Shopping for Eyeglasses?
Learn where to get the best value and amazing savings!
If you’re not educated in retail eyeglasses buying, you could end up paying hundreds of dollars unnecessarily.
|In a comprehensive survey and eyewear report, about 92,000 users responded on how to get a good value for a great pair of glasses at a great price.Using this research among other reports we found:• USA independent online eyeglasses stores offered the excellent value and price. The Internet turns out to be a great place to find your style of frames at what ever your budget.
• Independent optical stores and doctors’ offices scored high among respondents for service and selection but not for price.
• You can save money by buying complete eyeglasses with frames and lenses online.
• According to experts, Polycarbonate lenses generally provide better shatter proof, UV and anti scratch protection but are more costly than standard CR39 plastic lenses.
• BJ’s Optical, Costco, and Sam’s Club achieved good marks for price when compared to other optical chaines that were much more expensive; Costco also earned a high mark for service.
• The best value we found was by far from online USA FDA registered optical labs that offered excellent material and workmanship found at the big box retailers at a fraction of the cost. Cheaper-Eyeglasses.com received our high honors and distinction for best value prescription eyewear.
Price is the biggest gripe among consumers buying eyeglasses. In our research we uncovered recent surveys showing 92,000 recent eyeglass buyers surveyed by the Consumer Reports National Research Center with less than half reporting they were satisfied with the price they paid. However, our research uncovered that glasses don’t have to cost as much as most consumers think and pay in bricks and mortars eye glasses retailer. In our reviews we discovered a surprising standout: Costco, which has become the nation’s fifth-largest seller of eyewear. Not only were its prices low, but it also garnered applause for service, scoring nearly as well overall as private medical offices and small independent optical shops, which continue to top all categories but price.
Your eyeglasses prescription for savings!
You will probably start your shopping odyssey with a prescription. But even before heading to the doctor’s office to get one, familiarize yourself with the basics of lenses, coatings, and edgings. (See UV coating.)
Thus armed, you’ll know what to ask the doctor and later salespeople at the eyeglass store to ensure that you aren’t being sold unnecessary or needlessly expensive products. For example, CR found that some doctors specify ultraviolet-light protection for polycarbonate or high-index lenses, both of which inherently provide such protection. In fact, you may not need any UV protection at all. (See Types.)
Doctors might also prescribe Varilux lenses, a pricey brand of progressive, or “no line,” bifocals. There are other high-quality progressive lenses that may be less expensive. The average consumer has no way to tell a good lens from a bad one, and experts say that stores could take advantage of those who are ill-informed.
If your doctor’s office includes an eyeglass store, browse the frames while you’re there. But don’t feel compelled to buy there. Under federal law, you can have your prescription filled anywhere.
When CR went shopping for eyeglasses, prescription in hand, we found that lens prices alone vary dramatically. LensCrafters, for example, had us seeing–or rather, paying–more than double. For CR-39 lenses–the least-expensive plastic lenses, and, according to Gregory Good, a professor of clinical optometry at the Ohio State University College of Optometry, lenses that do not vary much from place to place–the chain charged $120 before any discount. That’s five times the price we found at one Costco store. And if you want an anti-reflective coating, you must upgrade to LensCrafters’ FeatherWates polycarbonate lenses for a whopping $240. The price for lenses similar to FeatherWates was $80 at a Costco we visited.
Adding in designer or ultralightweight frames can boost the price of your eyeglasses to $1,000 or more. Designer frames, however, typically are not made by the designers but by manufacturers that license Ralph’s, Giorgio’s, or Calvin’s name, often with the designer’s styling cues. It’s not unusual for a name to travel from one manufacturer to another, as the Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani names have.
Licensing fees for those designer specs can translate to higher prices, but their manufacturers (such as Charmont, Luxottica, Marchon, and Safilo) also make high-quality nondesigner frames. We found several that looked like their designer counterparts for $100 to $150.
The Internet, we discovered, is a great place to shop for frames. Prices are generally lower than at many brick-and-mortar stores. The obvious drawback: No optician can reach through a monitor to measure, adjust, and fit the frames.
How to choose
Lenses first. For low price and optical quality, CR-39 lenses are the best choice, but they are less shatter-resistant than other lenses, and with strong prescriptions they look like Coke-bottle bottoms. If you are active in sports, you should instead choose polycarbonate lenses. If you need a strong prescription, choose thinner polycarbonate, high-index, or Trivex lenses.
If you buy polycarbonate or high-index lenses, you don’t have to pay extra for UV protection and scratch-resistant coatings because such features are already included. The new Trivex lenses have better optical quality than polycarbonates, UV protection, scratch protection on one side, and thinness. But they cost about $100 to $135 for single-vision lenses and can be difficult to find.
Frames second. Frames come in so many metals and resins that you could go crazy trying to sort them out. Generally, there’s no particular reason for selecting one over the other unless you’re concerned about durability or allergies. Plastic frames break more easily than metal ones, but they are fine for people susceptible to allergies. So are stainless steel and titanium frames, which, unlike those made of nickel alloy, don’t irritate skin. If durability is a concern, you should choose titanium frames and titanium-based flexible metals, which can withstand the most abuse. If you’re constantly putting your glasses on and taking them off, opt for spring hinges, which need fewer adjustments and make the frame fit better.
Be careful of buying ultracheap frames, warns Frank Baynham, an executive vice president, stores of Luxottica Retail, which owns LensCrafters and Pearle Vision, among other chains. He says those frames are often low-quality models from China and Korea that break easily or pop out lenses repeatedly. While those countries also make good frames, the cheaper ones are often used for promotions such as “free second pair” deals that are limited to a special section of the store.
How frames look is also important. Consider frames that complement the shape of your face–say, rectangular ones for a round face or round frames for a square face. If your prescription requires thick lenses, go with frames that have rims. Rimless and semi-rimless frames will make thick lenses look even thicker.
Where to shop. Your choice of store may depend partly on how quickly you need your glasses. If you dropped them in the garbage disposer and have to replace them immediately, your best options are Eyemart Express, LensCrafters or some independent shops, which can produce glasses in an hour. About 70 percent of CR’s survey respondents received their glasses from those two stores by the next day. Only 16 percent of all our respondents got their glasses that quickly.
If you’re not in a rush, plan to check out Internet retailers. They are great places to compare prices, look at frames, and even try on glasses using software that lets you upload your photograph and superimpose images of frames. You can print photos of your favorites and also use online prices to negotiate with a local store.
You can enter your prescription and order your glasses at a Web site and get them in about seven days. If there’s a problem, however, you would have to mail the glasses back and wait for the Web site to send them again. You can have the best of online and offline worlds by ordering frames from a Web site and having lenses made at a store where an optician can fit the glasses. You might pay extra to the brick-and-mortar merchant for this service; for example, $18 at Costco and $20 at Wal-Mart. Although you would probably save money, the effort could be a hassle.
Before hitting the stores, look at our Ratings. If high prices don’t bother you, stick with an independent store or your doctor’s office. Otherwise, go to BJ’s, Costco, or Sam’s Club. You don’t have to be a member at BJ’s or Sam’s Club to buy glasses or contact lenses, but at Costco, you must join, at a cost of $50 per year. (None of the warehouse clubs requires membership for an eye exam, but service varies by store.)
On CR’s shopping expedition, Costco shaved $219 off the price of a pair of glasses we had found at LensCrafters. The only difference: At Costco, we had to go with a Ralph Lauren frame, although it was similar to the Brooks Brothers version we tried at LensCrafters. Three other national chains–Davis Vision Center, For Eyes Optical, and Wal-Mart–also offered more satisfactory prices, according to survey respondents.
None of those stores rated better than average among our survey respondents for frame selection, however. So if the price leaders do not carry frames that you want, you’ll have to try another store or shop online. The same Brooks Brothers frame that was $170 at LensCrafters, for example, cost $70 less at FramesDirect.com.
Finalize the purchase. If you’re in the market for glasses, check out promotions and discounts. Look in your local paper, visit store Web sites, and ask salespeople. Some stores offer second-pair discounts so that you can buy a backup pair or sunglasses. Just be careful that you don’t wind up with the easily breakable or pop-out frames. Don’t hesitate to negotiate, especially if you found a better deal on frames and lenses elsewhere. Some stores, such as LensCrafters, say they won’t haggle, but you might as well try.
Ask about warranties and return policies. LensCrafters has the most liberal policy we’ve seen, allowing you to return or exchange as many pairs as you want within 30 days–a great option if your co-workers poke fun at your new look. The chain will also replace lenses at no charge if your prescription changes within 60 days of purchase (six months after cataract surgery). Ask whether you can exchange the frame if it isn’t comfortable and whether the store will remake the lenses at no cost if the doctor made an error in your prescription. (Costco and LensCrafters will do so.) You should also ask whether the store will give you a new lens at a lower cost if you cannot get used to no-line glasses and need a pair of bifocals.
Finally, if you’re dissatisfied with your new glasses, let the store know, even if your complaint isn’t covered by the store’s guarantee or return policy. Some shops told us that they often bend the rules to make a customer happy.