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Buying Prescription Glasses Online: Worth The Savings?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- On average, a person will pay about $200 for a pair of prescription glasses. Add on a designer name and fancy frames and you'll pay much more. But, some glasses are selling online for as little as $7.

WCCO wondered how they measure up. With the help of two women who ordered two pairs a piece, we took some of these bargain glasses to an optometrist.

Ann Petersen has been wearing glasses for 23 years. Monique Paananen has been wearing them for at least 15 years. They know how expensive a new pair can cost. That's why it didn't take too much convincing to get them to focus on a new way to find glasses.

"I'd be willing to give it a shot I guess. It's a lot less cost than what I'm paying currently," Petersen said.

Petersen ordered online from Zenni Optical. After a simple phone call to her eye doctor, she plugged in her prescription.

"I just bought a pair of classic frame glasses," Petersen said.

She ordered her first pair for $6.95 and her second for $9.95. Paananen went to EyeBuyDirect. Again, she got a pair for $6.95 and paid $14.95 for her second.

"Sure doesn't seem like a bad price," Paananen said.

Two weeks later, when we got all four pairs, we paid a visit to Perspectives Vision Clinic in southwest Minneapolis.

Dr. Marcie Nichols wanted to see what we got for our money and if the prescriptions we ordered matched with what she measured.

Nichols spotted the first issue with one of Petersen's pairs. Since she wears such strong glasses, the doctor discovered Petersen's astigmatism correction was off.

"When your astigmatism correction isn't made properly in a prescription it can be very hard to adapt to," Dr. Nichols said.

The doctor said that could lead to eye strain or headaches but the biggest problem came later with pupillary distance. Measured in millimeters, PD is the distance between your pupils that ensures your lenses are placed in the right spot.

"If the prescription isn't centered right over the pupil then it can definitely throw the way you focus through it off," Dr. Nichols said.

The PD number usually isn't included in your prescription from your doctor. Instead, the measurement is done on site.

So in the case of our orders, we took the measurement ourselves following online directions.

"They are wrong in all of them," Dr. Nichols said.

Our measuring mistake became clear when we gave Petersen and Paananen their new glasses. We put a black dot on the glasses where the pupil should be and it was off every time.

It's the recommendation that you get your PD from your eye doctor and don't do it yourself for the most accurate measurement.

As for what Petersen and Paananen thought of the feel and the fit, Paananen seemed to have more luck than Petersen.

"They actually fit pretty good. I'd wear them," Paananen said.

"If I look straight ahead I'm looking over the top of the frames," Petersen said.

Dr. Nichols considers it a profession of perfectionism.

"It's so important to have the proper prescription with the proper lenses so you can be the most comfortable and efficient that you can be," Dr. Nichols said.

She believes the consequences are too severe to blur the lines.

In the case of our test, it left two customers seeing things differently.

Nichols said if people do decide to order online, take them into a professional to have them adjusted.

In most cases, that's free.

It's also good to know what size and shape frames look good on your face first before ordering. Many websites allow you to upload a photo of yourself first to see what certain glasses will look like.

Both of the websites we ordered from have return policies. EyeBuyDirect offers a replacement or a refund within 14 days of receiving the glasses. You just have to cover the shipping cost.

Zenni Optical takes returns for 30 days.  A spokesperson said all glasses are shipped within tolerance levels of the American National Institute of Standards and it's possible for there to be a slight change in shipping. All customer service representatives at Zenni have optical licenses.

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