Clark Howard: Save big buying glasses online

Consumer expert Clark Howard’s column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

clarkhowardThe December issue of Consumer Reports has taken a close look at eyeglasses retailers, and one of my favorite stores has topped the list of best places to buy a pair of spectacles.

For the first time, Costco Wholesale has been identified as the No. 1 place to buy glasses. According to Consumer Reports, Costco’s average price for a complete pair of eyeglasses is $157, while the industry retail average is $200. (In prior years’ surveys, Costco was in second place behind independent local eyeglass shops. Now the indies are taking a backseat to Costco!)

A number of the big chains got horrible scores in the December tally. J.C. Penney Optical and America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses both tied for last place.
For my money, I’ve bought cheap prescription eyeglasses from mainland China from a company called ZenniOptical.com over the years. Their complete prescription eyeglasses (lenses and frames) start at $7, with an additional $5 for shipping.

Many people have let me know repeatedly on the message boards at ClarkHoward.com that Zenni can be a customer service nightmare. If the glasses come as intended and the prescription is right, well, people are just happy as a clam. But if something goes wrong, it’s almost impossible to make it right.
There are a number of other sellers of complete prescription eyeglasses for under $20. (If you wear bifocals or progressives, you can run that bill up to $40.) Some of the ones I’ve discussed in the past include EyeBuyDirect.com and GlassesUnlimited.com.

Typically, you’ll pay one-fourth to one-sixth the usual price with the online sellers versus the traditional retailers. But again, you have the issue of limited customer service after the sale with online glasses transactions.

-by Clark Howard, Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs

Find more answers to your consumer questions at ClarkHoward.com. You can also listen to his radio show live Monday through Friday 1-4 p.m. on AM 750 and NOW 95.5 FM News/Talk WSB.

23 comments Add your comment

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tim

December 30th, 2010
8:26 am

Clark Howard is the ULTIMATE CHEAPO! He always thinks it’s about price. Cheap glasses are cheap glasses…..YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR HOWARD! How many times did you have to get them adjusted? Hoe soon did they tarnish? How soon before a lense fell out? How many headaches did you get from the pres. being wrong or the lense not centered?

Try some quality foe a change Mr Howard….but I don’t think you ever will cuz you BOUGHT YOUR WIFES WEDDING RING AT COSTCO!

Clark “I’m so damn cheap” Howard. gezzzzzzz

Michelle

December 30th, 2010
11:21 am

Seriously tim. Have you ever bought a $300 pair of glasses only to have someone sit on them or step on them? And if you wear contact lenses, you’ll only wear them a few times a month. So why would you want to spend so much on them? There are times being cheap is a good thing.

Lisa

December 30th, 2010
12:46 pm

You get what you pay for!

Most of the online eyeglasses companies get their glasses from China, and they fall apart in a month or two. I’ve used 39DollarGlasses.com and I have always gotten a quality product made right here in the USA.

Personally I’d rather spend a few more dollars (not much) to know that my glasses won’t fall apart in a week or two!

Randy

December 30th, 2010
1:25 pm

I have owned three pairs of progressive prescription glasses. The first pair($200 from Binyon Optical, after insurance) gave me a headache. The second pair I bought from Zenni for $60, including shipping. I replaced those because I scratched a lens while remodeling the kitchen. My second pair of Zenni glasses cost $40 and were the best, but I lost them. Quality was never an issue. But at $40 a pair, it’s easy to replace them when they do get damaged or lost.

But my thought was to give it a shot. If it worked, great. If not, I wasn’t out much. But it worked for me.

Joyce

December 31st, 2010
11:54 am

I have tried several online stores, and the best I found was http://www.TryGlassesForFree.com. They have great prices along with a really cool program that lets you pick four frames to be sent to your home for free. I’ve had a tough time with the online mirrors (they let you change the size of the glasses to fit your face – you can’t do that in the real world) so being able to try them on at home before I shell out my cash for them is great! They also have a 30 day no questions asked money back guarantee. Dealing with them is much easier than zenni, glassesusa, or any of the others.

Fletcher Helms

January 1st, 2011
5:32 pm

I’ve just bought my 2nd pair from Zenni Optcal online, and am very satisfied. The first pair I put in the wrong prescription by mistake and they took them back with a small fee.

Ed

January 1st, 2011
8:40 pm

I’m on year 2 with a pair of glasses from Zenni. I’ve been very satisfied with the quality, they have endured a lot without issue.

Mel in Midtown

January 1st, 2011
9:16 pm

Soooo…glasses that retail at $7 are probably made by children making 20 cents an hour. Way to go Clark – support child labor!!!

Hindu Elvis Pimp

January 1st, 2011
10:34 pm

Online seems like a good idea, but to be right, you need to have an optometrist perform the necessary measurements. I did the Zenni optical. The lenses were off. I had to raise them in order to read. They broke after 6 months. It seemed too good to be true, and it was.

Costco is only good for those who are members. I’ll be damned if I will pay money to have the chance to purchase products from them. Another scam.

chuck e

January 1st, 2011
11:45 pm

Yeah Clark…….save more , spend less avoid ripoffs…….and oh by the way support foreign sweat shops and child labor…..what a sleazy creep!!!

kim

January 2nd, 2011
12:03 am

Enter your comments here

Matt the Brave

January 2nd, 2011
12:10 am

I’ve bought two pairs of glasses from Zenni in the last four years. Worked in restaurants with them, never came apart under severe heat and freezing cold for long periods during inventory times. Only reason that I got new ones was because my prescription changed. It’s pretty dang hard to mess up your prescription, but I can understand if the glasses get lost in the mail.

Honestly haven’t had a problem and the glasses are quality.

JT

January 2nd, 2011
8:18 am

I don’t know how Americas Best tied for last! I just got contacts, TWO pair of DESIGNER eyeglasses(with progresive on one and tint on the other) and it cost me under 320 dollars! Just remember, you get what you pay for. I’d NEVER order glases from another country, there’s too much that can go wrong!

Kristy

January 2nd, 2011
9:48 am

another website is 39dollarglasses.com. they have great frames and are inexpensive and their customer service is great too.

DDawg

January 2nd, 2011
9:49 am

I have bought about 10 pairs of glasses from Zenni and have not had one problem. I have used them for over two years with not one pair falling apart. I suspect that most of the complaints are from eye glass retailers that don’t want to loose there cash cow. I even had my eye glass representative comment on the quality and style of my glasses at my last check-up.

atlmom1

January 2nd, 2011
11:01 am

@Hindu…I’m a costco member and browsed their glasses last time I was there and thought: WOW, I’m just going to go there next time I need glasses.

It’s no scam to be a member, if you know anything about their business model – basically, their PROFIT is from the member fee. All markups on products go to running the stores (rent/salaries/etc) – so their prices are AWESOME. I can’t say enough about how great their stores are and how helpful their staff is. We are HUGE costco members. And I probably do save a bunch of money – but i don’t care…i buy stuff in bulk (with four of us, we definitely need it!) – and also get some great deals ($37 costco brand looks just like ugg boots, and are incredibly comfortable!).

styymy

January 2nd, 2011
11:36 am

There have been too many advances in lense/frame materials and technology over the years for glasses to be shooting into the $400 or more price range.

You don’t think retail frames aren’t made overseas?? Just like your clothes, designer brands included, frames are made over there as well.

The reason online is one-fourth to one-sixth the price of local chain stores is because the middle-man is cut out. Furthermore, ALL stock lenses regardless of online or local retail have UV and Scratch-Resistant Coating already in the lenses. When you go local retail, they’re selling it to you again, so you’re paying for it and its already there.

Check out http://www.warbyparker.com great prices, they will even send you (5) frames to try one with free return shipping.

ann

January 2nd, 2011
4:05 pm

I have 11 pair of glassses from Zenni Optical. None cost more than $130. I love every pair and have had no problems with their customer service.

BUY AMERICAN

January 2nd, 2011
8:22 pm

the job you save may be your own!

Seriously, Clark, the country is in a tailspin and we need to keep every dollar we can in the US. I’d suggest that you help identify cheap overseas options as well as cheap domestic options.

That’d be great for those of us who try like heck to buy AMERICAN

John

January 3rd, 2011
12:12 pm

Clark

You DO realize that almost ALL of the internet eyeglasses companies get their CHEAP glasses from China?

Do you also realize that 39DollarGlasses.com is based in NY, have their factory in NY and DO NOT farm anything out to other countries? I think I’d rather spend a few more dollars to get a quality product that is made right here in the USA.

Joyce

January 3rd, 2011
12:52 pm

The website I use, http://www.tryglassesforfree.com, is based in Salt Lake City, UT. I know for a fact that they make their glasses in the good old USA. They have great value for the dollar, great selection, high quality customer service, and a really cool “try at home” program that lets you have 4 frames sent to your home so that you can try them on first. It’s the only way to go for me.

NiceDawgDeux

January 3rd, 2011
6:32 pm

You hypocritical idiots: Child labor, sweat shops. If they are making 20cents a day that is more than they were making and if you have never bought anything made in China, then you are probably lying.. Cheap critics: THe only one who cares where it was bought is a “keep up with the jones” kinda guy. What does it matter where it is brought unless you are stuck on labels, which you probably are. You probably buy knockoff shirts and handbags and make people think you paid more for it. Are you smarter because you OVERPAID for something? I don’t think so. Amazing, and you vote too, I bet. Scary.