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A Semi-Quick Guide to Buying Glasses Online

Updated on September 29, 2013
I totally purchased these online.  And they are awesome.
I totally purchased these online. And they are awesome.

You're probably looking at this title and wondering who would buy their glasses on the internet.

"Glasses! But you need to try them on!" you're saying. "This isn't like contact lenses! You're a crazy person!"

But I'm not crazy! I'm a very nearsighted person who doesn't handle contacts well (my body rejects them like a bad kidney), and so I like having a little bit of variety in my eyewear. I have three pairs I wear regularly, several more that I wear once in a while, and two pairs of prescription sunglasses. All of which I bought online.

Why Buy Online?

Simply put, you get more selection for a lower price. There are cheap options like Zenni Optical, slightly cheap options like Glasses USA, and reasonable-to-expensive options like Coastal. Many stores have occasional deals (two-for-one, % off) or standing offers (first pair free), and if you sign up for their emails you might get a pretty sweet deal in your inbox. You can get a cheap pair for $7-15 or maybe a fairly decent pair for $40-60, meanwhile your local LensCrafters or optometrist is going to charge much, much more.

Why Buying Online Can Be Bad ...

When you go to a brick and mortar store, you know you can go back there if any problem arises. So if there's a problem with the prescription/lenses or the frames are just ugly, you may have more options to fix the problem.

With online shopping, return policies vary. Some stores may accept your returns less a "restocking fee," while others are happy to take back your unwanted glasses for any reason. It's up to you to check the policies before you shop, and that puts more pressure on you not to mess up.

Speaking of which, the same goes for the prescription. Usually the store issuing the prescription is the one you're going to buy your glasses from. When you buy online you need to already have a prescription that includes your pd (pupil distance). If these numbers are wrong or you don't know your pupil distance, then you will end up with glasses that, at best, make your eyes hurt. And once again, some stores will take them back and redo them, while others won't.

For some people it may not be worth the hassle of getting the prescription elsewhere or trying to put it in correctly, even if the prices online are better and the selection is wider.

What About Trying It On?

Some websites have tools you can use to upload a photo of yourself or even take a picture from your webcam. You can use these tools to virtually try on the glasses and see how they look before you buy them. Some websites are better than others, but all of them should give you a rough idea of how the frames would look on your face. This is most useful for colors and shapes, as you can know how a size of frame might look, but not how a particular shape (round, oval, rectangle, cat) or height might affect the way your face appears.

The best thing, though, is to compare the ones online to a frame you already have and like. When I buy glasses online I try to stick with glasses that have measurements similar to the ones I already have. Even if I want to try a new shape, I always stick with a similar lens width. Too big and it looks oversized. Too small and it makes my eyes look really narrow. For me, I try to always stay within about 1mm of the lens I already have. The bridge width, length of temples, etc. isn't all that important, though you may want to go with a similar measurement there as well if you know that one works well for you.

The Prescription

When you input your prescription, you need three numbers for each eye and then the pd number.

Usually the input will look something like the image to the right:

Get these numbers from your optometrist or ANY optometrist. If it's just the pd you don't have, you can try to get it yourself (not recommended if you want to be accurate), ask a friend to do it, or walk into your local big box store eye clinic and ask nicely. They might do it for you if you look like you're interested in buying some glasses.

If you want to buy glasses without a prescription lens, just leave everything at 0. Some stores will give you a discount if the lenses aren't prescription.

The Frames

As I said before, the best thing you can do in determining how something will fit on your head is to pay attention to the measurements and use the tools available that superimpose frames on your photo.

But here are some other tips:


Many people look good in shades of red or brown. Black is sometimes too harsh and lighter colors can be difficult to pull off. Definitely go for the photo tool if you're thinking of black or an unusual color like yellow or white.


Your choices are generally plastic or metal. Consider what kind of look you're going for. Serious and businessy? Cute and colorful? Retro? If you're a "one pair" kind of person who doesn't want to change glasses every day, pick something that will match your style, and in a color that will go with "everything" (particularly if you go with plastic).


Some guidelines on face shape and frame shape ...

Round Face (same width and length) - Square, rectangular

Oblong Face (much longer than wide) - Round, square

Square Face (forehead and jaw similar width) - Something that sits high on the face to give length

Diamond Face (broadest at cheekbones) - No wider than the cheekbones

Heart-shaped Face - Oval, square

Oval Face (longer than wide, but very proportionate) - Go crazy, but styles that draw attention to the center are best

The Lenses

As you go through the checkout process you will be given a lot of lens options. This is where the $$$ comes into play.

If you have a higher prescription they will recommend lighter, thinner lenses. You don't *have* to get these, but if you get frames that are more than about 25mm tall, you might consider it. They do get heavy after a while if you choose the standard "free" lenses.

They will give you options as far as lens coatings. Always get anti-reflective unless you want to stare at your own eyeballs all day. Anti-scratch, anti-glare, impact-resistant, etc. are always nice too. Some sites will give you a package deal with these, while others make you pay for every little upgrade.

Bifocals, progressives, and so on are usually available, but may cost more. Sunglasses are similar. Many frames can be made into sunglasses, but the cost for colored lenses will be higher than for clear plastic.

Unless you don't need a prescription lens, expect to pay a little for the lens upgrade, on top of the price of the frames. Unless you get the very best lenses you probably still won't be paying all that much.


Shipping price usually depends on special deals or how much money you spend. It can run from a few dollars to ... well, I think it's usually just a few dollars. Maybe $5-7. Usually you get free shipping over a certain amount even if there is no promo code.

Shipping time varies between stores. Zenni, who produce their glasses overseas, take 2-4 weeks in my experience. Coastal, on the other hand, had my glasses to me just about a day after I ordered them (a nice surprise).

Check reviews online and also what the store itself says about shipping times to see what it usually is for that particular store.

Silly face optional.
Silly face optional.

Finally ...

When you get your new glasses, don't be afraid to post reviews and pictures! It's so helpful to be able to see how different glasses fit on different faces! If you had a great experience with a store, let everyone know. If they sucked harder than a kid drinking a Frosty through a straw (we've all tried it; it's impossible) then let everyone know that too!

☆ And enjoy your new glasses! ☆

Further Information

(The first two frames were purchased overseas. You can find the top pair by searching on Rakuten. The one on the bottom is available at My pd is 61 and I generally stick with frames that have a lens width in the 49-51 range.)


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