Zenni Optical Review

From $7 Best

Thousands of reviews extolling low prices, high quality, frame selection, and customer service propel Zenni Optical to the top spot for cheap online eyeglasses.

A consumer favorite, Zenni Optical racks up points with thousands of eyeglasses wearers who have purchased prescription specs online. An average of 4.5 stars from more than 75,000 reviews at ResellerRatings helps elevate this budget prescription eyewear site to the top of Cheapism's ranking. Consumers rave about the stylish options, speedy delivery, product quality, and rock-bottom prices. Many buy multiple pairs to match their mood or outfit on any given day, and others don't sweat a lack of insurance to defray the cost of visually necessary eyewear. Reviews also indicate that Zenni Optical claims serial purchasers who have been customers for years.

On TopTenReviews, Zenni Optical garners a rating of 8.23 out of 10 in the review site's comparison of 11 ecommerce eyewear providers. Standout factors include free UV and anti-scratch coatings, as well as a range of lens options, choices for the entire family, and a huge selection of no-name frames equivalent to other online collections.

Zenni Optical lags the competition on shipping times, according to the review site's calculations: a minimum of 14 days versus 6.82 for the category average and a maximum of 21 days versus an average 10.45 for the category. Ditto for the 30-day return window, which falls far short of the 100-day category average. Zenni Optical hits a high for support satisfaction, with a 95 percent rating compared with an average 90.91 for the other eyewear sites in the comparative review.

Customers who have posted reviews on Yelp, which number just under 300, are slightly less impressed than those at ResellerRatings. Posts reveal they appreciate the cheap prices -- no worries if glasses are lost or broken -- and generally like the product. But some say there's a strong correlation between price and quality; the frames are frumpy, for example, or fall apart for no apparent reason. Several who ordered progressive lenses report problems that interfere with their vision and others grumble about customer service, writing that exchanges, even for errors, are difficult to arrange.

Frame and Lens Options. Prices at Zenni Optical start at $6.95 for a frame with 1.50- or 1.57-index single-vision lenses and top out at $35.95 a pair for the same set of lenses. Adding bifocal lenses starts at $17 and progressive lenses start at $27.95. Prescription sunglasses and generic light-adjusting photochromic and Transitions brand lenses are also available. Add-ons include anti-glare coating or sunglass tint for $4.95. Customers can choose among seven lens indexes, which go as high as 1.74. These include CR-39 plastic, polymer (or polycarbonate composite), and pure polycarbonate lenses; note that some types of lenses, including pure polycarbonate, cannot be tinted. Glasses come with a hard case and microfiber cleaning cloth.

Website. Zenni Optical's website is nothing if not user-friendly. Prices are one click away from the home page and customers can filter search by collection, style, new arrivals, best sellers, and so on. There are styles for men, women, and children, the latter divided into sections for little kids, pre-teens, and teens. Virtual try-on is possible by uploading a selfie. Customer support is accessible via chat, email, and phone. There are help guides and videos on topics such as measuring pupillary distance, replacing lenses in a frame, and ordering mirrored sunglasses. The FAQ section is extensive. Signing up for the newsletter saves consumers 10 percent on a future order. Shipping for the first pair costs $4.95, but there is no extra charge for additional items in the same order. Delivery takes 14 to 21 days.

Bottom Line. A low-cost and customer-focused online glasses shop, Zenni Optical attracts a fervent following. A tiny minority of reviewers may quibble about one thing or another, but with thousands of eyeglasses wearers talking up the offerings, the service, and the prices, there's every reason to regard Zenni Optical as the best cheap online eyeglasses provider.

Where to buy

39 Dollar Glasses Review

From $39 Best

This site sits in first place on the basis of strong reviews from hundreds of patrons telling of quality glasses, attentive customer service, and speedy delivery.

A popular and well-reviewed online eyeglasses provider, 39 Dollar Glasses earns a spot at the top of the order in Cheapism's category lineup. More than 5,000 reviewers award the site an average of 4.5 stars on ResllerRatings for factors such as on-time delivery, helpful customer service, accurate prescriptions, and price. Some customers concede initial trepidation over how the process would work out, but in the end, they say the lenses and frames fit and look just fine -- even drawing compliments from acquaintances. Several reviewers tell of receiving help entering complicated prescriptions, and when they erred, 39 Dollar Glasses stepped up to correct the mistake. A number of reviews gloat about low-triple-digit savings over the cost of prescription glasses at a chain store. Some, however, point out that the final tab is likely to be higher than $39, what with add-ons such as anti-glare coating or tinted lenses.

In a comparative review of 11 online eyeglasses sites by TopTenReviews, 39 Dollar Glasses stands out for speedy delivery -- a minimum arrival time of five days compared with the category average of 6.8 days and a maximum of seven days compared with the category 10.45-day average. Customer satisfaction with support services is about average. The return window of 30 days for a full refund (minus shipping) lags the category average, which is skewed by Coastal's 365-day policy. It is certainly among the best policies among the sites we researched, many of which offer only partial refunds or store credit. At 39 Dollar Glasses, returns can earn full store credit for up to 90 days. One unusual feature that merits a shout-out from TopTenReviews is the option of printing full-size images of glasses frames, cutting them out, and "trying them on" to see how they look. The other alternative is the usual picture upload for a virtual try-on.

Accolades aside, a fraction of 39 Dollar Glasses reviews pan the product and the service. There are claims about frames falling apart shortly after arriving, lenses that don't fit properly in the frames, color coating peeling off the frames, and unpolished edges. Some assert the styles are dowdy and others decry what they consider erratic service and inconsistent quality. There are relatively few complaints about lens errors, but they skew toward problems with progressive lenses. The company often responds to these online reviews, noting errors in the order process, such as choosing distance lenses when the wearer really needs reading glasses or opting for a lens type that isn't suited to the prescription strength -- and then offering to help out in some way.

Frame and Lens Options. 39 Dollar Glasses is a full-service provider that stocks no-name generic frames. It sells single-vision reading or distance glasses and bifocals for adults and children, and progressive lenses for men and women. Consumers can order prescription sunglasses and contact lenses, Transitions lenses that change color according to the ambient light, or lenses to fit frames they already own. A frame-lenses combination (single-vision 1.59-index polycarbonate, no extras) starts at $39; moving up to a 1.67-index lens adds $59.95 to the cost; and a premium 1.74-index lens is available for an additional $99.95. A frame-lenses package for bifocals and progressives starts at $119. All glasses come with scratch-resistant and UV coatings, a hard case, and a microfiber cleaning cloth.

Website. The website is intuitive. There are numerous filters -- gender, frame size, frame color, frame material, shape, lens type -- and tabs for new arrivals, best sellers, bifocals and progressives, and plastic frames. There is a limited FAQ section and several "help" videos. Support is provided via email, chat, or phone.

39 Dollar Glasses claims that 95 percent of orders ship within three days, with up to four more days for bifocals, progressives, and strong prescriptions, and up to three extra days to put new lenses in an existing frame. First-class shipping through the U.S. Postal Service costs $4.95 and takes three to seven business days; orders exceeding $99 ship for free. Reviews suggest that 39 Dollar Glasses is good about correcting errors, regardless whether the company or the consumer is the responsible party.

Bottom Line. Overall, this site scores for selection, quality, and service. Thousands of customers seem pleased with their purchases and many are repeat buyers. This is a fairly safe bet for consumers eager to save money when buying prescription eyewear.

Where to buy

Goggles4U Review

From $7 Good

Goggles4U qualifies for a second-tier spot on the basis of hefty savings on prescription eyewear, stylish choices, good service, and an easy ordering process.

Plenty of eyeglasses wearers seem to like Goggles4U. At ResellerRatings, for example, the website earns an average of 4.5 stars out of 5 from more than 2,000 reviewers and 4 stars out of 5 from more than 11,000 reviewers at TrustPilot. The happy customers commend the answers to questions and the help they receive from company reps in correcting order errors (often without an extra charge), the accuracy of the lenses, and the money saved over the fees at a traditional eyewear store. One reviewer tells of having spent about $1,000 -- with a 30 percent discount -- for three pairs of glasses at a chain operation but shelling out only $150 for four pairs at Goggles4U. Some are pleasantly surprised at the product quality, the stylish choices, the speed of delivery, and the ease of the ordering process.

Still, some reviewers express reservations about Goggles4U. These critics gripe about flimsy frames and inconsistencies in lens production and frame measurements (i.e., frames that are supposedly the same but fit very differently). One major beef concerns progressive lenses (difficulty seeing through the distance segment or on the periphery, for example, or reading segments set too high). Another grievance notes discrepancies among multiple pairs of glasses with the same prescription that were ordered at the same time, and still another hits on lens corrections that were transposed from one eye to the other. Some reviews also balk at Goggles4U customer service, asserting that arranging a refund or replacement is near impossible.

Frame and Lens Options. Goggles4U sells an in-house brand of frames. The basic entry-level package, including a frame and single-vision 1.57-index lenses with anti-scratch coating and UV protection, starts at $6.95 and climbs from there, depending on the frame, lenses, and add-ons. Customers with stronger prescriptions can choose 1.61-index lenses, which have UV protection and anti-scratch and anti-reflective coatings, for another $32.95. Polycarbonate lenses, available on 1.59-index lenses, cost an extra $22.95, and photochromic coating, available on 1.56-index lenses only, adds $32.95 to the cost of the frame.

Website. Compared with the websites of competitors such as Zenni Optical and 39 Dollar Glasses, the Goggles4U site is lackluster and some of the syntax is a little bit off. Users can sort by men, women, and kids, and filters include price, prescription type, frame material, shape, and style, color, and size. Users can upload a headshot for a virtual try-on. There's a help center with information about measuring pupillary distance, shipping and return policies, sizing, and ordering, and more. Live chat is available from the home page, and support is also provided via phone or email. The site offers deals right up front; for example, buy one, get one free or two for $17 with a select assortment of frames.

There is a 15-day warranty on wear and tear that offers 50 percent store credit. Exchanges are free for errors in size (for a select group of frames) or prescription. It takes up to seven days to process and produce an order and 12 to 14 business days for shipping. The shipping fee is $5.95.

Bottom Line. Goggles4U claims a second-tier slot in our comparative ranking. The prices are good, a majority of customers seem satisfied, the frame selection is extensive, and the lens options are about average.

Where to buy

Coastal Review

From $35 Good

An unusually long period for no-questions-asked returns and generally positive reviews for quality and customer service earn Coastal a place among our top picks.

Coastal, a runner-up in Cheapism's search for the best online eyeglasses retailer, is a hit with TopTenReviews, where it lands in the No. 2 slot among 11 in a comparative review. The independent review site praises the selection of name-brand frames but points out that the assortment is limited compared with the pricier competition.

Another big plus for Coastal, according to this review, is the extremely generous 365-day no-questions-asked return window, which is far and away the most customer-friendly policy. The minimum shipping time of five days bests the category average of 6.82 days, according TopTenReviews' calculations, as does the seven-day maximum shipping time versus the average 10.45 days of the 11 sites being compared. (The Coastal website gives shipping times of five to seven business days on top of two to seven days for production.) A 95 percent satisfaction rating also beats the category average of 90.91 percent.

Customers, however, take a more qualified stance. At Yelp, several dozen reviewers award the company 3.5 stars out of 5 and more than 1,100 reviewers assign an average of 3 stars out of 5 at ResellerRatings. Some profess to being serial buyers, asserting that the quality of Coastal frames and prescription lenses outdoes other online glasses sites, and others tell of being pleasantly surprised by the quality despite initial skepticism. These Coastal reviews say the correction is accurate, frames fit well, customer service is professional, and the price is right, especially when using promo codes and Groupon deals.

Other reviewers object to the quality of the product and the service -- the lenses make one wearer dizzy, for example; the frames bought by another are lopsided and loose; the anti-reflective coating on another pair doesn't do the job; and shipping takes longer than the site says, according to several customers. One reviewer claims to have purchased two pairs of glasses from Zenni Optical at half the price of a single pair at Coastal.

Frame and Lens Options. Coastal carries designer frames bearing high-end labels such as Oakley, Prada, and Ray-Ban, with prices starting in the low triple digits. Exclusive in-house lines start at $35. The entry-level package includes the frame and single-vision 1.59-index polycarbonate lenses with anti-scratch and UV coatings. Frames with thinner and lighter 1.67-index lenses cost an extra $85 for the same two coatings plus an anti-reflective coating. Progressive lenses for a strong prescription with a 1.61 index and anti-scratch, anti-reflective, and UV coatings add $169 to the cost of a frame; moving up to a 1.67 index adds $249. Basic bifocal lenses are an additional $159. Coastal also sells lenses that block the blue light emitted by digital screens and cost at least $69 more than the entry-level package. The prescription eyewear site also sells sunglasses, light-adjusting Transitions lenses, fashion glasses (no lens correction), and contact lenses.

Website. The website is relatively straightforward but harder to navigate and less informative than Zenni Optical or 39 Dollar Glasses. (At the time of writing, the site had just been redesigned and several features, including "virtual try-on," were not yet available.) Users can search by gender, kids, or brand (many are sold out), and filters include style, use, material, and color. Frame measurements don't automatically appear with the picture of a frame, and it takes a while to get lens prices and options. The FAQ section is very limited. Contact is available by email or phone. Joining the email list nets a 25 percent discount on glasses and 10 percent off contacts. Shipping is free on all orders.

Bottom Line. Coastal is a full-service provider and pricier than Cheapism's top picks, but it remains a money-saving option for eyeglasses wearers who want brand-name frames. It also offers customers credit for donating old glasses.

Where to buy

GlassesShop Review

From $20 Think Twice

This eyewear site lags the competition in both the number of customer reviews and their assessment of its customer service (lackluster) and return policy (stingy).

Unflattering reviews and a strict return policy relegate GlassesShop to the bottom of our ranking. The site earns an average of 2.5 stars out of 5 from more than 120 posts at ResellerRatings, where purchasers rail at customer service for offenses such as general rudeness, overcharging, refusing to help track missing orders, and stonewalling a request to exchange ill-fitting frames. Reviewers also grouse about the 50 percent restocking fee when seeking a refund for a return within the allotted time -- a policy that seems particularly stringent compared with the best of the competing online glasses retailers, which keep the return window open longer and don't charge restocking fees. Some reviewers also complain about defects that cause blurry vision, for example, and progressive lenses that don't align with the wearer's field of vision.

To be sure, some reviewers like the product. They describe the frames as comfortable, fashionable, and durable, and say the lens correction is as it should be.

Frame and Lens Options. Men, women, and children can find frames here, with prices starting at $19.95 for a package that includes single-vision 1.50-index lenses with anti-scratch coating. Then come the extras: $12.95 for a gradient tint, for example, $35.95 for photochromic lenses that adjust to the ambient light or $99 for the Transitions brand, and $4.95 each for anti-reflective and UV coatings. Moving up to a thinner, lighter higher-index lens also costs: $9.95 for a 1.57 index, for example, and $129.95 for a 1.74 index. Polycarbonate lenses with a 1.59 index add $29.95 to the base price. Bifocal and progressive lenses also raise the bottom line. GlassesShop sells prescription and fashion sunglasses, as well. All glasses come with a case and cleaning cloth.

Policies. Shipping costs $4.95 but is free for orders exceeding $49. Processing takes three to four business days for single vision, longer for tints and complex prescriptions. Glasses can be returned (unworn) for a refund within 14 days, but GlassesShop deducts the cost of shipping and handling and charges a 50 percent restocking fee. The site makes no allowances for customer errors when ordering but will replace a frame that breaks within 14 to 30 days of receipt. After that, there's a 60-day window to replace a broken frame for half price plus shipping costs.

Website. The website is straightforward. Users can call up new arrivals, best sellers, and weekly deals; glasses designed for a certain gender or for kids; and frames suitable for the lens type they need (single vision or multifocal). Additional filters include frame material and shape, frame and lens width, and frame color. The ordering process goes step-by-step, with choices accompanied by prices. The help center is extensive and includes a lengthy FAQ section and a guide to choosing eyeglasses. Support is available by phone, email, or social media.

Deals and savings, such as an extra 20 percent off orders over $39, are posted front and center when the site opens. Entering an email address nets an instant 15-percent-off coupon. Inviting friends earns $10 for each referral whenever a personal code is used; friends get a 50 percent discount on the first frames ordered.

Bottom Line. The jury is still out on GlassesShop. There are too few user reviews to make a definitive call, but those that exist trend negative due to customer service. Other online glasses shops have more customer-friendly reputations and similarly low prices.

Where to buy

Buying Guide

People who rely on corrective lenses to see their way through the world are all too familiar with the financial squeeze of prescription eyewear, which hits the mid-triple-digit zone in short order. But those on a tight budget with straightforward lens requirements can find relief in the flourishing online prescription eyeglasses market. Cheapism.com pored over comments posted by consumers and independent review sites to identify the best cheap glasses websites. We found that for less than $50, consumers can order a pair of good-looking frames with single-vision lenses.

Cheap Eyeglasses Buying Guide

There's no shortage of competition among prescription eyewear websites. At the higher end are providers such as Glasses.com, where designer frames start at $77 without lenses, and Eyeglasses.com, which also sells designer frames and turns finding prices into a treasure hunt. The provider with the most buzz these days is Warby Parker, which has opened dozens of bricks-and-mortar stores and charges a minimum $95 for a standard single-vision frame-lenses combination -- nearly twice the Cheapism budget.

At the cheaper end of the category, the best online eyewear providers are Zenni Optical (starting at $6.95) and 39 Dollar Glasses (starting at $39), followed by Coastal (starting at $35) and Goggles4U (starting at $6.95). Each site offers a wide selection of men's and women's eyeglasses, limited offerings for kids, optional lens upgrades, a decent return policy, a user-friendly interface, and generally solid reviews. The site that didn't make the cut is GlassesShop (starting at $20), which maintains a stingy return policy, draws barbs for service, and garners far fewer reviews on which to base a recommendation. We also seriously considered EyeBuyDirect, another online seller of cheap glasses that claims fervent fans. But with only a couple hundred reviews to its name -- many of which are highly critical -- it lacks the draw of the best sites on our list.

Even at the low-cost sites, it's certainly possible to spend big bucks on a new pair of specs: Choose a pricey frame, upgrade the lenses, go for all the extra coatings, order bifocals or progressives, or submit a strong prescription that calls for ultra-thin lenses or prism correction. For the most part, though, the bottom line at the prescription glasses websites still undercuts a private optometrist or eyewear chain such as LensCrafters or Pearle Vision. Costco, Sam's Club, and Walmart also sell glasses at low cost, but they lack the range of options and interactive websites that characterize online glasses shops.

Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table

(from $7.00)
Basic Package Frame with single-vision 1.50-index CR-39 or 1.57-index polymer lenses
Free Extras Anti-scratch and UV-protective coatings; case and cleaning cloth
Multifocal Lenses Bifocals, progressives
Re-Lens Your Own Frame No
Return Policy 30 days for 100 percent store credit or 50 percent refund minus shipping; 30 days for free replacement due to manufacturer error
Shipping $4.95 for first item, rest of order ships free
(from $39.00)
Basic Package Frame with single-vision 1.59-index polycarbonate lenses
Free Extras Anti-scratch and UV-protective coatings; case and cleaning cloth
Multifocal Lenses Bifocals, progressives
Re-Lens Your Own Frame Yes
Return Policy 30 days for full refund minus shipping; 90 days for full store credit with prepaid shipping
Shipping $4.95; free over $99
(from $35.00)
Basic Package Frame with single-vision 1.59-index polycarbonate lenses
Free Extras Anti-scratch and UV-protective coatings; case and cleaning cloth
Multifocal Lenses Bifocals, progressives
Re-Lens Your Own Frame No
Return Policy 365 days for full refund or store credit with prepaid shipping
Shipping Free
(from $7.00)
Basic Package Frame with single-vision 1.57-index CR-39 lenses
Free Extras Anti-scratch and UV-protective coatings
Multifocal Lenses Bifocals, progressives
Re-Lens Your Own Frame No
Return Policy 15 days for 50 percent store credit; free exchange for wrong size or Rx
Shipping $5.95
(from $20.00)
Basic Package Frame with single-vision 1.50-index lenses
Free Extras Anti-scratch coating; case and cleaning cloth
Multifocal Lenses Bifocals, progressives
Re-Lens Your Own Frame No
Return Policy 14 days (unworn) for full refund minus shipping & handling and 50 percent restocking fee; full refund for manufacturer error
Shipping $4.95/free over $49
(from $6.00)
Basic Package Frame with single-vision 1.50-index lenses
Free Extras Anti-scratch coating
Multifocal Lenses Bifocals, progressives
Re-Lens Your Own Frame No
Return Policy 14 days for full refund; 365 days for replacement
Shipping $5.95/free over $99

Getting Started

Ordering eyewear online requires a prescription. The Federal Trade Commission's Prescription Release Rule requires optometrists and ophthalmologists to give this information to patients. Make sure the prescription includes pupillary distance, or PD, a critical measurement not typically written down. If it's not included, follow the instructions offered by the eyeglasses sites for measuring PD.

The process goes more smoothly for customers who have a rough idea of their preferred frame styles and the size that fits their face. Experts recommend trying on glasses at a retail store and noting all the relevant information, including frame width, lens height and width, bridge width, and arm length. Alternatively, refer to an old, favorite pair of glasses and check the arms or bridge to see if the measurements are printed inside the frames. If not, measure the dimensions with a ruler and then use the site filters (sometimes given as extra small, small, medium, large) to search for frames with measurements that closely correspond.

Eyewear Website Reviews

Reviews on sites such as ResellerRatings and Yelp indicate that most patrons of the best cheap prescription glasses sites seem satisfied with the quality, and especially with the cost, of their new spectacles. Still, complaints dog them all. Delivery can be painfully slow, order tracking can be misleading, customer service can be indifferent, and the delivered eyewear may be unflattering or ill-fitting.

One of the biggest risks associated with ordering cheap eyeglasses online is the possibility of receiving an incorrect prescription. Sometimes even a straightforward correction for distance or reading lenses proves defective. Significant discrepancies are quickly apparent, but subtle errors are less noticeable. Lenses with the wrong vision correction or pupillary distance can cause headaches and negatively affect sight. It's a good idea to take glasses purchased online to an optometrist to confirm their accuracy.

Consumers generally say the quality of the frames is acceptable. Online reviewers express the most enthusiasm for the low prices, relishing the opportunity to build a wardrobe of spectacles. We came across a number of posts griping about frames with hinges that don't work properly, color coating that flakes off, and outright failure during a passive activity such as watching TV -- but only muted outrage when a pair of glasses falls apart. The simple and widespread explanation is that they're cheap enough to replace.

What We Considered

Selection.

In addition to beating the bricks-and-mortar competition on price, online glasses websites outdo them on frame selection. Unconstrained by the dimensions of a showroom, they can and do stock hundreds of styles in a variety of materials and a riot of colors -- rimless and semi-rimless, plastic and metal, round or rectangle or cat's eyes, black or green or purple or red or two-tone, and so on.

Almost all the online glasses shops we researched carry generic frames; Zenni Optical even designs and manufactures its inventory. Coastal, by contrast, offers brand names such as Balmain, Dior, and Alexander McQueen that are hardly cheap, as well as several less expensive house brands that sit within the Cheapism zone. All the sites sell prescription sunglasses, with the exception of Coastal (Goggles4U can apply a permanent tint to only one type of lens but does offer photochromic lenses that respond to sunlight). Coastal and 39 Dollar Glasses sell contact lenses, as well, and the latter can put new lenses in a pair of frames that a customer is loath to give up.

Prescriptions.

All the sites we researched theoretically can accommodate almost any prescription, including prism correction. That said, consumer reviews indicate that the simpler the prescription, the greater the chances that the delivered lenses will be problem free.

Complex prescriptions for progressives seem to cause the most grief at all the sites we researched. Disappointed patrons complain about flaws such as segments that don't align on the two lenses and blurred vision at the far reaches. Although manufacturer errors do occur, it's also possible that improper correction may reflect a prescription that the wearer entered incorrectly into the template. The vast majority of patrons of the best cheap online glasses shops report that lens accuracy is spot on.

Lens Options.

These days, eyeglass lenses are made from CR-39 plastic, polycarbonate, or polycarbonate composite, or a high-index plastic. Polycarbonate is lighter and more impact resistant than CR-39, making it the compound of choice for safety lenses and kids' eyewear. Polycarbonate lenses provide UV protection and are better for stronger prescriptions, because they are comparatively thin. Polycarbonate composite can be made even thinner than a non-composite lens and tolerate tinting, which pure polycarbonate cannot. High-index plastic lenses likewise are thinner and lighter than regular CR-39 lenses.

Each of the eyewear sites we researched offers a range of lens indexes, starting at 1.50, 1.57, or 1.59 and topping out at 1.67 or 1.74, depending on provider. Eyewear sites generally indicate the lens match for any given prescription. As the prescription gets stronger, the recommended lens index increases and the lens thins out -- and the price rises accordingly. Lenses made of polycarbonate rather than CR-39 often come at a premium, depending on provider, and may be available only for certain lens indexes. At Coastal, for example, 1.59-index polycarbonate lenses with scratch-resistant and UV-protective coatings are included in the cost of the frame; moving up to a 1.67 index automatically adds an anti-reflective coating and boosts the price by $85. At Zenni Optical, the standard is 1.50-index CR-39 plastic lenses or mid-index polymer lenses, and the same single-vision 1.59-index polycarbonate lenses offered for free at Coastal would be $9. But upping the index to 1.67 at Zenni Optical costs only $34.95. Bifocal and progressive lenses up the overall ante no matter where glasses are purchased, but especially at Coastal.

All the glasses sites we researched throw in anti-scratch lens coating at no cost. Our top picks automatically provide UV-protective coatings, as well. Sometimes an anti-reflective coating is part of the package with costlier, higher index lenses. Other optional add-ons that increase the bottom line: tinted or polarized lenses, water-repellent coating, lenses that protect eyes from the blue light emitted by digital devices, and generic photochromic or Transitions brand lenses that adjust from clear to dark depending on the surroundings. Note that coatings and lens options may be limited to specific lens indexes.

Website Interface.

The best online retailers of budget eyeglasses maintain user-friendly websites. There are numerous search options and filters -- gender, size, frame style, material, and best sellers, for example -- and a step-by-step ordering process. Customers can upload a photo and virtually "try on" as many frames as they like; 39 Dollar Glasses lets users print an image of a frame to cut out and try on. The sites also provide guides for matching frame style with face shape. After selecting a frame, users choose the lens type and input their prescription. Then comes an opportunity to add extras, such as tints and coatings. As each choice is made, users can see a running tally of the total before finally arriving at checkout.

The best eyewear websites also contain lots of helpful information about vision, lenses, understanding a prescription, and measuring pupillary distance. Zenni Optical and 39 Dollar Glasses post explanatory and instructional videos and each has an extensive FAQ section, while those at Coastal, Goggles4U, and GlassesShop are comparatively bare-bones. All the sites make direct contact easy. Customers can reach a representative via email or phone, and chat is often available. (At time of writing, the Coastal site had just been redesigned and many features were not yet up and running.)

Come-ons for better deals are featured prominently on some sites. Consumers are greeted with a buy-one-get-one offer right on the home page at Goggles4U. Weekly deals and coupon offerings are displayed as soon as the GlassesShop site opens, and a pop-up offers a 15 percent discount to first-timers just for entering their email address.

Customer Service.

From consumers' point of view, customer service can make or break an eyewear website. This includes not just interaction with company representatives but also shipping. Reviewers' assessments of these factors is both positive and negative for all the sites we researched, with some providers garnering relatively more commendations and others relatively more censure.

Processing and shipping times vary by site. Zenni Optical stipulates 14 to 21 days with standard ground shipping, for example, while 39 Dollar Glasses says the vast majority of orders are processed within three days and standard shipping should get glasses to customers' homes within another week. Orders for strong prescriptions or multifocals take longer. In a comparison and ranking of 11 sites, including four of the budget providers we researched, TopTenReviews calculated the category average minimum shipping time at 6.82 days and the maximum at 10.45 days. Not surprisingly, patrons of even the best cheap online glasses purveyors lodge complaints about tardy shipping and orders that don't arrive.

Return Policies.

The return policy is critical when shopping for glasses online. The fit or prescription might not be right; the frames might look awful even though they looked fine using the virtual try-on widget; or they might have been damaged during shipping or broken shortly after receipt. The open window for returns ranges widely, as do the fine details. With a 365-day no-questions-asked window for a full refund or store credit, Coastal's return policy is the uncontested category leader -- the site even pays for return shipping. GlassesShop and Goggles4U are outright stingy: 14 days for a full refund minus shipping and handling and a 50 percent restocking fee at GlassesShop (with the stipulation that the glasses should be unworn), and 15 days for a 50 percent store credit or a free exchange for the wrong size frame or prescription at Goggles4U. The most customer ire is reserved for GlassesShop; some reviewers are apoplectic about the restocking fee.

Additional Products We Considered

EyeBuyDirect Review

From $6

Judging by the number of online reviews, EyeBuyDirect is a smaller, lesser-known online glasses shop. At ResellerRatings it draws an average 3 stars out of 5 from about 225 posts. Some reviewers tell of noticing an uptick in quality and service over the past few years while others crow about the low prices that don't translate into a lesser product. One customer reports buying four pairs of specs for $175 total; a first-timer was pleasantly surprised by the accuracy of the order, the free anti-scratch coating, and the rapid turnaround time; and a third notes that a company rep tried to expedite the process after a lens broke.

Unhappy EyeBuyDirect customers, meanwhile, report opposite experiences. They grouse about no-show orders, light-adjusting photochromic lenses that are wavy and distort vision, and reading specs that make text look blurry -- really cheap glasses sold at the drugstore are a better deal, one reviewer claims.

Frame and Lens Options. Frame prices start at $6 and most sell for less than $35; frames that are part of "collections" sell at higher prices. Although the most basic single-vision 1.50-index lenses with anti-scratch coating are included in the price of the frame, the website's structure helps EyeBuyDirect upsell to pricier lenses. Adding anti-reflective coating to the basic package costs $6.95; thinner, lighter 1.59-index lenses, billed as "most popular," cost $18.95 and come with the two coatings plus UV protection; 1.60-index lenses with all three "extras" go for $30.90. Consumers can customize a lens order, choosing any of six lens indexes up to 1.74 (for $84.95), each available with free and optional add-on coatings that carry a price.

EyeBuyDirect also offers bifocals and free-form progressives, Transitions lenses that change from dark to light based on the surroundings, sunglasses, special lenses that protect wearers' eyes from the blue light of digital screens, and frames with no-prescription lenses. A hard case and microfiber cleaning cloth -- free at other prescription eyeglasses sites -- cost $4.

Website. The site seems relatively straightforward, but finding the useful information, including the free lens option, requires a bit of hunting around. Users can search by gender, kids, size, shape, rim, material, color, and feature (e.g., frames suited for bifocals or progressives). Each frame is displayed with four different views, and measurements are provided. Users can upload a selfie for a virtual try-on. EyeBuyDirect offers a 14-day guarantee for fit and style, which entitles customers to a refund or free replacement. A 365-day warranty against defects in manufacturing and workmanship on frames and lenses is backed by a new pair at equal value. Delivery takes seven to 14 business days and costs $5.95, or is free for orders over $99. Support is available by live chat and phone.

Bottom Line. EyeBuyDirect is another alternative for prescription eyeglasses wearers who are loath to shell out hundreds of dollars for a single pair of specs. Given that review assessments for this provider are comparatively thin, it doesn't make our list of top picks but still may be worth checking out.

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