Buying Prescription Glasses Online

Recently I realized that it was time to update my eyeglass prescription. It's been just about two years and I can tell that things aren't looking as sharp as they used to. And I could use some help reading very small text in some scenarios. I actually had no-line bifocals (progressives) on my last pair of glasses from See Eyewear, though the magnification wasn't enough to be very useful. I loved the style of those glasses from See Eyewear, but they cost me nearly $600! Ouch! And then add in another $400 for prescription sunglasses -- which I lose once or twice a year -- and that ends up being $1000 for glasses! That's just nuts! That costs more than a huge LCD TV!

As a result, I decided that it is time to figure out how to buy prescription glasses online. Friends keep telling me how great it works out for them. Some friends have like six pairs of $20 glasses, different glasses for different outlets or different occasions. I didn't plan on going to that extreme, but I'd like to have different pairs for different functionality. A pair of dark single-vision sunglasses I can leave in the car forever. A pair of photochromic sun-activated sunglasses that I can wear when walking outdoors (and not have to carry a second pair of regular glasses for indoor use). A regular pair of nice plastic frames with progressive no-line bifocals for work. Maybe a pair with single vision lenses, for watching TV. And an extra pair of really dark sunglasses for days I plan to spend outdoors. Etc.

One thing I learned from reading online is that your pupillary distance (PD) is a measurement you'll need to order glasses, and that it is not included in your prescription printout by default. You'll need to ask your eye doctor or glasses shop employee to measure your PD for you. Some will give you the stink eye if you ask for this, because it's a dead giveaway that you're going to order prescription glasses online. I went to CostCo to get my eyes checked and figured they wouldn't give me too much of a hard time about my plan to purchase online, instead of from them. That went mostly fine; the doctor did whine a little that I'd be on my own when it came to checking lenses for fit and finish, but the counter clerk was happy to measure my PD. So now I've got a paper prescription, and my PD value, which I've written on the prescription, and scanned and saved.

Zenni (and probably others) offer suggestions on how to measure your PD yourself, if you're willing to try. Also, Zenni will send you a little PD-measuring ruler with your glasses. Give it to a friend so they can measure their PD and get glasses from Zenni as well!

Sizing frames can be kind of tricky. Zenni explains how to measure frames, and explains how to read the sizing code likely printed on the arm of your current pair of glasses. My glasses from See Eyewear have "54X19X145" printed on one of the arms. This means 54 mm is the lens width, 19 mm is the bridge width, and 145 mm is the arm length. Zenni suggests trying to find glasses similar in widths to what you have now, if you're happy with the fit. This is a great place to start.

So far, I've investigated four different online stores, and ordered glasses from three of them. Here's a brief rundown:

Warby ParkerI ended up not buying glasses from Warby Parker. WP has a "frame studio" located in Chicago, which is a storefront where you can come in and try on all the different frames. You still order online (though I think the staff will facilitate an order for you in store, if you require assistance). We visited the storefront and tried on a bunch of frames. I was disappointed to find that nothing was quite the style/size I wanted. I was hoping for something a bit chunky and square, which they had, but not quite big enough for my face. Also, their prices are too high. $95 for frames with lenses that have a standard single vision prescription, or $295 for progressive no-line bifocals.

WP's price of $295 for progressive bifocals was a deal killer.  All of these sites charge a premium for bifocals, but Warby Parker is just charging flat out too much. They are also more limited as far as what kind of lens tint or style they'll put in a given frame. I initially had visions of getting five different pairs of the same clear Warby Parker frames, with sunglass lenses in some and not others. This wasn't even possible; they seem to have separate sunglass choices and don't seem to allow for mix and match. Their big shtick is that they donate a pair of glasses for every pair you purchase. Considering the price difference between this place and others, they probably also make a healthy profit. Warby Parker might be a sucker game for hipsters.

Zenni Optical. Zenni might be the winner so far. This seems to be the site everybody talks about. Big selection, until you narrow it down to a specific frame width, then it can get a little more sparse. I ordered these black plastic frames ($25.95) plus $27.95 for progressive no-line bifocal lenses plus shipping for a total of $58.85. Not quite the "$6 glasses" that everybody keeps talking about, but wow, I think that's still the least I've spent on a pair of frames + lenses so far. They arrived 10-14 days later (not sure; I was out of town) and I am happy with how they fit and how they look. They're currently my regular pair of glasses. The frames are light and springy, but they don't feel cheap. I'm very happy overall. If they break, I push the button and have Zenni send me another pair with the exact same prescription.

I had wanted to get a second pair with photochromic tint (meaning that they turn dark when you go out in the sun), but I realize that the first frames aren't really big enough to make good sunglasses. I've ordered a different frame with photochromic tint, and I'm waiting for that to arrive. With the tint, the frames + single vision prescription lenses, and oil/fingerprint resistance coating, the second pair comes out to be $54.85 shipped. I'll update this post with more info after this pair arrives. Coastal comes in second, but I'm still happy. 
I decided to order a pair of prescription sunglasses from, to compare them to Zenni. I liked their frame selection, but their prices end up being a little bit higher. For $108 shipped, I got these frames, with a single vision prescription lens in solid grey. These are solid sunglasses. I'm happy with the fit and finish. Right now they're my main sunglasses, and I'm likely to keep them in the car when all is said and done. I'm not likely to order again from Coastal, unless I have some problem with Zenni. So far, the prices at Zenni seem better.

Eyebuy Direct. Too soon to tell, but very low starter prices. I just ordered these frames and lenses so I can't speak to how good they are (or aren't). But I got a pair of frames with single vision prescription lenses for $11.95 shipped. ($6 frames + $5.95 shipping.) They seem to do a lot of coupon codes. BOGO (buy one get one free), free tinting, etc. Stay tuned, I'll update this post with more info after this pair arrives. They start out cheap, but if you add on tinting, no-line bifocals, thinner lenses, it can start to add up. I think the "perfect with everything" pair I spec'd out came to around $76. I'll come back and pay that for a follow-up pair if this first pair comes out okay.

All-in-all, I've spent a grand total of $233.65 on four pairs of glasses, an average of about $58 each. That's still just under half what I paid for a single pair of eyeglasses previously. Even if one or more of these end up not working out, I'm still money ahead.

And finally, if you're looking to convert a bifocal prescription to a single vision prescription, note that you simply drop the "ADD" section of your prescription. The "ADD" section is a magnification setting that applies to the bottom half of your glasses. It puts the "bi" in bifocal.

MNJazz is back! Sort of.

If you've known me for a long time, you might know that I used to host and manage the website for the Artists' Quarter jazz club. It used to live at as the domain name was taken. Later, we were able to purchase the domain and move the club's website there. Now that years have gone by, and the AQ is no more, I've repurposed to host a tiny little list of recurring jazz events that interest me. I'll be adding to it over time, hoping that it becomes a useful resource for others.