The best places to buy eyeglasses

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clark howard eyeglasses
Image Credit: Joel Larsgaard / Clark.com
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If you’re looking for the best place to buy glasses online or in a store, there are any number of ways you can go: Optical chains, independent optometrists, optical departments in big-box stores and online-only sellers are all options.

But no matter which retailer or website you choose, the key thing to remember is this: Eyeglasses don’t have to cost hundreds of dollars!

Looking for the best place to buy glasses online or in a store?

woman shopping for eyeglasses

Money expert Clark Howard has long bought his glasses online from a website called Zenni Optical. He says it’s pretty much the best place to buy glasses online that he’s found.

Zenni’s prices start at around $12 for a basic frame with prescription lenses. That price includes shipping!

“If you’re wondering how they can be so cheap, Zenni grinds its lenses in China and offers absolutely no service after the sale,” Clark says. “But I’ve used them multiple times and never had a problem.”

But while Clark believes Zenni is among the best places to buy glasses online, they’re far from the only game in town.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the some of the places you may want to consider buying glasses from and what you should know before ordering glasses online.

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Best places to get a deal on glasses: Table of contents

Top 10 best places to buy eyeglasses

Consumer Reports recently took a close look at eyeglasses retailers and says Costco Wholesale is the No. 1 place to buy glasses in America.

According to the magazine, Costco’s median price for a complete pair of eyeglasses is $184, while a national chain like LensCrafters has a median out-of-pocket cost of $369.

RELATED: 5 things to know before you buy glasses from Costco Optical

Not surprisingly, a number of online retailers also scored high marks from the magazine. Here’s a rundown of the Top 10 best places to buy eyeglasses, according to Consumer Reports:

  1. Costco Optical
  2. Independent eyeglass shop
  3. Warby Parker
  4. Private doctor’s office
  5. ZenniOptical.com
  6. Kaiser Permanente
  7. Opticare Eye Health & Vision Centers
  8. EyeBuyDirect.com
  9. Sam’s Club Optical
  10. Walmart Vision Center

Another notable entry was 39DollarGlasses.com in 12th place.

Even though Costco checks in at #1 on the Consumer Reports tally, Clark says he and his family prefer Zenni’s frames and lenses.

“A few years ago, my middle daughter needed glasses and my wife wanted to go to Costco Wholesale. But I nearly had a coronary when I looked at the price of the frames and lenses my daughter liked — they were nearly $80! I quickly suggested Zenni, prompting my wife to blow her top and tell me not to be so cheap. We soon reached a compromise: My daughter got the pair at Costco, but she also got a spare pair from Zenni for $19. It turns out that she liked the pair from Zenni better than the one from Costco.”

If you’re going to buy your glasses online…

The cheap prices from the online retailers are certainly alluring. But if you plan on ordering from a site like ZenniOptical.com, EyeBuyDirect.com or 39DollarGlasses.com, you’ll need to have your vision checked by an eye doctor first to get an updated prescription.

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You’ll also need to find out your pupillary distance (P.D.), which is the space between the center of your pupils, expressed in millimeters. Certain frames will not work with certain P.D.s because the center of the lenses will either be too wide or too narrow. You need a fit that’s just right.

If your P.D. is already noted on your prescription, you are good to go. If it’s not noted, many doctors will provide this information upon request.

Know the Eyeglasses Rule

Under the Eyeglasses Rule, doctors must do the following for their patients:

  • Your eye doctor must give you a prescription for glasses at the end of your exam.
  • You can’t be required to pay an extra fee, buy eyeglasses or contacts, or sign a waiver in exchange for the prescription.
  • The doctor should give you the prescription automatically. You shouldn’t even have to ask for a copy of it.
  • As for contact lenses, the FTC says your eye doctor must give you the prescription after your fitting, which may require more than one appointment.

If all else fails and you have a doctor who is just not cooperating, here is Goggles4u’s DIY guide to calculating your pupillary distance.

Weigh the pluses and minuses of ordering online

Here’s another thing to consider: When you order online, you will likely have very little customer service after the sale. For example, there’s no one you can go to in order to adjust the fit if the frames aren’t feeling comfortable on your head. So there are some trade-offs.

But, again, the biggest benefit here is that you’ll pay one-fourth to one-sixth the usual price with the online sellers versus the traditional retailers.

Clark’s advice for first-timers who have never bought glasses online before

clark with his zenni optical eyeglasses

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Clark wears progressive lenses that he bought online and has never had a problem with ordering glasses this way. But if this is the first time you’re buying glasses online, you may have some reservations.

If that’s the case, try this approach…

“I recommend a safe harbor until you’re comfortable. I want you to pay too much for your first pair buying them the traditional way to satisfy your fears. Then buy a second pair with a cheap online shop. Compare the two to see if the cheaper pair will work for you moving forward.”

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