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Online Eyeglasses Stores — Are They for You?

Here's what you need to know before trying them out.

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Illustration of eyeglass frames
Ilya Shapko
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It was the middle of the night when I heard the all-too-familiar crunching sound — I had stepped on my eyeglasses yet again. This time the victim was a pair of $400 prescription Ray-Bans.

After I lamented my plight to my coworker the next morning, she said, “Oh, you’ve got to try Zenni!” What sounded like the latest exercise craze was actually an online eyeglasses store. With nothing to lose (except another $400), I jumped on the ‘net and checked it out. I’ve been a loyal customer ever since.

Here’s how Zenni and companies like it work. First, you go to your eye doctor. (You should be doing this anyway, right?) After the exam, your doctor will gladly give you a written prescription with all of the necessary information you’ll need to complete a purchase. There really should no longer be a need for pressure to buy from your doctor, and there are so many options other than your local eyeglasses franchise.

Next is the fun part. Go to one of a multitude of websites — in addition to Zenni, EyeBuyDirect , GlassesUSA, and Warby Parker are among the most popular — and start exploring. Several magazines have rated these and more stores based on a number of factors, so do an internet search and then shop according to the criteria that are most important to you. For me it’s price, which is why I gravitate more toward Zenni and EyeBuyDirect, with Glasses USA a close third option.

Keep in mind, some online businesses offer great deals along with good quality and style, while others are mostly about the quality and style, without a whole lot of cost savings. But those sites do offer some different perks, like being able to have eyeglasses sent to you free of charge to try on in the comfort of your own home.

Even though your choices are endless, companies arrange the products on their sites in such a way that “endless” doesn’t mean “overwhelming.” Search, sort and filter categories usually include gender, frame style, face shape, frame material and more, including price. Once you’ve narrowed down some of the basics, the real fun begins.

Scroll through and mark some glasses you might be interested in. You can typically upload a photo of your face and virtually try them on or, for a low-priced pair, simply take the leap and the risk that you might just like them based on what you’ve seen.

The worst that can happen is that you’ll have a spare pair of glasses!

Then enter your payment and mailing information and wait for your new spectacles to arrive. It’s that easy.

A word on price. I usually choose the lowest-priced company and glasses ($6.95) so that I can purchase as many pairs as I want without (too much) guilt, but price ranges vary not only by company but within a particular retailer. And be careful: There are nice add-ons to choose from, but only pick ones you really need; otherwise those $6.95 glasses could quickly become pricey.

Now I don’t worry about stepping on my glasses in the middle of the night or spending an exorbitant amount on new ones. I own about eight pairs, which affords me the flexibility to match my clothes or mood with my frames. The industry may have started out with just the basics, but today you can choose from the trendiest of eyewear, including for sunglasses and readers. Trust me, you won’t regret giving online retailers a try!

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