Taking A Closer Look At Low-Cost Prescription Eyeglasses Online

(KPIX 5) — The ads are eye-catching and the prices – eye-popping. Online companies are now selling prescription eyeglasses for as little as $25 a pair, a fraction of what they cost in brick-and-mortar stores. So how good they really be? The ConsumerWatch team decided to take a look.

We rounded up a few eyeglass wearers and had them purchase pairs from three of the bigger names in on-line eyewear: Zenni, Goggles4U, and EyeBuyDirect.

Picking our frames was easy, even fun. Both EyeBuyDirect and Zenni allow customers to upload a picture and virtually “try-on” different frames.

It got harder when we had to enter our prescriptions, and decide on lens thicknesses and coatings. All three companies also required a measurement called “pupillary distance,” the distance between the centers of the pupils in each eye. That measurement is not included on most prescriptions, so with a ruler and using the directions provided, we did the best we could. Our pairs cost between $24.90 and $50.90, postage included.

Seven to 10 days later, our glasses arrived. We brought them to South Bay optometrist Dr. David Redman for an evaluation.

Of the three pairs, one – from Goggles for You – had the wrong prescription. Dr. Redman said it appeared the “sphere” measurement was entered incorrectly.

Of the remaining two, a bifocal pair from Zenni needed adjusting to fit properly, but Dr. Redman said they were made correctly.

A third pair with progressive lenses from EyeBuyDirect also had the correct prescription, though Dr. Redman said the area where the lens progressed from far to near vision was a little low on the lenses.

Overall, “they were okay,” Dr. Redman told us. His bigger concerns? “There’s no quality of care. There’s no service. You’re doing it all yourself.” He also said in-person eye exams every one-to-two years is critical to check your prescription and examine eye health.

A 2014 study by the American Optometric Association is more critical.  It found almost 45% of eyeglasses purchased online had “incorrect prescriptions or safety issues.”

Not surprisingly, the online eyeglass industry sees it differently. Novato-based Zenni told us eyeglasses are a “large revenue driver” for optometrists. “It’s in their best interest to discourage online eyewear purchases,” the company noted.

Like most online eyewear companies, Zenni will replace a pair with problems for free, though some companies charge a restocking fee.

Dr. Redman recommends if you do order online, keep it simple: “A simple prescription, single vision, either far or close, not necessarily a complex one.” We also found it was a good idea to fax or email the prescription to the company, so the prescription could be verified.

Final analysis: Trevin ordered a single vision pair from Goggles4u for $24.90. The glasses were made with the wrong prescription, likely due to an orderng error. After we contacted the company, Goggles4U re-made the pair. Trevin is now happy with the glasses.

Schelley ordered computer bifocals from Zenni at a cost of $37.90. The prescription was made correctly. After an in-person adjustment by an optometrist, Schelley says the glasses give her a headache after about an hour of wear. She thinks it may be because the frames are too heavy.

Whitney ordered progressive lenses (with no line) from EyeBuyDirect for $50.90. Dr. Redman says the “line” where the different prescriptions merge is too low. Whitney is fine with the glasses and wears them often.

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