Shop Smart: Save big on prescription eyewear

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If you're like many of Consumer Reports' readers, you're buying prescription glasses from your eye doctor's office or an independent shop, and you're happy with the results.

But you're probably paying much more than you would if you comparison shopped at different types of eyewear stores, including discounters such as Costco and online retailers. Doing just that, Consumer Reports was able to shave more than 40 percent off the prices of frames and lenses. That's good news considering that a pair of eyeglasses with just basic prescription lenses can cost you hundreds.

When shopping for eyewear, Consumer Reports recommends the following:

* Research online. Even if you plan to buy locally, consider reading the how-to information on such websites as eyeglasses.com and LensesRx.com. 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.

* Get your doctor's recommendation. If your current prescription is more than a year old, have an optometrist or ophthalmologist check your eyes before you order new glasses. Ask your eye doctor for advice on the types of lenses you should choose. Also request that the doctor measure and record your pupillary distance, which you'll need if you order lenses online.

* Try on frames in person. Nothing beats seeing and feeling the frames on your face. Keep in mind that the strength of your prescription can affect which frame and lenses you should select, something a professional can help you with.

* Ask about your benefits. Find out whether the retailer accepts your vision insurance. If not, ask your plan administrator whether you can use an out-of-network provider and, if so, how that affects your coverage.

* Look for promotions. Walk-in stores and websites often have special deals, but check the fine print. You may not be eligible if you're using insurance or not buying both frames and lenses.

* Negotiate. Don't hesitate to try dickering on price, especially if you're not using insurance. If you tried on frames locally and found them online for less, it's only fair to give the walk-in store a chance to match or at least come close to your best online price. Remember that a walk-in shop can provide frame adjustments and other post-purchase service that can be difficult or impossible to get online, so it may be worth paying extra.

* Check warranties and return policies. A good retailer should have at least a one-year warranty against defects in frames. Even if your glasses aren't defective, you may decide you don't like them. Many retailers have a certain return period, even if you ordered lenses.

* Check out your new specs. Report any problem with your glasses to the retailer immediately. If you bought them online and have a problem with the lenses, have your eye doctor verify that they match your prescription. If they don't, the retailer should remake the lenses at no cost. If the frames need adjusting, your local eyeglass shop may be willing to do it for you, especially if you bought your lenses there.

* Buy another pair. If you found a good deal, consider getting an extra pair in case your primary glasses get lost or damaged.

Consumer Reports: (www.consumerreports.org)


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