Online specs: How I reframed the discussion
“Why would you want to line the pockets of the Chinese or whoever, when you can buy your glasses from an optician right here in Charlottesville? Tell me you won’t buy your glasses over the Internet.”
Stern counsel from my eye doctor, given to me a couple of years ago. Unwilling to be thought unpatriotic, I had responded with a timid, “Okay.”
I was pondering that advice recently while staring at myself in the mirror. I was wearing the new eyeglasses that had just shown up in my mailbox. The ones I’d ordered off the Internet. To say the big, round frames made me look like an owl is an insult to owls.
Perhaps the good doctor was onto something after all. You buy local, you can try the frames on for real. On the websites, you can do a virtual, two-dimensional, try-on by uploading your picture, but it’s a bit of a crapshoot, as I discovered.
Perhaps you’re wondering why I didn’t listen to my eye doctor.
The thing is, at the time of that conversation, all I knew about buying glasses over the Internet was that you could save some money by doing it. I had no idea how much you can save. I was guessing maybe twenty percent. That would be tempting, but I could resist it, in the name of supporting local business.
As it happens, the price difference between buying glasses at your local optician and ordering them over the Internet is jaw-dropping.
For example: Back in 2008, I bought a pair of glasses right here in Charlottesville. Now, bear in mind that I don’t go in for exorbitant designer frames. My high-maintenance (and pricey) eyeglass features result from other issues:
I opt for high-index lenses because they take my coke-bottle prescription and miraculously fit it into thin lenses.
And now that my closeup vision has deteriorated, I need bifocals. But who wants those telltale lines? I like progressive lenses that eliminate the lines.
Add in the cost for UV protection and a scratch-resistance coating, and you are talking major bucks for a pair of glasses. How much? That 2008 pair ran me over $450.
Ah, 2008 – before the recession hit! When it was time to select a new pair of prescription sunglasses last summer, I was determined to pay a lot less.
So I let my fingers do the walking – over my keyboard – to an online eyeglasses website, EyeBuyDirect.com.
I had a copy of my glasses prescription at the ready and watched a short video about how to measure the distance between my pupils.
After uploading a photo of myself (my passport picture was perfect for this), I virtually “tried on” a bunch of frames and found something suitable. I checked off the option for extra-thin lenses that were also progressives, the UV and scratch protection, plus the lens tint.
Including shipping, the cost was $124.63. I kid you not.
I like the idea of supporting local businesses, but shelling out an extra $325 for a similar product would make me feel like a chump, not a patriot.
About two weeks later, a little box arrived in the mail. My sunglasses! They fit without need for adjustment, and my vision is perfect with them.
Feeling cocky, I decided to take up buying Internet glasses as a hobby. Back at EyeBuyDirect.com, they were offering frames with single-vision lenses (no bifocals) including the extra-thin lens option and UV protection for $6.95. I picked out a cute frame and ordered them.
With shipping factored in, they cost an unbelievable nine dollars and ninety cents. (My hand to God: I am not making this up. Has your jaw dropped yet?)
The distance vision is excellent, but if the truth be told, I prefer bifocal glasses. (But they only cost me nine dollars and ninety cents! And they look good on me!)
This past fall, I scoured eyeglass sites, looking for yet another pair, this time with all the bells and whistles I need. The eyewear I wound up with demonstrates one of the pitfalls of buying glasses this way.
The brown plastic frames looked sort of hip and cutting-edge when superimposed upon my passport photo at the website. They were round and owlish, and seemed like they’d be a refreshing change from the elongated rectangular frames that have been in style for a few years. Cost, with shipping: $102.85.
At home, with the benefit of live-and-in-person 3D, the frames were somewhat too small to sit properly on the bridge of my nose, and the style was odd enough to make a four-year old observer gasp and shake his head as I tried them on.
The company I bought those from, <http://zennioptical.com>zennioptical.com, has a one-month satisfaction guarantee. Should have returned them, but I keep thinking the ill-fitting owl look will come into style, so I’ve held onto them. Haven’t worn them out in public yet, though.
The good news is that my vision, with all three pairs of glasses, is excellent. The bad news is that I now have a pair of glasses that I don’t want to wear out of the house.
Saving $325 on a pair of specs is, in my opinion, worth it. Both in terms of the chance you take that they might not be a perfect match for your face, and in terms of guilt at not patronizing a local optician.
I searched online for an eyeglass-frame factory in the USA and came up empty. Whether you buy your glasses from afar, via the Internet, or from a local optician, pockets are being lined in China.
If you decide to take a chance and go this route, learn from my mistakes and be fastidious about measuring your present glasses, so you get something that fits you.
And it wouldn’t hurt to have a discerning four-year-old looking over your shoulder when you’re doing the virtual try-on thing at your computer.
Janis Jaquith usually has to leave the vicinity of Free Union to buy the rest of her medical care.