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Shopping around helps you see better for less

The cost of a new pair of glasses may leave you seeing double. Fancy frames, special lenses and protective coatings can add $500 or more, even with insurance.

You can get cheaper pairs online or in discount stores, but can you trust them to correct your vision and look good, too? Consumer Reports offers this advice:

• Don’t focus on brands. One reason glasses cost a lot is that they are part fashion accessory. You can spend hundreds on frames from Chanel, Prada, Versace and other big names.

But those frames are often designed and manufactured by companies that license the names – not the designers themselves. And they may not be sturdier than store-brand frames.

• Shop discount stores. Just 38 percent of Americans buy their glasses from an eye doctor or optometrist, according to Mintel, a market-research firm. Instead, they are turning to inexpensive places such as Walmart Vision Center and Costco Optical.

In Consumer Reports’ survey of 19,500 of its readers, published in 2013, Costco topped the Ratings for overall satisfaction, beating out retailers such as LensCrafters and Pearle Vision. But readers weren’t very impressed with Costco’s selection of frames, and you might have to wait a week or more for your glasses.

• Look online. Sales of glasses online are growing steadily. Warby Parker ( entered the market in 2010 as an independent online shop. (It now also has more than a dozen stores nationwide.) To keep prices low, generally $95 for single-vision glasses and $295 for progressive glasses, the frames are designed in-house. Shoppers can request up to five pairs to try on at home for five days.

There are other online sources, often with huge selections and low prices. Zenni Optical (, which also offers single-vision specs for less than $100, was the most widely used online source of glasses among Consumer Reports readers. And most Web shoppers said they would buy glasses online again.

But buying online isn’t for everybody.

“If you have a complex prescription requiring additional measurements, it’s not the best choice,” says Dr. Linsy Farris, professor of clinical ophthalmology at Columbia University.

Plus, online retailers can’t adjust frames or provide other in-person services. One option is to buy frames online and lenses locally.

• Check on quality. If you want wire frames, look for titanium, which is strong, doesn’t corrode and is lightweight, says Avi Vizel, an optician and owner of optical shops in New York City.

Spring hinges are more likely to break than regular ones. And “if you’re on a budget, invest in lenses, not frames,” he says. Also ask about warranties and return policies. Some give you just 14 days to return glasses; others offer a full year.

• Ask about insurance. If you’re covered by insurance, find out whether the eyeglass store accepts your plan. About half of the survey respondents who shopped in stores used it to cover part of their bill. Insurance would cover up to $140 of the cost, on average, for Consumer Reports’ readers. Those with little or no insurance had to pay an average of $244 out of pocket.

If the store doesn’t take insurance (and many online eyeglass retailers don’t), you might be able to pay upfront and get reimbursed for at least part of the cost.

However you pay for your glasses, don’t forget to haggle. Eye doctors and independent shops are more willing than online or warehouse stores to negotiate on price.

• Get two pairs. Eyeglass stores often have coupons and special half-price deals. If you find one, consider buying a second pair of glasses. That way, if your primary pair is lost or broken, you won’t have to run to an expensive shop to have a replacement made right away.