Consumer Reports examines benefits and drawbacks of online eyewear shopping

Shopping for eyeglasses isn’t what it used to be.  Sometimes it doesn’t even involve trying on the frames. Online retailers offer convenience and discount pricing, but there can be risks. Consumer Reports recently surveyed its readers and did its own eyeglass shopping to reveal advice on how to get great glasses at a great price.

Thatiana Medina has an eye exam every year. And that often means she’ll be on the hook for new glasses.

“It could be a 200 to 500 dollar cost for one pair of frames,” says Medina.

A lot of people still buy glasses the old fashioned way, at the doctor’s office or at a local eyewear store.  Consumer Reports says you may get more attention there, but according to a survey of its readers you may also pay a lot more.

Our readers paid an average of  about $400 for frames and lenses at eye doctors and independent eyeglass shops. That’s about two to 3 times what readers paid online. That’s before any reimbursement from insurance,” says Margot Gilman, Consumer Reports Money Editor.

Consumer Reports readers evaluated 6 online retailers. Warby Parker sends five pairs of frames to try on at home—shipping is free both ways. It gets high marks for quality and selection. Warby Parker’s average price for frames and lenses — $141.

Zenni Optical also did well overall — Average price $69. It’s big drawback, you can only try on the frames virtually using a photo.

“We recommend that you try on any frames you are considering purchasing online first. Just to make sure that they fit right and that the quality is good,” says Gilman.

A good strategy: find the frame you like in a brick and mortar store and then look for it online. Check out the warranty and return policies. You may have only 30 days for returns.

And if online eyewear shopping isn’t for you, Consumer Reports readers also evaluated dozens of brick and mortar retailers. Prices at discount stores like  Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart  are often less than at an eyeglass chain or doctor’s office. However the frame selection may be more limited.

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