Internet is enticing a rapidly growing number of
shoppers to make a very personal purchase,
prescription eyeglasses, online. Deep discounts and
greater variety are prompting many to try something
can't pluck a pair of glasses from their smartphone
screen to learn how they feel, but shoppers can try on
frames virtually or have them delivered for a free
test. They also can quickly scroll through hundreds of
choices and send pictures to friends for a
however, hasn't erased all the advantages of buying
glasses in a store. Here are some issues to consider
before clicking on a pair of glasses and adding them
to your virtual shopping cart.
What are some options for buying eyeglasses online?
of websites sells eyewear in men's and women's styles,
with some featuring well-known brands such as Oakley
and Gucci. They include established vendors like
Framesdirect.com and 39dollarglasses.com and more
recent entrants like Warby Parker.
sites let customers scroll through hundreds of options
and styles in different colors. Some, like
Framesdirect.com, allow visitors to upload pictures so
they can see how a pair of glasses would look on their
1-800-Contacts will offer a three-dimensional version
of this concept next month, when it launches a free
app that enables users to virtually try on glasses
after taking a picture of their face with a smartphone
app will produce an image that is scaled so the
glasses appear more like they would if the customer
picked them off a store shelf. It will enable visitors
to turn the image and slide the glasses up and down
the nose. 1-800-Contacts runs the website Glasses.com.
What are the advantages of shopping online?
vendors can offer page after page of variety.
Framesdirect.com, which dates back to 1996, says on
its website that it carries more than 100,000 products
and 500 brands.
also can be found online. The website
39dollarglasses.com features glasses that sell for —
wait on it — $39. That price includes single-vision
lenses and the frame.
Parker advertises prescription glasses starting at
$95. The company developed its own styles for men's
and women's glasses, plus a monocle it sells for $50,
in part because its founders thought prescription
eyewear shouldn't cost $300 or more.
course, bargains are not limited to online vendors.
Some Walmart stores offer prescription, single-vision
lenses that start at $29.
can be another benefit. Warby Parker will send up to
five pairs of glasses to a customer to try on at home
for five days and then return with a pre-paid shipping
label. 1-800-Contacts will send five frames and give
customers seven days to try them.
think a lot of people feel that they need to touch and
hold the frame before buying," said Neil
Blumenthal, a Warby Parker co-founder.
What are the limitations?
visits connect customers with eyewear experts who can
walk them through a purchase.
instance, if customers wants rimless glasses, a store
employee might point out that the lenses may be
thicker than they anticipate to support the frame and
could be uncomfortable to wear, said Sam Pierce, a
trustee with the American Optometric Association. The
employee also could tell a customer whether his or her
prescription would fit properly in the style they want
or whether the frame may be too big or too small.
initial cost for glasses advertised on a website may
be a bargain, but extra fees for a strong prescription
or tinted lenses can add to the bill. Traditional
eyewear stores also can bump up the amount a customer
spends by pushing features like ant-smudge protection.
online companies also may charge shipping fees. Know
the extra costs that come with a pair of glasses
shoppers also may want to do a little research on
their vendor before buying glasses, since the customer
can't simply drive to the store to talk to someone if
a problem arises. Find out how the vendor handles
adjustments to a prescription or returns. Some sites
offer money-back guarantees on returns if the glasses
are sent back within a certain time frame.
Will eyewear stores become obsolete?
sales eyewear sales jumped 31 percent from 2010 to
last year, when they totaled $1.1 billion, according
to The Vision Council, a trade group representing
industry manufacturers and suppliers.
a big growth spurt, but online sales won't take over
the industry soon. Last year, they represented just 4
percent of the roughly $27.5 billion eyewear product
contrast, online sales for apparel and accessories
totaled $36.3 billion, or 12 percent of that total
market of $303.8 billion, according to Forrester
CEO Jonathan Coon said he thinks online eyewear sales
can eventually reach and surpass the same percentage
of its total market.
Warby Parker's Blumenthal still sees a need for
physical store locations that customers can visit. His
company operates showrooms in New York, Chicago and
Los Angeles, among other cities.
think there is always going to be some sort of balance
there because humans are social creatures, and
shopping is a form of entertainment, and it's not just
about convenience," Blumenthal said.