Eyeglass Store Buying Guide

A new pair of prescription specs can run you hundreds of dollars. So how can you buy a good pair of glasses without paying too much?

What We Found—See What's In Store

One answer is to shop at Costco. The store topped our list of eyeglass retailers for overall satisfaction in Consumer Reports' 2016 survey of more than 91,000 members. Survey respondents who bought glasses at Costco had a median out-of-pocket cost of $184, which can be hundreds less than what you might pay elsewhere.

This median cost is based on members who did not have any of the costs of their eyeglasses covered by insurance.

Other discount retailers, including Sam's Club and Walmart, had decent prices, too. We purchased a pair of frames at Walmart for just $9. But there was a drawback: None of these retailers received top marks when it came to frame selection.

Another option is to buy from an eyeglass website. The selection probably will be great, and so will the prices. We found a Coach frame that was $220 at LensCrafters for $123 at FramesDirect.com. But there also can be downsides to buying online. You're taking a chance if you buy frames without having tried them on to see how they look and fit. And you’ll have to wait for glasses to be mailed to you. It also can be a hassle returning your glasses if there’s a problem. This risk increases if you order lenses along with your frames, especially if you have a complex prescription. And if your frames need adjusting, it can be difficult to find a local professional willing to do it, at least at no charge.

If you don't mind paying around $400 for your new glasses, or if most of your purchase is covered by insurance, it may be worth buying from an independent local optical shop or a private doctor's office, where you're likely to get exceptional personal attention. These retailers got high satisfaction scores from our members and top marks for the fitting of frames and lenses and employee knowledge. They also received top ratings for follow-up service, although Costco did as well.

Another option is to buy from Warby Parker, which sells eyeglasses online and in walk-in stores, which also provide eye exams. You can get a complete pair of glasses with single-vision lenses for less than $100. If you have a more complicated prescription that requires, for example, multifocal lenses, things can get pretty expensive. And Warby sells only its own brand of frames. So you won't find those designer glasses you want after seeing them at a pricey eyeglass store.

Shopping Strategies

Where and how you should shop depends on your preferences and needs. If you're not picky about frames, a discount store may be right for you. If money is no issue, your eye doctor or an independent eyeglass store may be your best choice. But if you’re looking for savings, a great selection of frames, and that personal touch that comes with dealing with a professional in person, consider splitting up the process, perhaps getting your exam at your doctor's office, your frames online, and your lenses from a discount store.

Here's what to do:

Get Educated
Start by going to eyeglass websites such as Eyeglasses.com and LensesRx.com and reading the how-to information. Knowing something about the types of frames, lenses, and coatings 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 (although you still should always try on a frame in the real world before buying it).

Talk to Your Doctor
If you’re having your eyes examined, ask your doctor for advice about which lenses are best for you and whether there is anything you need to consider when buying frames. For example, a narrow frame may not be able to accommodate your prescription if you need progressives or other multifocal lenses. And rimless and semirimless frames may be a bad choice if you have a strong prescription that requires thicker lenses. Also discuss add-ons, such as anti-glare coatings. If your doctor’s office sells frames, try some on. Ask the sale staff for advice about what works best for you.

If your examination is at Costco or another discount store and you find a frame you like, you may not need to look any further. A Warby Parker store may be another one-stop option, especially if you need only single-vision lenses, which are included in the prices of the frames.

Comparison Shop
If you can’t find anything that you like or that’s reasonably priced, try some other walk-in stores, recording the brands, models, and sizes of the frames you’d consider buying. You’ll find that information marked on the frame’s temples, the pieces that connect the glasses to your ears.

Search the web with the brand and model number of your top picks. There's a good chance you’ll find them at a much lower cost. If you plan to buy your lenses online as well as the frames, check the sites’ lens prices, too.

Once you have your 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. 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 that after-purchase care that a website can't provide, such as frame adjustments. So it may be worth paying somewhat more.

If you decide to buy online, you might think twice about adding lenses to your frame order, especially if you have a complex prescription. One option is to purchase the frames and have the prescription filled at a local discount store. You'll probably have to pay a little extra to have lenses put in frames you bought elsewhere. (Walmart adds $10.) The store probably will be happy to adjust your new frames, if needed.

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 a proper pair of glasses 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.

Finally, if you need your glasses in an hour or so, be careful. If your impulse is to run to the national chain LensCrafters, for example, you're likely to pay dearly.

The median out-of-pocket cost for our survey respondents at that retailer was $369. But if you have an Eye-Mart or Eyeglass World near you, it can often produce glasses within one day for a lot less. And these stores are not too far behind LensCrafters in reader satisfaction.

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 or online store, check it out before buying. Some eyeglass websites we checked had F ratings from the Better Business Bureau, 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 up front 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 a service contract, also known as 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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