For the approximately 64 percent of Americans who wear them, prescription eyeglasses are part medical device and part fashion accessory. But when it comes to buying them, the choices — and the trade-offs — can be overwhelming.
Consumer Reports surveyed more than 91,000 readers and also shopped for glasses themselves, online and in walk-in stores, to discover the pros and cons of different vendors. Here's what they learned:
• Doctors' offices and independent eyeglass shops. Nearly 40 percent of survey respondents bought their glasses from one of these sources. They gave these sellers high marks for lens and frame fitting, employee knowledge and follow-up service. But frames and lenses tended to cost more than elsewhere: Readers shelled out a median of around $400, two to three times what you might pay online or at a discount store.
• Major eyewear chains. Since they have many locations, buying eyeglasses at eyeglass chains can be convenient. Consumer Reports' readers reported good follow-up service from most chains, too. But in other areas, survey ratings varied depending on the company.
• Warby Parker and Zenni Optical. Each of these stores sells only its own brand of glasses. Warby Parker retails both online and in brick-and-mortar locations in 18 states, the District of Columbia and Ontario, Canada. In the seven years since it launched, Warby Parker has become a major player, offering glasses with single-vision lenses for $95, including an anti-reflective coating. But if you order progressive lenses, those prices can rocket to nearly $300 — far more than the prices Consumer Reports found at some other retailers.
As for all-online retailer Zenni Optical, you can try on frames only virtually, by uploading a photo of yourself. And it, too, has a 30-day warranty. Still, Zenni's frames with basic single-vision lenses start at less than $10, and upgrading to progressives begins at just $28. Survey respondents who bought from Zenni spent a median of just $69 for a complete pair of glasses, making them the survey's lowest-cost retailer.
• Large discount chains. Costco and Wal-Mart are low-cost one-stop spots for buying eyeglasses where you can do everything from having your eyes examined to getting your finished glasses adjusted for fit. Frames can be inexpensive at these stores. At Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, Consumer Reports found basic, plastic progressive lenses for as little as $79. Costco charges $130 for high-definition progressive lenses, which, as with all Costco lenses, include an anti-reflective coating. That's about half what you'd pay at many walk-in stores. But if you need basic, plastic single-vision lenses, you can pay as little as $29 at Wal-Mart, about half as much as at Costco.
• Online retailers. While only about 5 percent of respondents bought their glasses online, nearly twice as many browsed online before purchasing at a walk-in store. Even if you don't plan to buy from a website, the price information you get might help you negotiate your way to a discount from a walk-in store.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
email@example.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.