MeFi advice on buying glasses January 24, 2015 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Several years ago, I remember there was some discussion on MeFi about some places to buy eyeglasses on the web at extremely low prices - like, $20 for a complete set with frames and lenses and everything. I'm looking for an update on these sources.

I vaguely remember that there was a discussion on the grey about these places to buy eyeglasses at very low prices, and there were a lot of testimonials and strong opinions about them. I'm wondering (a) if these sites are still around, and (b) if there are any better, newer options about where to go to buy eyeglasses at the best possible prices, and (c) if there was any concern about payment security, which I vaguely recall people talking about, because I think these sites were all offshore.
posted by jbickers to MetaFilter-Related at 5:54 PM (47 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

zenni optical is the one that gets mentioned all the time. (I have not tried them)
posted by desjardins at 6:18 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think it's the post linked in this MeTa. The website is still up, but no clue if it's the same experience more than seven years later.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:19 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've used Zenni multiple times, to the tune of 6 pair or more of glasses, and never had a problem.
posted by pjern at 6:20 PM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Zenni is still going. I bought about 10 pairs from them over the past couple of years (because for 20 dollars each, why not have lots of different looks?) I've been very satisfied with all except one pair.
posted by lollusc at 6:34 PM on January 24, 2015

In fact, right now I'm wearing a $6.95 pair of frames from them that I prefer even over the $200 pair I bought just before I discovered zenni. The latter sits in my cupboard now pretty much unworn.
posted by lollusc at 6:36 PM on January 24, 2015

I still buy from and

I have made some poor decisions (like, I don't need yellow glasses, and I cannot stand skinny little lenses and they look stupid on my giant head - yes, even on the 4th pair*), but their work has always been good and the service has been good and I get coupons and sale offers from them constantly.

*These crap glasses get stashed in work drawers and glove compartments and for painting and going to the pool and stuff because they're fine in an emergency.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:49 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Did you mean to post this to AskMe?
posted by Justinian at 7:49 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Another happy Zenni customer of many years. I've had better and worse from them but have settled on a couple that are durable and look ok.

I've had a couple of issues and they have also always been polite and responsive, including sending parts months after a purchase.

You need to know what you want though. Or be willing to spend a few bucks experimenting.
posted by spitbull at 7:51 PM on January 24, 2015

Yup: Zenni. Wearing a pair right now. So is my partner. Between us, we've bought maybe twenty pairs from them.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:04 PM on January 24, 2015

Did you mean to post this to AskMe?

Heh. I started to use the contact form for that very reason, then realized it had been let out of the queue, so I guess it really is a MeTa. That, or the weekend mod fell asleep and accidentally clicked Approve.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:23 PM on January 24, 2015

My current glasses from Zenni were about $14 shipped. This is such a massive improvement. Be sure to get your pupillary distance from your optometrist before you leave!
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:26 PM on January 24, 2015

Nah, I remember it being a big topic of discussion on Metatalk on at least one previous occassion and the post was partly previously-on-mefi-specific, so I figured it was fine. Definitely one off those odd situations where it could go either way, but it's fine for this to be the way it goes.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:27 PM on January 24, 2015

Nthing Zenni. I've loced and used them for years, but I have to admit that they're a lot less stylish than they used to be. I had a couple of really lovely pairs in styles they don't carry anymore that were lost to the ravages of ADHD. Warby Parker is a lot better if you care about that, if much more expensive even if still a LOT less than retail - but if you end up upgrading your Rx options on Zenni at all (thinner lenses, various treatments, etc), it's closer than you'd think.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 8:43 PM on January 24, 2015

I've just tried Classic Specs ("Brooklyn-born" they like to say) and love them, and indeed the whole process instead of going into a store. (I'm linking to women's glasses as there's a popup on the main url that seems pretty stubborn.)

They're pricier than Zenni, though, and I suspect you as a customer are also paying for the cool photography and website design.

So they're like Netflix - you pick out up to six frames and they'll send them to you in their "home trial kit". You have to give them your credit card at this stage but that's only so they can cover their asses in case you steal their frames. There's like a surcharge of $1.00 that they credit back to you, I think.

You get the kit and have fun - they suggest you get someone else's feedback if you're not sure. Then you return the kit via mail (pre-paid envelope dealio) and you place your order either online or with a paper form they include. It's all really straight-forward.

You're also under no obligation if you don't like any of the frames, as I understand it. I ended up getting prescription glasses and sunglasses and it is so nice - I freakin' love prescription sunglasses.

Good luck. Zenni is probably fine but I really liked this other joint.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:19 PM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

(Forgot to add: my eyeglasses ended up being more than $89 due to my prescription, which is strong - this may not be an issue for you.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:22 PM on January 24, 2015

I got frames and lenses from Zenni a few years ago, and they've held up okay and were by far the cheapest option (frames + lenses were like $50, and I needed high-index as opposed to the standard polycarb because of my somewhat intense prescription). However, that said, the frames I got broke around the eyepiece after a while, and although the frames were very cheap and easy to replace without also ordering new lenses, at this point at least three replacement frames have broken in exactly the same place.

Now that there are reviews on the site, this problem's a bit easier to avoid (lots of other people have mentioned this problem with this particular frame style, so it's not just that I'm being rough with them or something, it really does seem like a structural issue), but it could be a potential issue with newer styles.

Also, the anti-glare coating crazed really badly and is flaking off, so there's halos around lights now, which is annoying. Mainstream retailers I think tend to do a better job with those coatings these days.

Again, I definitely got a solid period of wear out of them that was still cheaper than mainstream retailers even with the frame replacements (they were only like $12 each), but now that I am not in grad school any more and have a few bucks extra, I'd pay a little more to not have to deal with those issues.

(I'm going with Warby Parker for replacements; their selection of frames tended to be too small on my face, but I found one finally that I liked. But I can't review them because I haven't received them yet!)
posted by en forme de poire at 11:22 PM on January 24, 2015

I have never had a problem with payment security with ZO, though.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:30 PM on January 24, 2015

Has anyone used these sites from outside the US? Are there reputable British or continental European versions?
posted by ellieBOA at 1:01 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

ellieBOA, you can use Zenni from anywhere. Their international shipping is a flat rate of $9.95 and I think the glasses are all actually made in China and so they ship to anywhere, just cheaper to the US. I've ordered tons of pairs (ok, I may have a bit of an obsession) and had them delivered to the US when I used to live there and also to the UK where I am now. They also accept paypal so you don't have to have a US credit card.
posted by tractorfeed at 3:14 AM on January 25, 2015

Awesome, thanks tractorfeed.
posted by ellieBOA at 3:43 AM on January 25, 2015

For the discerning gentleman to whom style is an agreeable attribute, the Monocle Shop in the UK will do a monocle for roughly $50 and ship for $10, with various options (strength, gold or silver).
posted by Wordshore at 4:33 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

BTW, anyone who ever has an issue with purple fringing / chromatic aberration should note the "Abbe number" factor in Wikipedia's section on lens materials. That isn't listed on Zenni when you select your lens material IIRC, but it's actually often the less expensive, lower-index lens materials that have lower color dispersion (i.e. a higher Abbe number, if I'm understanding things correctly).
posted by XMLicious at 4:49 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've used Zenni in the past and will no doubt use them again, but the prescription quality is iffy on them. It was fine when I was wearing only Zenni glasses, but now that I have both Zenni glasses and a pair from my optometrist in the rotation, I can tell that the prescription is not quite right. Also, I'm not sure how accurate the thing is, but when I got my last eye exam, the tech used some machine to read the prescription on the glasses I was currently wearing (Zenni), and it was definitely not the strength I'd ordered. Not necessarily telling you to avoid them, but just a caveat.
posted by obfuscation at 5:32 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

ellieBOA: "Has anyone used these sites from outside the US?"

I've used them from Canada without a problem on multiple occasions a few years ago.
posted by Mitheral at 5:42 AM on January 25, 2015

#1 wrote Adventures in $40 eyeglasses way back in 2007. I used its practical advice last time I ordered glasses online, about three years ago or so and it was still useful.
posted by Kattullus at 6:34 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a $39 Dollar Glasses fan.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 6:36 AM on January 25, 2015

I have never noticed any problem with prescription strength or coating quality from Zenni.

All opticians buy the *same* Chinese made frames, even when they have designer labels. Warby Parker frames are churned out of the same factories. So are the $300 versions of the $30 Zenni frames you buy at LensCrafters. The same crap. Exactly. There are very few actually high end frame manufacturers and their specs are very expensive indeed. But most of us walk around wearing frames made in Chinese factories and priced according to what people will pay, not what materials cost. It helps that the retail industry in the US is largely a hidden monopoly controlled by one Swiss company.

I've been wearing glasses for 40 years, and have never been more satisfied than I am with Zenni glasses, even when I was paying $300-400 for Oliver Peeples and the like. As I said it took me a few tries to find the frame style I like and that lasts best, and I do experiment with different lenses and coatings etc. sometimes. But I must have 12 pairs of Zenni glasses in the house or car or office right now, and I have never noticed any variance in the Rx strength at all. None. Period. And I wear a moderately strong prescription (for distance only, however).

PD is easy to measure yourself. You don't need an optometrist to do it. And you will note that fancy glasses stores don't ask about it or give it to you if you get your eyes examined there. They are trying to keep you from having one bit of mystified data you need to order online, while they themselves are happy to sell you frames the wrong size for your face. Zenni will send you a little ruler but you can measure it in front of a bathroom mirror with a regular ruler in 10 seconds, and there's a fair bit of tolerance in it anyway.
posted by spitbull at 7:16 AM on January 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

Also, lens grinding is completely automated, whether at your luxury mall store or at an online Chinese retailer. There's no skill involved in doing it anymore. It's a computer-operated machine. That's why cheap glasses now are better than expensive ones fro 30 years ago.
posted by spitbull at 7:21 AM on January 25, 2015

My regular optometrist was happy to give me the PD number as well as all of the other prescription details when I asked; my impression was that online ordering was not cutting into their business and not something they felt threatened by.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:41 AM on January 25, 2015

I prefer eyebuydirect to zenni.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:49 AM on January 25, 2015

ZENNI. I have at least 7 (ok more like 10) pair of glasses from them.

My advice: measure the frames you have that fit best, and don't stray too far from the temple length and frame width. I've accidentally ordered glasses that were far too big AND far too small.

Spend the extra $8 (I think it's 8) for the no glare hydrophobic lenses. It is totally worth it.

The ONLY problem I have with Zenni is that since they do not have any frame measurements on the frame, you can't have them relensed. But it's a small price to pay.
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:59 AM on January 25, 2015

not_on_display gets all his glasses at Zenni and he's now become one of those dad people who has three sets of glasses he carries around because he didn't like the progressive lenses he got (not really a Zenni thing, just didn't work for him) and now he just swaps them on and off all the time. They're decently durable and they have a good selection and more customer service than you would expect. You can also get monogramming stuff so you can write stuff like LONG DISTANCE GLASSES on them so you can keep them all straight. I have perfect vision for the moment and I can't wait until I need to start wearing glasses because he never wants the cool ones with all the colors.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 11:49 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, I didn't mention it above, but I'm in Australia, not the USA, and zenni still worked great. My glasses shipped from China, and arrived in about a week.

The prescriptions are definitely correct. I noticed zero difference among the 10 or so zenni pairs I have, or between the and the optometrist pair I bought just beforehand.

The one pair I wasn't happy with was a blue coated wire frame, and the blue coating started to flake off after about 10 wears. I have a gold wire pair too that has not had that problem, though, and I have numerous plastic frames, one of which broke when I sat on it, but I think that's pretty standard. I reordered the exact same pair and it has lasted about two years now.

I find that if you upload your own photo to their website, and set pd correctly, the way the glasses look on the photo is pretty much exactly accurate, so only get ones that look good.

One more thing I would note, and that's that friends who have complicated prescriptions (super strong, bifocals) find the cheapest zenni glasses they can get are still around $100 and so they prefer to keep buying in person in the traditional way. It's one thing to buy six pairs at $20 and assume you'll love maybe half of them, and another to spend a few hundred that way. My prescription is only -4 and I don't need bifocals, so it hasn't been an issue.
posted by lollusc at 4:44 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh the optometrist will tell you the pd if you ask.?but it isn't on your written Rx.

From what I read online glasses have definitely hurt the big chain retailers.

Good. Decades of ripoff come to an end.
posted by spitbull at 3:22 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been buying bifocals for driving from Zenni. Index lenses, full progressive, scratch and uv coat, tinted gradient, $75.

The local optometrist/optician who said I needed them wanted $250 for the same Rx. And crap frames.

There's nothing complicated about basic progressives either.
posted by spitbull at 3:24 AM on January 26, 2015

You can also get monogramming stuff so you can write stuff like LONG DISTANCE GLASSES on them so you can keep them all straight.
If you're going to do this, remember that if you curl your forefinger tightly, you can make an ad hoc pinhole camera to let you focus on the tiny monogramming that you can't otherwise read. I read this here (although I was unable to find the page), and it has been a game changer for simple things like reading the clock to find out exactly what time my daughter has gotten up to try to watch TV rather than the more nebulous "sometime past midnight butt early 30", or the first world problem of not being able to tell which bottle has the conditioner and ending up using twice as much conditioner when I guess wrong.

Which reminds me, I'm likely due for a new prescription as I'm reading more and more through a tiny slice of my progressives. I will probably redo my request to pick frames as that worked really well.
posted by plinth at 9:09 AM on January 26, 2015

I really hated my Zenni glasses (and I bought more than one set of glasses, so it wasn't just a one-off). They looked fine, but they were horribly uncomfortable and gave me headaches. That being said, I have (a) a freakishly large head, and (b) very bad eyesight on multiple dimensions of bad-eyesight-ness, so I am probably not the best test case. And at least they were cheap.

I had a much better experience at Warby Parker. I was able to go in person to a Warby Parker store in my area to pick out the frames, and they were terrific (and measured the PD for me). I will definitely buy from them in the future in spite of the higher prices. I'd rather pay $95 (or in my case, $125 with high-index lenses) for a pair of glasses I can wear that doesn't give me headaches than waste $20 for a pair I find intolerable.

The last time I priced my prescription at Pearle Vision it was something like $425 with low-end frames, so $125 is pretty cheap for my glasses anyway!
posted by pie ninja at 10:01 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Zenni Optical.

Just bought three pairs from them. Two of the pairs don't work, and I was surprised. Took them in and had them checked--they were spot on to the RX. Went back to the eye doctor and it turns out he wrote the Rx WRONG. I was pissed and let them know about it. They said they would have made the purchase price right on the $600 glasses if I had bought them there (damn right, skippy!) but could only refund me $25 each on the ones I had.

I explained the issue to Zenni, and they put new glasses in the frames and didn't charge me the frame price. The refund didn't cover it all, but with Zenni's help, I'm not out too much. Zenni didn't have to do that.

I heart Zenni.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:23 AM on January 26, 2015

All opticians buy the *same* Chinese made frames, even when they have designer labels. Warby Parker frames are churned out of the same factories. So are the $300 versions of the $30 Zenni frames you buy at LensCrafters. The same crap. Exactly.

I don't disbelieve, in fact I've seen it mentioned before by others that I trust and maybe even looked it up myself in the past but if anyone has a link/cite for this I'd be grateful.

On topic, my wife just ordered (as in they're on the way to us now) 3 or 4 frames from Zenni. So we can chime in as to how much she likes/dislikes them in a few days.

I wear Shuron Ronsir frames, as I've mentioned before, and I've been super pleased with them and their customer service. I had a friend optician get the frames for me but if I could solve the lens solution on my end I see no reason why I wouldn't buy straight from them in the future.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:38 PM on January 26, 2015

Thanks so much for this thread. I'm about to buy new everything for me and the kiddos. I didn't realize these places existed, and you all just likely saved me a boatload of money.
posted by wallabear at 9:55 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

One of the things I love about being able to buy cheap glasses online as an adult is thinking about how awesome it would have been to have them available when I was a kid and breaking my glasses every few months. I could have had a spare pair rather than taping my frames together while I waited to get them soldered!

One of Charlaine Harris's mystery series featured a character who'd come into money, and the first thing she did was buy multiple pairs of eyeglasses in different styles and colors. I thought that was absolutely what I'd do if I were wealthy -- what a great idea. Living in the future is sometimes amazing.

I've had great experiences with 39DollarGlasses, EyeBuyDirect, Goggles4U, and especially Eyefly. Though I keep forgetting that I really have to order the high-index lenses whether the site ordering form forces me to or not. Not really their fault.
posted by asperity at 10:25 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

We've ordered several pairs from Zenni over the years and been really happy with them. It's key to get a pair with the right measurements (as bibliogrrl says, width and temple) so that you don't have any fit issues. Their try-on photo thingy helps to get a rough idea of fit. Another thing to look for: keep your pupils fairly centered in the lenses. You can stray a bit, but too far towards the inside (for example) with lots of lens left over would indicate that the size is off.

Thanks from me, too, for posting this thread. I'd been putting off buying a new pair because the ones I wanted were discontinued and I didn't love any of the others. When I peeked again after seeing this thread, they had a new arrival that I liked even better. I ended up getting glasses for the whole family, including our little girl, whose other specs were either broken or getting badly scratched. (Ooh, just in time! The new ones are already out of stock.)

Zenni is a dream. Lil' girl always has a spare around for the times she breaks or misplaces a pair, and we can afford to replace our own when it's time to. We'll actually have functional backups for ourselves this time around, which feels like a real luxury.
posted by moira at 8:42 PM on January 27, 2015

I liked goggles4u back when the original post hit and I haven't looked back. It's basically $30 all-in, frames, lenses, and delivery.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:35 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I lost my glasses recently, someone on a project I'm working on started to give me the Zenni sales pitch like it was his brother's start-up, and I was so pleased to be able to name it before he remembered it. Thanks Metafilter!
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:20 AM on January 28, 2015

It helps that the retail industry in the US is largely a hidden monopoly controlled by one Swiss company.

You mean Luxottica? Not Swiss. Italian. They own Pearle, Lenscrafters, Sunglass Hut, Sears Optical, and others. Also Ray-Ban and other brands, and they manufacture the Armani and other designer labels. So far as I can tell, their frames are made in Italy, not China, and the ones Zenni sells are not Luxottica frames.

My only problem with Zenni is that their website is not always clear about the differences between certain options. Make sure you know what you're ordering.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:33 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

MsEld got her 3 sets of frames from Zenni and is nothing but pleased with them. FYI, they also came with a plastic case and non-scratch wipe cloth with each set, nothing amazing but at that price point any extra is a nice touch.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:57 PM on February 2, 2015

I will never order online, because my prescription seems to be difficult to get right. My first set of progressives had the PD wrong and the opticians claimed I was just not adapting to them enough and that I needed to give it more time. For the next pair I went somewhere else and the lab failed to put the AR coating on the lenses, which I noticed, but the people in the shop said, "no, it's on there." One of the lenses spontaneously cracked a few months later and the replacement lenses did get the AR coating, so the difference between them makes it super obvious that the first lenses didn't have it. I'm now on another new prescription (and optician), and while I'm the happiest I've ever been with the lenses, I just got sunglasses from the same optician and they had to fill them with a different brand of lenses to get the tint, and I hate them so very much (like, I need to go have them reorder the lenses, but I don't wear the sunglasses often enough to overcome the hassle of getting there).

So, put me down as one of the people who will only get them done in person and will thus budget FSA money for it whenever the time comes. I need high index progressives that correct for astigmatism; Your Prescription May Vary.
posted by fedward at 7:08 AM on February 3, 2015

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