Tag Archives: glasses online

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.

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

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.

This whole thing is so mainstream

CBS News Reports:

Pros and cons of buying eyeglasses online


  • Low prices: as much as 70 percent less than in traditional optical stores.
  • Convenience: Shop from home and have your glasses delivered to your door.
  • Selection: thousands of frames to choose from at the click of a mouse.


  • Can’t actually try them on.
  • Possible return hassles.
  • Still may have to have your frames professionally adjusted.

That’s just a portion of a pretty well-done article, really it is a lot like this article that I wrote four years ago. Clearly, the whole saving-a-bunch-of-money thing on prescription eyewear has broad appeal.


Comparison of top discount online eyewear retailers

In this post, I will explore some of the differences between the following four major discount online glasses retailers:

Note that I am not including the discounted designer eyewear sites. I am also not including every possible configuration as this becomes prohibitive with half a dozen lens types plus half a dozen lens options for each type.  Plus certain online eyewear stores offer discounts based on certain feature combinations (e.g. $15 off if you purchase all three coatings ala GlassesUSA) This table gives you a feel for the pricing of different retailers and provides a first look into the most common options.

Goggles4U.com EyeBuyDirect.com 39DollarGlasses.com GlassesUSA.com
Base price § $25 $7 $39 $38
Thin lens (1.6) +$18 +$34 +$0 +$29
Thinner lens (1.67) +$28 +$67 +$30 +$67
Anti UV Coating +$0 +$5 +$0 +$10
Anti Reflective Coating +$0 +$7 +$25 +$15
Anti Scratch Coating +$0 +$0 +$0 +$10
Photochromatic Lens # +$37 +$36 +$50 +$119
Sunglass tinting +$0 +$5 +$10 +$19
Priciest standard config
$50 $98 $153 $244
Typical configuration*

§ For this exercise, I chose the cheapest frame available. Typically a basic alloy frame.

# Photochromatic lenses are “transition” lenses — they automatically darken in the sunlight
* Includes anti-scratch and anti-UV coating and a 1.6 thin lens.

Some additional notes on the table above: The “Base price” row shows the cheapest glasses you can buy.  This is the absolute least amount of money you could spend at the retailer.  It isn’t apples-to-apples among the online glasses sites, however.  For example, 39DollarGlasses gives you a thin lens and two coatings in the base price, whereas EyeBuyDirect gives you a thick lens and no coatings.   I did attempt to create an apples-to-apples comparison in the “typical” row.  This is in the range of what you will probably actually spend. The “Priciest standard config” is simply the most expensive pair I could build from the frame used as the given “base price.”

So, if you want to spend the absolute least amount of money, go with a $7 pair at EyeBuyDirect.  The “added features” such as ultra-thin lens and photochromatic (“transition”) lens cost the least at Goggles4U and 39DollarGlasses.  However, I can’t recommend Goggles4U because of repeated customer complaints.  39DollarGlasses has also been something of a mixed bag, but still a better option than Goggles4U.

Remember that, like anything else, you get what you pay for.  The cheapest of the cheap out there aren’t really suitable for daily wearers.  The metal alloy is lousy and prone to breakage.  However, sometimes we just need a backup pair or we are really hard up for cash.  For the most part, I’d recommend configuring a decent pair at either GlassesUSA or EyeBuyDirect.  Both have consistently pleased customers.  In fact, my daily wearers come from GlassesUSA and have been going strong for two years now.  I will also note here that GlassesUSA typically has the best coupons, offering as much as 30% off.