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Eyeglass stores

Eyeglass store buying guide

Last updated: December 2014

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Getting started

Getting started

A new pair of prescription specs can run you hundreds of dollars. So how can you buy a good pair of glasses without leaving yourself seeing double over the cost?

One answer is to shop at Costco. The store topped our list of eyeglass retailers for overall satisfaction in Consumer Reports' 2012 survey of nearly 19,500 readers. Another option is to buy from eyeglass websites. Doing that, we were able to save as much as 40 percent, compared to buying at a walk-in optical chain store such as LensCrafters. The downside, of course, is that you have to wait for your glasses to be mailed to you, and it can be a hassle returning them if there's a problem. But if you don't mind paying more, or most of your purchase is covered by insurance, go for independent local optical shops or a private doctor's office, which got high scores for satisfaction from our readers and top marks for merchandise quality and customer service. If you want or need your glasses in an hour or so, be prepared to pay for the privilege. LensCrafters was, by far, the fastest place to get new specs – almost half our readers who shopped there had their glasses the same or next day. But it also was among the most expensive.

The readers who responded to our survey spent a median of $244 out-of-pocket on their last pair of prescription specs. They gave Costco Optical the highest score for overall satisfaction among chains, with other discount retailers, including Sam's Club and Walmart, getting decent scores, too. Frame selection was the only category in which these particular discounters didn't get high marks. So if these discount stores don't have that frame you want, consider shopping online.

Shopping strategies

Start by visiting an eyeglass website such as Eyeglasses.com and LensesRx.com and reading the how-to information. Knowing something about the types of frames, lenses, and coatings available can help you understand your options and sense whether a store or website is trying to sell you more than you need. You might even upload a photo of yourself and use the virtual try-on feature on some sites to get an initial idea of which frames look best on you.

Talk to your doctor

If you're having your eyes examined (which you should do if you prescription is more than a year old), talk to the eye doctor about which lenses are best for you. Also discuss add-ons, such as anti-glare coatings. If your examination is at Costco or another discount store, check out the frames. If you find one or more that you like, you may not need look any further. If not, try a couple of other walk-in stores, noting the brands, models, and sizes of the frames you like. You'll find that information marked on the frame's temples.

An alternative is to consider frames from a new segment of online shop, such as Zenni Optical (zennioptical.com), Warby Parker (warbyparker.com), and Classic Specs (classicspecs.com). They offer a complete pair of single-vision glasses for less than $100. And, depending on the site, you can even have multiple frames mailed to you so you can try them on at home. But these sites primarily sell their own proprietary frames not available elsewhere; so you won't find frames you saw at a store or another website.

Comparison shop

Unless you're interested in a proprietary frame, search the web with the brand and model number of your top picks to see if you can find better prices. If you plan to buy your lenses online as well as the frames, check the sites' lens prices as well. If you don't feel comfortable ordering lenses online or if you have a complex prescription or one that involves multi-focal lenses, you can still save by purchasing the frames online and having the prescription filled at a local discount store. Once you find the best price, go back to the walk-in shop where you initially saw the frames and find out whether it can meet or at least come close to your top deal. It's only fair. And keep in mind that buying your glasses at a walk-in store makes it easier to return them if there's a problem. And you'll be able to get the after-purchase care that a website can't provide, such as frame adjustments. So it may be worth paying somewhat more.

Report any problems

Once you get your new glasses, immediately report any problems with the frames or lenses. Some retailers will let you exchange frames that you don't like for little or no cost, even if you ordered prescription lenses. But if you find a defect in the frame or if the prescription isn't right, you're entitled to satisfaction at no additional charge. If you bought your glasses online and the frames need adjusting, a local shop may be willing to do it for you, but there may be a charge, especially if you purchased the lenses online as well.

Tips for buying

Here are some things to consider no matter where you shop.

Check the retailer's reputation

If you're not familiar with the eyeglass shop, whether a walk-in store or online, check it out before buying. The websites where we found the lowest prices also had "F" ratings from the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org); so it's worth looking for a BBB report. Also, do a web search with the name of the retailer and such terms as "complaints" and "reviews" to see what other customers have to say.

Ask about insurance

If you're covered by insurance, find out whether the eyeglass store accepts your plan. If it doesn't, which often is the case for online eyeglass stores, you may be able to pay upfront and obtain reimbursement from your plan. Find out from your plan's administrator.

Review warranties and return policies

You should expect your frames to be covered against manufacturing defects for at least a year. Some retailers, whose warranties are shorter than that, may try to sell you an extended warranty that covers defects and accidental damage to your glasses. We advise skipping the coverage.

Look for promotions

Eyeglass stores often have coupons and special deals that can cut the cost of new glasses dramatically. But check the fine print on these offers. They may require you to buy a complete pair of glasses instead of just frames, for example. And you may not be able to take advantage of the deals if you're also using insurance.

Get another pair

If you find a great deal, consider buying a second pair of glasses. That way, if your primary pair is lost or broken, you won't have to run to an expensive shop to have a replacement made right away.

   

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