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,

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, 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, <>, 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.

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Very interesting. Never even thought about online glasses and lenses.

Having been scalped by local opticians as well, I might have to try this! Thanks!

Isn't that the way we all get started by buying cheep. Then we complain because of the trade imbalance and it is us buying cheep. So we have to look at this and make our own decisions remembering we live here and get paid for our work in this country.

So has it been just recently you found out that things could be cheaper on the internet? Pretty serious news scoop.

I still wonder how accurate bifocal and progressive lenses would be if you are not sitting in front of a optician measuring them. How does one really know how the frames are sitting on you?, Guessing especially with invisible bifocals were you have 3 area,s of vision should not be a hit & miss game.
When I have asked about this certain point I have not received very good answers from any of the online glasses companies, which leads me to believe they don,t really have a answer.
Maybe I should go to a optician and ask them to measure them for me so I can go somewhere else to buy them presuming I have the frames with me (not likely to happen)

jimi: Finding items somewhat cheaper on the Internet is not news to me. Finding prescription eyeglasses for a fraction of the price I'd previously paid was, indeed, news. While talking about this to other glasses-wearers, I have encountered astonishment that such a thing is possible, and disbelief that Internet lenses could be ground to the same level of precision as glasses bought through personal contact with an optician. (And these doubts are harbored by Internet-savvy people.) Shelling out hundreds of dollars every time your prescription changes (often annually) is a serious financial burden, especially if you have more than one person in your household who needs visual correction.

Bob Day: Why don't you measure your present glasses, and find a frame that's the same size online? They have instructions regarding how to measure the distance between your pupils. That measurement is crucial to preventing headaches from looking through lenses ground to the wrong pupil distance. Then, take a chance and order them! I just checked EyeBuyDirect,com, and they will give you a full refund if you return them within 7 days. (Each online company has a different return policy.) What have you got to lose?

BB: You're right. If the difference is around 20%, I can resist the temptation and buy locally. But $125 versus $450? My resolve buckles when the price difference is that big. But, again, you are right.

Janis, thank you, normally I am not. The big savings does give me pause to think but my prescription has not changed much in about 4 years so I am sticking with the expensive way.

You can have your optician measure the distance between pupils and include it on your prescription. I went to a pricey optician in DC and got my first set of frames from them (covered by insurance). I ordered a back-up pair online with Transitions lenses/glare coating using the same prescription/frame dimensions as the first pair.

If you find frames that you like and it's just your prescription that's changed, you can find online places that will take your old frames and pop in the new lenses.