Online eyeglasses vs. ones from your eye doctor: Is it worth the bargain?


    Buying prescription glasses online (WSET)<p>{/p}

    LYNCHBURG, Va. (WSET) -- We all love a good bargain, but what about when it comes to your eyes?

    Many of you order your prescription glasses through online discounters, but you may not end up saving the money you think you’re saving.

    Caryn Brown swears by her discount glasses. She has ordered five pairs online over the last several years. “They’ve always come back, put it this way close enough where I never experienced any problem after the glasses came in and I wore them even for long periods of time,” says Brown.

    However, a study by the American Optometric Association found 44.8 percent - nearly half of the prescriptions the organization sent to online retailers- came back with the wrong prescription, or safety issues.

    We asked Optometrist Dr. Gary St. Clair to write a prescription that was somewhat complicated, but not over the top. Then we randomly chose five discount online retailers to order from- Discount Glasses, Zenni, Goggles4U, Glasses Shop, and Marvel, and ordered the least expensive options available.

    The lowest came in at about $16 including shipping, and the highest was $39.

    They all came back within a few weeks, and it was time to check them out. Lab technician Jimmy Thompson examined each one against the prescription provided. “Only one was close to perfect. One I wouldn’t use at all, there were discrepancies with 4 of the 5,” he concluded. With one exception, he said the discrepancies were pretty minor, and still usable.

    Dr. St. Clair, however, found different problems with them. He says the way they were made with a flat front surface would cause a terrible glare when light hits the lens. Besides glare, even if the prescription is accurate, Dr. St. Clair says your glasses could have warping that you can’t see. “And the next thing you know you have visual fatigue, eye strain headaches, and then people assume it’s the wrong prescription when in fact it’s the materials or the fabrication of the prescription,” says St. Clair.

    Though he says it can’t cause permanent damage, something else can-- where these discounters are making them. Lenses that are made dispensed in the U.S. have to have a certain minimum thickness and a certain impact resistance to avoid shattering of the lens or injury to the eye. When you purchase these from a country outside the U.S., basically there are no standards and that’s partly why they can make them cheaper.”

    Neither he nor Thompson think the risks are worth saving a few bucks. “As a backup pair or emergency pair, it’s all right. Not recommended because of the possibility of inferior quality,” says Thompson.

    “We’ve had a number of patients that have had a bad experience and of course most of them say ‘I’ll never do that again,'” adds St. Clair.

    As for Caryn Brown, she’s not concerned about the risks, and she wears contacts 90 percent of the time anyway. She’s also a very savvy, detail oriented consumer so she knows exactly what she’s paying for. Her advice to others - take accurate measurements, read the fine print, and don’t set your expectations too high. “Just like if you purchase an economy car you’re not going to expect the same fit and finish that you’d get with a high end luxury automobile. Same goes for your glasses,” advises Brown.

    If you do buy online, Dr St. Clair highly recommends you take them to your eye doctor's office to have them checked out.

    As for the pair that failed this test-- the company that made them, Goggles4U, has what it calls a hassle free, friendly return and exchange policy if there’s a problem.

    We did contact the company for any further comment they might want to share, but have not heard back.

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