Before Buying Glasses Online, Here's What You Need To Know

Taking care of yourself is a difficult enough task to manage without outside factors — like the economy, insurance, and more — creating even more obstacles. With the ever-rising cost of healthcare in the United States and the pressure to make a dollar stretch further, it can be tempting to look into ways to cut corners when it comes to pricey-but-necessary wellness items like glasses. Over the past half-decade, myriad websites have sprung onto the scene, offering home vision tests and ultra-affordable prescription glasses available for purchase online.

According to Forbes, buying glasses online can save you up to 80%. This may make buying glasses online sound like a no-brainer, but there are a few factors to consider before deciding whether buying glasses online is the best decision for you. Depending on your age, eye health, and type of prescription, it may be worth the additional investment to have your eyes examined in person and have the right glasses professionally fitted by a technician.

Who is a good candidate for buying glasses online?

Not every person who wears glasses is a good candidate for buying glasses online. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that those who are younger than 18, older than 39, are at risk or have already shown symptoms of eye disease, or require a severe eyeglass prescription do not use home vision tests or glasses purchased online. Therefore, if you're an adult under the age of 40 with no history of eye disease and a mild or moderate prescription, you're considered a good candidate.

That said, spend some time researching the specific online services you plan to use before you commit to making a purchase. In other words, search for any complaints that may have been posted online and read the company's reviews on both its own website and third-party sites or social media platforms. After all, not every service is created equal, and the lowest price isn't always worth the corners that could potentially be cut to get there.

Information required to buy glasses online

There are two possible routes to take when setting out to buy glasses online. You can go through a service that offers a fully online experience — including an online vision test to determine your prescription — or you can have your eyes examined by an in-person doctor and then use the prescription they determine to order glasses online. If you plan to complete a vision test online, you don't need to provide any measurements or prescription information ahead of time.

If you already have a valid prescription or plan to get one through an in-person vision test and eye exam, you'll need to provide your own prescription and measurement information to purchase glasses online, which is typically easily obtainable from the receptionist at your eye doctor's office. You'll also need your pupillary distance measurement, which is more difficult to obtain without the help of an eye care professional. Since pupillary distance — the distance between your pupils — is typically measured after you've chosen your new glasses, it won't be included on your prescription card. Instead, you'll have to attempt the measurement on your own or rely on online camera tools, though keep in mind that it's usually most precise when measured by an in-person technician, according to NVISION Eye Centers. Needing progressive lenses may preclude you from ordering glasses online, however, as this prescription may require closer examination.

Do online glasses retailers accept insurance?

Some people who order their glasses online may do so because they don't have vision insurance and need to purchase glasses without sacrificing other basic living expenses. However, those who struggle with transportation, mobility, or time might just find that online vision testing and glasses are a more accessible and convenient option. If you have vision insurance, it's possible to find an online provider that will accept it, but it may take some searching. 

Many online vision service providers cater to those without insurance. For example, Zenni Optical — one of the most well-known sources for online glasses — does not accept insurance, but encourages customers to submit their invoices to their insurance companies for reimbursement. Direct competitor Warby Parker, on the other hand, accepts several major insurance providers including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Spectera, and United Healthcare. Be sure to do your research ahead of time and find out whether or not the service you're considering using accepts insurance and — if so — whether they accept your specific plan. Since most insurance plans cover a full comprehensive exam of your eyes in addition to a vision test and glasses, be aware that opting for online services may not be taking full advantage of your benefits. 

Benefits of buying glasses online

Buying glasses online certainly comes with several significant benefits. Primarily, it's a way to acquire glasses for a much lower price than you would pay at an eye doctor's office. There is also a variety of frame options to consider. When you buy your glasses in person, you're limited to the selection carried in your geographical area. Online, you can sort through and compare as many different services and inventories as you'd like before deciding which one to use. Zenni Optical — for instance — currently carries over 700 women's frame styles priced at $30 or less. 

Online glasses retailers like Eyebuy Direct often offer many more styles of frames than what is available in an in-person office or store, and its online try-on tools are top-tier — an important consideration when you won't know exactly what those new frames look like until they're actually sitting on your face. Retailers like GlassesUSA are known for having enticing sales like two-for-one events for those who like to switch up their look or keep a backup pair of glasses on hand in case something happens to their first pair. If collecting fashion glasses is your thing, you'll probably be a big fan of buying glasses online for the large variety of style choices you can find at an affordable price. 

Drawbacks of buying glasses online

Unfortunately, buying glasses online is not without risk. First, it may be time-consuming to sift through all the services online to find one with positive reviews that also meets all your other requirements, especially if you plan to use your insurance. Secondly, it may be difficult or expensive to return your glasses if there is a problem with them — which is a considerable possibility without the same ease of adjustment you can access when ordering frames from your local eye doctor's office. According to The Eye Center at the Southern College of Optometry, the fit of your glasses can affect the effectiveness of your prescription.

Another potential drawback of buying glasses online is the increased likelihood of your prescription being wrong. A 2011 study revealed that nearly half of the glasses purchased online contained lenses with an inaccurate prescription (via the California Optometric Association). According to Custom Eyecare, wearing glasses with the wrong prescription can cause symptoms like headaches, vertigo, and nausea. Finally, skipping in-person eye exams can lead to eye diseases like glaucoma going undetected, as warned by the American Optometric Association