The same pair of glasses: Online versus retail

Much of the hoopla surrounding buying glasses online ignores two important facts: First, the really cheap glasses (think $100 or less including lenses) you find online are exclusively house-brand, generic-type frames. This isn’t a bad thing per se, particularly given that the discount retailers selling these glasses offer surprising quality and low, low prices. In fact, if you need new specs and don’t have much cash or need a second, third, or fourth pair, these discounters are completely awesome.

Secondly, let’s face it — glasses shopping for most people involves boots on the ground, going to a mall or boutique, and finding the perfect pair. The glasses you find there will almost invariably be an off-the-shelf product from one of the dozens of common eyewear designers. At the lower end of the price range you’ll find brands like Elements and Esprit; at the higher end you’ll find names like Prada and Versace. If you look, all the frames will have a  maker and model number printed on a little wrap-around sticker or other tag. You’ll find the same makers and often the same models at Pearle Vision, Lens Crafters, or any of a number of similar stores. You’ll also find all these stores charging almost exactly the MSRP for the frame, and strikingly similar prices for lenses.

My goal here is to compare the price of the exact same pair of prescription eyeglasses at a typical mall glasses store and at an online designer shop selling all of the major brands. Specifically, my price comparison is based on available pricing at Pearle Vision and available pricing at the online store, Frames Direct. To obtain this information, I first visited a retailer at the mall, found a style I liked, and then requested pricing info from the retailer. Next, I jumped online and quoted the same pair with the same specs from one of the more common online shops. I believe this order of comparison (retailer first, online second) was important. Starting with the online shop could have introduced bias — perhaps the website would lead me to their most discounted frame, for example, thereby exaggerating price differences if I compared the website’s most promoted and discounted frame with the same frame, unpromoted and undiscounted at the store in the mall.

Okay, so let’s get right to the numbers, which I think speak for themselves.

RetailOnline
Frame - Versace VE1190$225$182.75
Lens - Standard polycarbonate$215$89
Coatings: UV and anti-scratch$0$0
Coating: Anti-glare$100$44.95
Tax (7%) + delivery / shipping$37.80$0
Discounts available at writing$0$53.18
Total$577.80$263.12

Now, a couple of items worth mentioning: I obtained the prices from the retailer by requesting a custom quote from the Pearle Vision at the mall. These prices are set, to some degree, by the individual franchise.  Second, I assumed a local tax rate of 7%. Finally, at the time of writing, Frames Direct offered 40% off the lenses only if paired with certain frames, of which Versace happened to be one. This discount may or may not be available when you order. This particular online shop advertises their coupon codes very prominently on their front page, so it is super easy to see what coupons are available.

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