9 Things to Know Before You Buy Glasses Online

Updated: Feb. 10, 2017

We buy everything online these days, including clothes, shoes, groceries, and even vacations, so why not glasses? If you're thinking of ordering specs from a dot com, read this first.


Some “designer” frames are actually knockoffs

Although most designer brands do a fairly good job of policing websites to make sure ‘Brand X’ is truly Brand X, some cheap knockoffs do sneak through, so it pays to know how to judge the frames’ quality. The hallmark of high-caliber specs is found in the least likely of places: a frame’s hinge. “The hinge is what takes the most stress when you wear a pair of glasses and when you take them on and off,” says licensed optician Pete Hanlin, a technical marketing director for Essilor of America. “A good-quality hinge, which you’ll find in most designer labels, is going to be durable, and it’s going to last.” Another reason to dare to go designer? A top-notch hinge is almost guaranteed to extend the life of your glasses.


You could pay less—especially if you buy multiple pairs

If you buy eyeglasses online, one of the major perks is the cost cut. While FramesDirect.com and Glasses.com sell designer brands at a discount, Zenni Optical sells their specs for as low as $6.95, including lenses. How do these retailers get away with it? Most of them ditch the middleman, so they avoid the extra licensing fees and overhead costs that brick-and-mortar stores face. Customer Isaac Filat bought his pair of glasses from Warby Parker, a company that offers hip frames designed in-house, for $95. For him, the price alone was enough to justify his purchase. “The real reason I purchased from Warby Parker: I saved hundreds of dollars,” he says. Check out these other ways to save money shopping online.


It’s harder to find the right shape for your face

Obviously when you order online, you won’t be able to try on the glasses. But there are ways around this. Many online retailers provide guides to determine which frame will complement the shape and size of your face, as well as your coloring and best features. Hanlin’s best tip for finding your just-right frames: “Avoid wearing a frame that is the same shape as your face,” he says. If you have a round face, for example, it would be smart to ditch the Harry Potter glasses and opt for square frames, instead. “You usually want to go with the opposite of what your face shape is,” Hanlin says. (Plus, the right makeup can make your specs really pop.) Some sites, such as eyeglassesdirect.com and framesdirect.com, offer a virtual try-on, where you upload a photo and see the frames as they may look on your face. In Filat’s case, Warby Parker sent five pairs of glasses, and then he chose the pair that he liked the best. Other online retailers allow you to try the glasses on virtually by uploading a selfie and transposing the lenses onto the photo. It’s okay to choose the experience you feel most comfortable with, but beware that they may not always look the same on your face as they did on the screen.


It’s crucial to take the right measurements

Obviously the right prescription is key, but one of the most crucial aspects of nailing the prescription is measuring your pupillary distance, which is usually done in person. “In any optical lens, there is one very specific spot that needs to be directly in front of your pupil,” Hanlin says. “If that spot isn’t right where you’re looking through, then you’re not going to see as well as you should.” Ill-fitting eyewear can cause all kinds of vision problems, including eyestrain, headaches, or even double vision. A professional at a brick-and-mortar store can take the measurement for you, but eye doctors won’t tell you that you can also do it yourself—and if you’re ordering online, you’ll need to do that. The good news is that it’s not as daunting as you might think. “We’re often able to measure [pupillary distance] online more accurately than in person,” Neil Blumenthal, a co-founder of Warby Parker, told the Wall Street Journal. Just make sure to follow the website’s instructions carefully; while some might ask you to take a selfie while holding a card with a magnetic strip to your face, others can teach you to find the distance on your own.


You’ll need to gauge the fit

Besides your pupillary distance, another important measurement to pay attention to when you buy prescription glasses online is how the eyeglasses fit on your head. Without trying them on first, they can easily be too loose, too tight, or lopsided. Carefully note the site’s recommendations for fitting the frames to your face’s width, Hanlin advises. Warby Parker, for example, offers three different frame widths: narrow, medium, and wide. When Filat ordered his pair, he searched only for glasses in the narrow category. Warby Parker then sent him five trial pairs to try on, and he was able to check that the size fit his face. “It was well worth the wait,” he says. If you’re in the market for glasses and need to refresh your prescription, here’s how to find a doctor you can trust.


It may take longer

Admit it: It’s so much easier to browse for eyewear styles and colors without a salesperson breathing down your neck. “People like to do things in the comfort of their own home,” Hanlin says. “Scrolling through and looking at frames is a little more convenient than having to get in your car and drive to a brick-and-mortar establishment.” But convenience sometimes comes at a cost when you buy prescription glasses online. For Filat, it took nearly three weeks to complete the whole process, mostly because of shipping time. “It took a week for Warby Parker to send the trial glasses out,” Filat says. “Then, I decided which pair I wanted. Then, they had to prepare the glasses with the proper prescription. Then, they had to send out the final product.” If you’re in a rush for a new pair of specs, you might just want to stop by a local eyeglasses shop.

iStock/Todor Tsvetkov

Beware of return policies

Return policies vary from retailer to retailer. If you buy glasses online, though, you will have one resource that you wouldn’t have in-store: customer feedback. “Look for reviews from people who have bought from that same supplier,” Hanlin advises. “If there is a bad return policy, you’re usually going to see negative reviews.” If you do the proper research as an online buyer, you’re likely to walk away feeling more satisfied with your purchase.


You get what you pay for

Low prices are a huge plus, obviously, but in the end, price could signal quality. “The number one thing to know when you’re buying glasses, period—but especially online—is that there’s a lot of quality differentiation that can go into one frame or another,” Hanlin says. Although most consumers believe that a lens is a lens, there are actually many differences between eyeglasses, including the quality of the coating, material, and extra features. Plus, bifocals or progressive lenses present additional challenges. If you’re over the age of 40, you might be better off buying your specs at a brick-and-mortar store, where you can choose custom lenses that meet your needs. If you have a simple prescription, however, a lower price point could be a budget-savvy move.


It pays to get the extras

If buying an additional pair of frames to act as sunglasses is not in your budget, consider spending a little more on your regular glasses to get lenses that darken automatically in sunlight, called Transitions. Transitions lenses minimize exposure to UVA and UVB rays, which can make eyes tired and contribute to potentially serious age-related eye problems and disease of the eyes, including cataracts and macular degeneration. Transitions lenses, which darken instantly on exposure to bright light, will protect your eyes by blocking 100 percent of invisible UVA and UVB rays and reducing glare the second you step outside.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest