highest quality, and all power to them. As for me? I will keep donning my compliment-grabbing glasses — and feel secure knowing I’ve got plenty of backup pairs when life throws me curveballs.

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