Where to buy cheap eyeglasses online, for $99 and below

As a proud, mostly blind near-sighted person, I’ve put a lot of thought and money into how to make myself see properly. And, like clockwork, I’m set back $200-400 every three years for a new pair. This splurge is one many glasses wearers are all too familiar with – especially after my heavy Rx, stigmatism, and all the proper protective coatings (not to mention the cost of the appointment with the actual doctor). No matter how “classic” our glasses may seem at the time of purchase, they either go out of style, or everyone ends up with something similar (see: Ray Bans). But, alas, there is a Brokelyn alternative to those Bedford optical boutiques. And it seems like (ca-ching!) buying glasses online.

The range of online offerings varies from $99 pairs from Warby Parker (the Toms shoes of the face) to “free” specs sites that fill your browser with a million cookies. So, here’s your no holds barred Brokelyn guide to every price and (hopefully) every catch in the word of online glasses buying.

While I haven’t quite made it to checkout yet, here’s everything I’ve culled from your post-purchase tips, each websites’ info, and my astute observations.

THE BEST BETS

Warby Parker - $99

What should I know? “Warby Parker’s where it’s at,” said Ali, a Brokelyn reader, who encapsulates the general consensus of a brand well-known for its customer service (which includes a super-convenient at-home try on — five pairs for five days — and personal follow-up emails to check in). Also, free shipping, free returns, anti-scratch and anti-glare are all included in that $99.

Is there a charity bonus? Yes, every pair you purchase buys one for someone in need.

Is there a showroom somewhere? Yes, in Williamsburg.

What’s the catch? Warby Parker can only do really basic, middle-of-the-road prescriptions. If you have a strong prescription or a stigmatism, You might have to go elsewhere. More deets.

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Classic Specs  – $89

What should I know? At-home try on, free shipping, anti-reflective coating, and all the good stuff, for $10 less than Warby Parker.

Is there a charity bonus? The company donates 6 percent of each purchase to New Eyes for the Needy.

Is there a showroom somewhere? Yes, in Williamsburg (85 N. 3rd St., Suite 112, by appointment only), at the Brooklyn Flea or you can stop by Brooklyn Denim Co. on Saturdays.

What’s the catch? Classic Specs charges an extra $20 for high-index lenses (prescriptions less than a -4.0 sphere or greater than a +4.00 sphere). But, this is fairly common, so I’m not even sure that it is a catch?

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Try glasses on at Bonlook’s virtual try-on-erator.

Bonlook - $99

What should I know? Bonlook seems to be sponsoring all of my favorite thrifty fashion/style blogs in conjunction with reader discounts. Check sites such as Calivintage or Orchid Grey to see what I mean, then I’d recommend Googling “Bonlook giveaway October” come next month. Also, like Warby Parker, glasses come with anti-reflective, uv, and scratch-resistant protections.

Is there a charity bonus? No.

Is there a showroom somewhere? No.

What’s the catch? Free standard shipping on pairs that cost more than $99, but a sale-pair will set you back $18-25 for shipping … rendering it pretty much the same cost as a pair of specs at the average price.

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Lookmatic: Cool enough for Jason Schwartzman.

Lookmatic - $95

What should I know? This site includes all of the aforementioned coatings as well as free standard shipping. Yay!

Is there a charity bonus? No.

Is there a showroom somewhere? No, but Lookmatic has occasional pop-up shops in California.

What’s the catch? You are responsible for entering in your prescription correctly. It sounds like a silly obvious thing, but seriously, don’t mess it up – this is true for a lot of these sites. Luckily, it provides an extensive how-to guide.

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Eyefly  – $99

What should I know? This site has been around for a while (it’s connected to Bluefly). Eyefly seems to cover most of the bases. All coatings are included, though shipping is not free.

Is there a charity bonus? No.

Is there a showroom somewhere? No.

What’s the catch? No bifocals, trifocals, or progressive lenses. Also, the maximum prescription they can manufacture is -10.00 to +4.00 SPH (sphere) and ±3.00 CYL (cylinder). This is really common for these sites! Make sure you look into it with all of them.

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THE BACKUP BETS

The previous five glasses purveyors are straightforward and trendy, just like the frames they offer. These next five sites are graphic-design-challenged and full of delicious cookies for your browser to munch, but are far more willing to fill your complicated prescriptions – and the price tag varies significantly as a result.

Coastal - FREE!

What should I know? People feel passionately about this site because your first pair of glasses is free. But wait, it gets better, because, as Brokelyn reader Christine said: “You can get your ‘first pair free,’ but by ‘first pair free’ they really mean ‘with each email you use to sign up,’ even if you use the same card or address. I’ve gotten three ‘free’ pairs.”

Is there a charity bonus? Yes a pair every pair you purchase sends one to someone in need, though it is unclear if this is true whilst gaming its “free pair” system.

Is there a showroom somewhere? No.

What’s the catch? Your purchase includes none of the same amenities as the previous sites. Another reader, Michelle, explains: “They charge for lens upgrades (if you don’t want coke-bottle glasses) as well as coatings (UV protection, etc). Plus shipping and handling seems to be totally arbitrary: Once it was $15, the next time $4. So even when they’re “free,” I end up spending about $50 for a wearable pair.”

But Christine ads, “I spent $7-10 on shipping for my pairs from Coastal. My prescription isn’t super strong but even if it was and I had to pay extra, it’s still a bargain relatively speaking.”

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Zenni Optical - $6-46

What should I know? You can get a pair of decent prescription glasses for less than $10. Of course, all the bells and whistles cost extra, depending.

Is there a charity bonus? No.

Is there a showroom somewhere? No.

What’s the catch? Returns are hard. Surprise! Zenni does not repair eyeglasses, or provide replacement lenses. Also, returns can set you back $4.95 if you don’t have all the paperwork.

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Eye Buy Direct - $6.95-49.95

What should I know? Same sort of confusing/amazing range of prices and styles, with all the same setbacks as the aforementioned.

Is there a charity bonus? No, but this page about “social responsibility” is kind of nice.

Is there a showroom somewhere? No.

What’s the catch? Candice, a Brokelyn contributor, says, “I had to get the ultra-thin lenses or it wouldn’t feasibly fit inside the frame … So instead of the base price of $50 (with a normal prescription), it ended up being another $109 for the ultrathin. If you have a stigmatism it’ll cost you more. Anti scratch, all that stuff.”

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Firmoo  – $8-70

What should I know? Well, on the front page of the site, all of the fees for upgrades and coatings are laid out for you. That’s kinda nice.

Is there a charity bonus? No.

Is there a showroom somewhere? No.

What’s the catch? All the same catches as the aforementioned sites. Sorry.

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39 Dollar Glasses - I’m gonna go with $39.

What should I know? The site is having a 15 percent off sale right now, in honor of its 11th anniversary. Use code “11years” at checkout.

Is there a charity bonus? No.

Is there a showroom somewhere? No.

What’s the catch? Says reader Donald, who needed all the bells and whistles on his glasses: “About a year ago, I used 39dollarglasses.com. Contrary to their name, my order was $154, but these were no-line, progressive bifocals with light lenses. Their customer service was fairly good and I got my order quickly. I don’t think the frames are quite as good as my neighborhood place but they were less than half the price I usually pay.”

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Caroline Shadood, prescription glasses aficionado.

And finally, your last questions, answered by me.

Q: Why is the cost for buying eyeglasses online so different from going to an optometrist/optician?

A: Prices are low because glasses are either manufactured on site, outsourced to other countries, or are last seasons’ leftovers. Generally speaking, the specs manufactured on site tend to be more on trend but have a higher starting rate while offering less of a selection. The sites selling a slew of random/discounted brands can fill more complicated prescriptions but are more of a gamble in terms of price range – anywhere from $6-170, it seems.

Q: But the best part of buying glasses is trying on a million pairs as the salesperson ogles and encourages me with dollar signs gleaming in their eyes. How can I do that online?

A: You can’t. You’re a grown-ass adult, and you generally know what looks good on your face. Once you get over the thrill and convenience of someone cheerleading your investment in a pair of overpriced glasses, you’re set to save tons of money by going with the online route. Also, most of the sites have silly virtual try-on sessions, where you can upload a picture or use a web cam to see how the specs might fit your face.

Q: Ok, fine. How can I go forward now?

A: The most important thing is to make sure you have an up-to-date copy of your prescription on hand, including your pupillary distance. Some sites require you to fax or email it, some merely need you to punch the numbers in. Either way you’ll need to understand your prescription in order to do this. Also, be sure to heed the return policy. Most of them give you 30 days, but it can vary depending on the bells and whistles you acquired.

Q: Caroline, where are YOU at in all of this? Which site wins?

A: I’m thinking Eye Buy Direct and Bonlook have the greatest selection within my taste range; Classic Specs, too, and they sell at the Brooklyn Flea (and Brooklyn Denim Co) which is super-convenient. Zenni has some fun, weird shit.

Many of these sites have the same business model, though Warby Parker seems to trump all in testimonials, customer service, and consistency. It’s unclear if this is simply because it’s the most buzzed about online glasses retailer right now, or if it truly is the best one. I didn’t quite make it to checkout yet on any of these websites, so if you have any tips, insights, or sites not mentioned here, please share them in the comments!

Follow Caroline, because she’s got Four Loko eyes: @shadood.

16 Comment

  • I’ve been buying glasses from Eye Buy Direct for a few years now. They’ve been mostly fine, but I find that the glasses wear out very quickly. If you’re willing to spend some time browsing around the site, it’s very easy to find glasses under $30, and they often have buy one get one free sales.

    Having said that, I need new glasses because my current pairs are wearing out, and I don’t think I’ll buy anymore from Eye Buy Direct, if only because the quality is pretty shoddy. I’m going with Warby Parker – I think their glasses are a little more stylish, and I hear the quality is much better. And frankly, I’m sick of my glasses breaking and wearing out on a regular basis.

    • What about Foreyes? Foreyes is the home of the original 2 pairs of glasses for $99! They offer great customer service, great selection of glasses, great prices and have multiple shops all over the US! I love the look of their new stores and their employees are usually very nice and helpful! Their website isn’t the best, but very good prices and coupons for discounts!

  • I have yet to find an optician who will give me my pupillary distance, since they all make their money off of selling people glasses with massive markups and don’t want you to be able to find more reasonably priced options on your own.

    • Hi! I went to Classic Specs over the weekend and they measured my PD for me. Easy peasy.

    • Hi Caroline – check out http://www.visio-rx.com/measure-my-pd. They offer a free online PD meter. They also let you rent a PD meter for $20 with the purchase of a pair of glasses. Maybe not a bad solution. You can measure everybody’s PD that way.

      Their website looks well done, and I like the fact that all glasses have scratch and anti-glare included as a standard. Prices are competitive (think same level as Zenni or Eyebuydirect). 2,000 frame collection – including all of the nerdy ones found at Warby. Even some with neat wooden temples.

  • Great post, thanks! I actually just checked some of them out this morning!
    Coastal’s lenses were not free and they had so many hidden clauses. I tried it and it came over to $180.
    Zenni Optical was more affordable and they were offering Buy One Get One Free deal! Just ordered two pairs from them and the total was only $20! Just hope they work out.
    Thanks again.

    • I am pretty sure Coastal ruined my shitty Toshiba laptop forever with cookies. It’s a really unpredictable site price wise.

  • damn brokelyn why are you SO useful and concise!!

  • Hate to be the spelling corrector commenter, but its not stigmatism, or a stigmatism. Its astigmatism. Stigmatize misspelling astigmatism.

    • Ashley, you mean it’s? hee hee

      OMG that graphic is great! Wish my eye doctor had a sense of humor like that

  • I have used Zenni Optical a couple times because I am prone to breaking my glasses all the time. And they are cheap but are accurate and I could order a bunch of different types to match different outfits. I want to try Warby Parker next because I want something a little more stylish.

  • “I have yet to find an optician who will give me my pupillary distance, since they all make their money off of selling people glasses with massive markups and don’t want you to be able to find more reasonably priced options on your own.”

    No Caroline, I don’t give out PD measurements because I employ people to do it for me and pay them and not in business to help the likes of Warby Parker to free labor and empower them to put me out of business. Their advantage to being online is lower price and no customer service, mine is slightly higher prices and more personal service. That is my advantage. In New York State you are required in a Optometry/Optical to have a licensed professional on site at all times and these companies are subverting the law of NYS every pair they sell. Often with insurance I might get paid 70 dollars for providing an exam and providing covered glasses. Alsowhen I am more expensive though we have complete good looking specs starting at 105 complete because we actually provide service, do adjustments and help you pick out glasses that fit and are optically correct for you. Not to mention that our products are vastly superior many are made in Japan,France and Germany and not China for 3 bucks. But to you Caroline I am the evil greedy middle man who is not allowed to make a living.

  • How about sport sunglasses. There are a ton of sites to find prescription eyeglasses for $150 but I can’t find many places to get active prescription sunglasses for under $500.

  • This website truly does live up to its good name…Unfortunately it wasn’t very helpful for me because none of the women frames I chose for Try-On fit my round-shaped head…lol…They are perfect for someone with an oval or square-shaped head…

  • Wow, this was actually really useful. I have been buying from Zenni for years, and got my free pair from Coastal long ago. But last year my prescription changed enough that I need bifocals, so I started anew with in-person opticians until I knew what I was doing.

    I tested out the bifocal additions on some of the above, and it looks like Firmoo and Zeni are among the cheapest if you need progressives. Some didn’t let me see how much that would add to the price unless I registered and made an account so . . no. I’m not as committed as you are. Firmoo was only an extra $36.95, and Zenni $21 as opposed to an extra $200 at Warby (which now does progressives but only in-store) .

    I also find it funny that the tastes of twenty-somethings from Brooklyn and almost-40 geeks from Queens line up so well. We all seem to wear the same kind of thick-rimmed toirtiseshell frames that the Williamsburg set do, it’s just that we have to travel to visit Warby Parker.