The Trials and Tribulations of Buying Eyeglasses Online

Before I took early retirement, I leveraged my employer-based healthcare to get all “up to snuff,” including new eyeglasses. I’d never really given glasses much thought up till then – every two years I saw the doc, looked with dismay at my ever increasing hyperopia, picked a set of frames in the showroom and a couple weeks later my glasses were ready. I vaguely remember seeing invoice totals in the $400+ range but never gave it much thought as my glasses were always a fixed $100 thanks to insurance.

Fast forward a couple years. I knew my farsightedness had amped up again, especially working on small parts and electronics. Thing is, now on ACA, I’m on my own for eyecare. The checkup wasn’t expensive at all, fortunately. I guess optometrists missed the boat on fleecing patients. Anyway, I figured I’d just get my new prescription and use one of the fancy websites to order my glasses.

We’ve all seen the ads – Warby Parker, GlassesUSA, EyeBuyDirect, Zenni Optical, the list of online eyeglass purveyors seems never-ending and always growing. All are very “web 2.0” with flashy UIs: load up a selfie and you can see how glasses will look on you; constant “you’re in the club now” guerilla marketing. All the usual web stuff that makes you want to 🤮.

Regardless, I needed glasses so I started at the king, Warby Parker. Now I’m not real picky when it comes to glasses. I don’t care about fashion or style, other than I don’t like big, thick plastic frames. Dunno why, I’ve just always worn metal framed glasses. I do wear progressives and that dictates needing a relatively large lens vertically to get the best range of focus. I’m also a typical guy, so that means I’m prone to wiping my glasses with the semi-clean, sawdust covered tee shirt currently donning my fuselage so some sort of scratch protection is a must. Other than that, I just want ’em to work.

Warby may be the king, but they’re the king of plastic frames. The very few metal frames they had were far to small for my noggin. Scratch Warby. Lots of good reviews for EyeBuyDirect, so I focus my attention over there. Good selection of metal frames, including one I really like. I answer all their questions about my prescription and the various options they offer and $85 later, my order is in! Every couple days, EyeBuyDirect sends me an update with where my eyeglasses are with cute little pics.

I was all proud of myself, thinking I even saved a few bucks off what I used to pay. The wheels fell slap off that pride a couple weeks later when my glasses arrived, however. The frames looked and fit great. Within 5 seconds of putting them on, I knew something wasn’t right. The prescription was good. I could definitely see better close up but everything mid to distance was horrific with colored halos around objects.

Double rainbow all the way! What does this mean?

I started googling and quickly found the problem. Chromatic aberration. I called EyeBuyDirect and explained my problem. I could tell by the tone of the CSR’s voice she knew exactly what I was talking about but she played dumb and really pushed to have my glasses remade “at no charge!” Danger Will Robinson! Danger! I knew right quick this wasn’t going to get resolved to my satisfaction so I pressed for a return and refund. She grudgingly sent me a return shipping slip, informing me shipping would be deducted from my refund. Fine, but weak…

I then spent the better part of a full day learning all about chromatic aberration and the science of progressive lenses. I quickly gained respect for the eyeglass people at my optometrist. There was a good reason after all why my glasses invoiced north of $400. Turns out the vast majority of these online sellers crank out polycarbonate lenses and nothing else. Now polycarbonate is fine for simple, single vision prescriptions. For progressives and/or more extreme corrective needs? Yeah no. Not recommended, at all. I learn about Abbe values and how higher is better for progressives and vital for avoiding the dreaded halos. I learn about Trivex and that name pops up from memory – it was mentioned before at my optometrist. Ah ha!

Properly armed with my newfound eyeglass knowledge, I went back through the various online sellers. Only Zenni Optical even mentions lens material choices like Trivex. Zenni’s frame choices were more limited but there was one passable option. I just couldn’t get over their horrible return policy though – a 50% refund. That’s flat-out unacceptable for something you buy sight-unseen online.

During my research, I also stumbled across a reddit where folks geeked out about progressive eyeglasses. There really is a reddit for everything, isn’t there? Anyway, a lot of folk were big on a placed called Go-Optic. I check it out. Good selection of frames but unlike all the unbranded ones the other sites carry, Go-Optics are all brand name. Some are quite pricey. I notice all the frames have the exact same description with only a word or two changed. Someone got serious with the copy/paste setting the site up. There’s no fancy web 2.0 selfie try-on. In fact, many of the frames don’t even have accurate pictures. Anyway, I plod ahead, find a pair I’m happy with that has the right dimensions and doesn’t break the bank. I continue deeper into the order process, filling in my prescription and up comes the lens selection page.

Woha.

Trivex is there. From multiple manufacturers. Lots of other kinds too, some well over $600 – for just the lenses!  I’m starting to see what the redditors were all about now. Lots of lens coating choices too. More research… Anyway, when all was said and done, my total came to just over $200. Ouch, but I still needed new glasses, bad. I hit submit on the order and put my faith in reddit.

A couple days later, I get a note from Go-Optics. My order is on hold pending receipt of my prescription. Interesting. EyeBuyDirect never asked for proof. So, I scan my doctor signed prescription and sent it in. “Order resumed” note came back immediately. Nothing heard after that for the next two weeks. No silly pictures of stick men building my glasses, no nothing until a box arrived. I tear it open, pop the glasses on and… Happiness! No halos, prescription is perfect, and the gunmetal frames, while much darker than the pics online, are just fine.

LASER Vision!

Lessons learned?

The eyeglass store at your optometrist is doing a lot more than you realize. They know you and your prescription and the best lens materials and coatings to fit your requirements. There’s a ton of options. These slick online vendors don’t GAF about your requirements. They’ve simplified things to make buying “easy” but more importantly, to produce the cheapest possible glasses maximizing their profits. I can’t wholeheartedly endorse Go-Optics either. Their site is a hot mess. I’m sure there’s other lesser known online stores that do glasses right like Go-Optics but hey, they worked for me. As for EyeBuyDirect? They’re three weeks overdue in sending my refund. I do have 85.29 in Focus Rewards and I’m at the “Silver Bright” tier so I’ve got that going for me. I’ll be issuing a merchant chargeback tomorrow on the credit card.