Saturday, September 1, 2012

Buying Glasses Online

I don’t necessarily love having to wear glasses, but I do love spectacle fashion.  However, I’m a sensible boy, and dropping $500 on a pair of specs is not really feasible.

I’m also not a fan of most chain glasses places.  The past four or five times I’ve gone into a store here in Colorado (Lens Crafters, Pearle Vision, etc.) to try on frames, the counter is manned by some sort of quasi-meth head, frantically pushing $800 Tag Heur frames, even though I tell them 10 or 20 times I’m not interested.  Seriously, where do they find these people?  And do they get NO training in sales?  It’s like they’re TRYING to piss you off.

The last pair of glasses I purchased from a chain was a great pair of Versace Versus from a LensCrafters in a mall in IL.   I was able to actually purchase in a store because we had great Vision Coverage on our insurance plan at the time.  It’s been a while since I’ve had that luxury. The sales guy was knowledgeable and friendly.  He wasn’t pushy.  He took my face measurements and ordered frames with temples that were actually the length I needed (as opposed to simply “the way the come” like all the discount places: Costco and anything online), and when the frames arrived, he spent a decent amount of time adjusting them to my face and making sure they fit correctly.

I am willing to spend extra to get that kind of treatment, but I’m not willing to spend $300 or more on a pair of glasses when the sales person is an idiot (the past four or five times I’ve gone into a place).

I did purchase a couple of pairs of glasses at Costco before going the online route, and while they were considerably cheaper (around $120 for frames and lenses), they didn’t fit quite right, especially in the temple length.  I asked the lady behind the counter about it, and she said something like, “Yep, that’s what happens when you order from a warehouse.  The prices are lower, but you get what’s in stock, not necessarily what you need.”

So if I’m buying from a warehouse where I can’t get the frames at least “semi-customized” to fit my face, I might as well really be getting a discount, thus I turned to the internet…

Zenni Optical

Zenni has a great selection of promising frames starting at around $6.95.  I found that most of the frames I wanted were in the $12.95 to $15.95 range.  They advertise free lenses, but of course the lens "options” (higher index, anti-reflective coating, better anti-scratch coating), quickly ad up.

820415My first pair of frames came to $28.85 delivered.  That was frames ($9.95), an upgrade to 1.59 index Polycarbonate lenses ($9), anti-reflective coating ($4.95), and delivery ($4.95).

The temple on these were too long, and there was no internal metal rod in the temple piece, so I couldn’t really adjust them to fit around the back of my ear (the temples don’t bend and stay put).  They didn’t fit quite right, and usually started hurting after about an hour or two.

I had upgraded to the higher index Polycarbonate lens (a $9 upgrade), but I’ve since found out from a representative at Zenni that Polycarbonate is actually a softer material (than regular plastic), and thus scratches more easily.  I found that out the hard way; my glasses were seriously scratched… by a baby (seriously).

Not only did the lenses scratch, but the frames broke at the top of the left lens after about 9 months of light use (since they hurt after an hour or two, I only wore them when going out).

RimlessThe second pair of frames I purchased from Zenni were intended for everyday use at the computer.  I wanted the lightest frames/lenses I could get, so I ordered a pair of “memory titanium” frames with “frameless” lenses.

I don’t know where they’re mining their titanium, but if it is actually titanium, they must add egg shells to it, because these frames broke not once, but twice, in the exact same place (the bridge… by simply taking them off my head).  Last time I checked, titanium is INCREDIBLY strong, so either I’m the Incredible Hulk, or they’re lying about the frames being made of titanium.

When the first pair snapped at the bridge, I wrote Zenni, and after some back and forth (it took some effort), they finally agreed to put the original lenses I purchased in a new pair of frames… but they insisted I pay for the new frames!!!  So I sent the broken glasses back (at my shipping cost BOTH directions), but when I received the new frames back, the lenses were scratched and extremely spidered at the edges.  When I wrote to report the problem, they said this happened when they put the old lenses in the new frames.  Oh, really?  Duh.  When else would it have happened…?  And why in the WORLD would you think this makes it acceptable?!  I’m supposed to just go, “Oh, OK, my bad.  I’ll just wear them damaged since it happened while you were installing them.” [blank stare]

So at this point, I had paid for a second set of frames that I was now using with ridiculously damaged lenses (luckily the damage was just around the edges, so I could still see through the center).  No matter though, since the frames broke AGAIN in the exact same place (the bridge) after around two months of light use (I wasn’t wearing them except for at the computer since the lenses were embarrassingly scratched and cracked).

I got on the Zenni site to leave a review warning potential buyers about the faulty material of the frames.  Obviously this wasn’t titanium since it kept breaking at the bridge so easily (exact same place, twice, when simply taking the glasses off).

After leaving my review, I was contacted by Brandon at Zenni who offered to send a replacement pair of glasses (lenses and frames at no cost).  Why now?  Why did I have to go through all that after reporting the problem directly to the company in the first place (vs. finally getting a decent response by writing a negative review on the website)?!

Funny (not really) thing is, they never posted the review I wrote.  That seems extremely shady to me, especially since I was trying to let users know about a very consistent problem with the material of these particular frames. For posterity, here’s my original review (that they still haven’t “allowed” on their site):

I purchased these frames as a lightweight option for everyday wear while I work at the computer. I was excited by the "titanium memory" bridge.  I wore them for a week before they snapped right in the middle of the bridge when taking them off one night!  After some back and forth with Zenni, they agreed to put my old lenses in a new frame (but they made me buy new frames!). Well, since these are half-rim lenses, the lenses were all scratched and spidered around the edges when I got them back. They said it couldn't be helped and they wouldn't correct their mistake. HORRIBLE SERVICE in this regard.  Not only that, but about two weeks later I took off my glasses and... THEY SNAPPED AGAIN IN THE EXACT SAME PLACE (right in the middle of the "titanium" bridge)!!!  So... these frames are NOT titanium, and they WILL break easily. I'm not rough on my glasses, and I broke TWO PAIRS of these in the exact same way... simply by taking them off.

starsWhen Zenni contacted me to make reparations, I was in the process of giving them one last try.  I purchased a pair of $12.95 frames, #828415, similar to the very first ones I purchased (I’m a sucker for the little cowboy stars on the temple and front corners), except these have adjustable temple pieces (the metal rod that runs through the temple so you can bend them around your ear and they stay in place), and the only “upgrade” I made was purchasing the anti-reflection coating ($4.95).  I chose the 1.57 mid-index lens which is “free.”  With the $4.95 for shipping, my total cost was $22.85.  So far so good.  The lenses seem to be positioned correctly, and the frames are more comfortable than the previous ones I had purchased.  These are currently my everyday glasses.

So now I have a credit at Zenni, and at some point soon (before my six month time limit is up), I will choose another pair of Zenni glasses.  Hopefully the endeavor will be a success, but my initial experiences have taught me that with Zenni it’s kind of a crapshoot.

[Update] After nearly a month of back and forth, I should be receiving my replacement glasses soon.  I decided to give “rimless” frames one more shot (they are just SO light and nice to wear while working at the computer).  I had been issued a credit in the amount of the total price of the frame/lenses that originally broke (but not a credit for any of the shipping I had to keep paying for in the correction process).  I chose frames that cost a little less, so I could get the new shipping covered.  However, when checking out, the remainder of the balance was never able to be applied to the shipping (thus I was going to be paying money again for shipping).  I was not willing to give Zenni any more money for the exchange on these glasses, so I spent some time writing back and forth with Zenni, first with Brandon, and then with Michael.  Michael really worked to get things straight.  Though it was annoying that it was taking so long, he really was trying to get me what I needed (the new replacement frames/lenses AND shipping at no cost to me).  Michael notified me that he had adjusted my coupon to an amount that would accommodate the frames/lenses and shipping.  However, when I tried, it still wasn’t working.

Finally, after a couple more days of e-mail and frustration, I received a phone call from Michael –-an actual person here in the U.S.  Turns out he is the Asst. Manager of Customer Relations, and a really nice guy.  We discussed the situation, and he promised he would take care of everything immediately.  After a couple more days of “try it nows” that didn’t work, he finally got things sorted out, and I assume the new frames/lenses are currently on their way to my house (I received an order confirmation e-mail, so…).

I was surprised by this final level of personal attention.  It was great to receive an actual phone call from the company, but it was a LONG time coming after a LOT of effort and patience (and relative cost) on my part, so I’m not really sure what my final opinion is of Zenni.  I guess at the incredible discount over any chain store and even Costco’s prices, you have to expect to deal with some issues, so…

Website Usability: Navigating the Zenni website isn’t the easiest thing to do, but I do like that you can upload a picture of yourself and virtually “try on” different frames.  I wonder how accurate the sizing is, and you will likely spend some time finding a picture that works correctly with the system (a photo of your face that’s the right size and perfectly straight on).  However, it’s infuriating that they have a place to “save your prescription” since it doesn’t work… ever.  I’ve tried using the feature over and over again, but it’s never worked (it only imports part of your saved information, or it imports completely incorrect, seemingly random, information).  Thus, you have to input your entire prescription EVERY TIME you order a pair of glasses.  Not only that, but sometimes after you load your prescription in and hit the “order” button, instead of adding the order to your cart, it clears all the prescription fields and you have to enter all the information again.

Grade: C- (upgraded to a “C+” after personal phone call)

[UPDATE] My glasses (#804811 - rimless with memory titanium temples) arrived relatively quickly.  The lenses seem to be correct, and they are the most comfortable glasses I’ve ever owned.  Hopefully they last!


Warby Parker

Their website states: “Beautifully crafted eyewear for $95, including prescription lenses. For every pair sold, we distribute an additional pair to someone in need.”

Clearly aimed at hipsters (every frame is thick and clunky and the website was named after two obscure Kerouac characters (“I’m so cool I know Kerouac that you don’t!”)), these guys have a smaller selection than most other online retailers.  However, the quality of the materials (both lenses and frames) is CONSIDERABLY higher than their online competitors.

p.s. How did the hipster burn his mouth eating pizza? He ate it before it was cool.  Thanks, Miguel (who, incidentally, wears the Beckett frames in Matte Black –though he has 20/20 vision and doesn’t actually need glasses! [eye roll] Seriously.

Warby Parker’s lenses are good material (impact resistant, UV-proof polycarbonate), anti-reflective, and anti-scratch coated, and the sunglasses are all polarized.  You don’t have to “upgrade” to receive the good stuff; it’s just the way they are.  Here’s a link to the description of their materials on the Warby Parker website.

I love the fact that you can try frames on at home, but I’ve had some trouble with availability.  Often the frames I want to try aren’t available for home try-on.

After trying for several months, I finally got the selection I wanted, and these are the five pairs I tried on (the maximum number you can get at once for home try-on)…

(click image for webpage)

Beckett- Revolver Black Matte are probably my favorite style.  I really like the matte finish, and the taper of thickness of the temple pieces behind the ear make them very comfortable.  They are quite sturdy, and the five barrel titanium hinges rock (all Warby Parker glasses have these hinges).

(click image for webpage)

Huxley - Tennessee Whiskey (though “clear” are pictured) are my second favorite style and the best fit; plus they are available in clear, which is something I’ve been looking for since seeing Bruce Willis’s glasses in Moonrise Kingdom. [blush] I will probably order these in clear and also in RX Sunglasses (whiskey tortoise as seen above).

(click image for webpage)

Winston- Old Fashioned Fade (third favorite, but a little bigger (taller) than Becket and Huxley).  I love how they’re a little boxier, or more square, than what you typically see.

(click image for webpage)

Fillmore - Sandalwood Matte work for me, but they’re not a favorite (too round, I guess). Again though, I am loving the matte finish.

(click image for webpage)

Thatcher - Whiskey Tortoise are waaaaay too big, bordering on 90’s secretary glasses.  The photo doesn’t really convey this information, but believe me: they’re huge.

The Warby Parker webpage is a little annoying as far as navigation goes (long load times, strange paths you are forced to take to get where you’re going, etc.), and I did have trouble finding a couple of colors for certain frames (for instance, I didn’t realize you could “scroll horizontally” for more choices on the Huxley page and nearly missed my favorite pair of glasses!), but overall the web/navigation experience is fine.  I guess this should be expected for a smaller selection like Warby Parker’s.

Finally, unlike the other online giants, Warby Parker does have a few “showrooms” scattered around the nation, mostly in big metropolis type places, but also in Columbus, OH, oddly enough (though I think that location has a limited selection, which is funny since the selection is so limited to begin with).  So if you happen to live in a city with a showroom, you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of the “try on at home” experience to see which frames work for you!

Grade: B+

Abysmal.  Just effing horrible.

When I was getting ready to give Zenni a final shot, I was looking for online coupons and discounts (I found none for Zenni) and stumbled upon this company.  They were running a special for “free frames, all you pay for is lenses!”  Since their lenses were only $6.95 and included anti-reflective coating, I decided to give them a shot and ordered three pairs for just over $20 delivered.

I actually love the frames I received (just cheap plastic, but one pair actually had spring hinges), but the lens centers (the focal points) are almost comically placed (it’d be funny if it weren’t going to actually RUIN my eye sight).  In one of the three frames that I purchased, the left lens was around 7mm low, and the right lens was nearly 8mm high… for a difference of 15mm in the focal center of each lens!  Not only that, but the pupilary distance was 8mm off from the measurement I had ordered.  In fact, all three pairs of glasses were incorrect as far as pupilary distance was concerned. One pair 3mm, one pair 5mm, and then the aforementioned 8mm pair!

All three pairs made my head swim when I put them on, so I took them to my eye doctor to have them checked out.  He couldn’t believe how off they were!  He was actually baffled by how they could screw up that bad.  He said it was like they were trying to make them wrong (‘cause how could you misalign things to that degree?!).

I contacted the company, and in an e-mail of somewhat broken English was told that they wanted to correct the problem (but they didn’t tell me how!).  I wrote them back and asked what they meant, and they said they would replace the glasses.  However, two of the three frames I had ordered were no longer available!  Not only that, they decided for some reason that they were only going to correct two of the three pairs.

I also had to recreate all my account information, because they had “updated their site,” which I assume is code for: “for some reason, your information has disappeared from our system.  Tough luck!” since the site still looks and functions exactly the same (i.e.: horribly).

So after searching for two replacement frames, I e-mailed back with my prescription and the frame numbers.  They wrote back that I would need to log back in and select “chat” after adding frames to my cart.  So I went through that horrible process again (my prescription was loaded and lost no less than four times while trying to add glasses to the cart) and finally got to the point where I could chat with a representative to complete the order.  That took another at LEAST 45 minutes (I finally had to find a physical copy of my prescription, scan it in, and upload it to the site).

I am certain that I will receive frames with lenses that are either the wrong prescription or the wrong pupilary distance.  Ugh.  I will never order from these guys again.

The website is just awful.  They have too much product to try and organize on a website (and they’ll only show you a maximum of 30 frames per page)!  Sometimes links open a pop-up, sometimes they open in a new window (absent of all navigation controls), any time you open a new window the incredibly annoying “do you want to chat?” box chases you around the screen, the filter selections almost always disappear after you look at a pair of glasses and you have to start all over with your selections, the same frames show up many multiple times in a single search… all told, just a really horrible web experience.

These guys carry a “normal” line that starts at $4.95 (and the frames at this price are surprisingly cool), but they also offer “designer glasses” like Nicolle Miller, D&G, etc. that range from $59.95 up into the $200-$300 range.  Can you imagine spending $300 on glasses only to receive glasses with the pupilary distance 10mm off and the lenses installed all wonky?!

I would not recommend this company, unless you’re into ruining your eyes, and in that case, why not just saw the bottom off some plastic bottles and tape them to your eye sockets?

I guess if you are aware of the risk, the prices are so ridiculously low and the selection so huge that you might still give them a shot, but be sure to have your optometrist check the glasses once you receive them so you don’t ruin your eyes (and be ready to just toss any incorrect glasses in the trash, as it’s not worth the effort to get them replaced by the company  –you’d still be ahead of the game regarding price, so it might be worth it).

Grade: F

[UPDATE] It’s been 16 days since I placed my order, and still the glasses have not shipped.  These guys suck worse than a giant suck machine.


Anonymous said...

This is a great column.
I'm actually a practice manager for an independent optometric practice in Canada.
We consistently have patients struggling with the glasses and contacts they purchase online. I'm always happy to help with any problems because they are our patients and no matter where they purchased their glasses they're still returning to us.
Always keep in mind that you get what you pay for, since glasses are both a fashion accessory and a medical instrument it can be difficult to get just the right pair, no matter where you purchase them.
If you're uneasy about buying online let your doctor know what the budget you need to work within. We always have a pair of glasses to fit any budget and are proud of it.
Thanks again for the great article and sorry from the industry for all your difficulties you've had.
I hope you find your perfect pair of glasses and meet some great people along the way :)

The Invisible said...

Thanks for your feedback, Canadian Optometrist Practice Manager! [smile] My "go to" glasses from the experience in this post are the two functioning pairs from Zenni (the frameless ones, and the nerdy ones with cowboy stars on the temples). The lenses seem accurate, and they are comfortable to wear. While the ones from Goggles4U are cool looking, even the ones that are *closer* to correct are optically off, and I worry they will ruin my vision if I wear them too long. The lesson learned? DO NOT BUY FROM Goggles4U (unless you plan on replacing the lenses yourself through a reputable optician)!!!

Researching Glasses Frames said...

I would politely disagree with the "buying glasses online" guy. I think that doing research about the manufacturing process and design process is essential to making an educated decision.

The Invisible said...

Uh... isn't that what this whole post is about?

Ted Lawson said...

I bought glasses online from and I was really pleased.

I think buying online can have problems, it's not just with glasses that buying online has problems. Clothes sizing can also screw up but if the price is good and the service great then go for it.

My glasses just cost $49.50 including delivery and the lenses - They are cool cause there is no mark ups on different lenses and coatings and stuff.

Anonymous said...

To be honest with you I have heard from some people about the cheap quality of the glasses people got from Zenni - the frames I think. I was nosing around the internet and found and after spending 10 minutes on their site quickly found a nice frame and some lenses with anti-reflective coating for about $30. They offer complete pairs of glasses for $6.95 and I was tempted but am pleased as punch about my glasses. Check them out. They are based in the Midwest and were great to work with. At the price I paid two years ago I could afford just one pair. This time around I'm already looking for another pair and will be ordering them soon...maybe even two more pairs...that is how much I saved with Eyeglass Universe.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your honest review! You sure covered everything here: from the frames and lenses usability, to website’s navigation. Finding the perfect eyeglass is more complicated than it seems, and apparently, purchasing online doesn’t always make it any easier. I guess next time, it’s better if you visit a store rather than to risk wasting more money and time by purchasing the wrong product. Cheers!

Doris Gibbs @ Moody Eyes

The Invisible said...

Well... not necessarily, considering I can purchase around 6 pairs of glasses for the same price as one pair from an optometrist or the place at the mall. Even if only two of the 6 pair "work" for me... I'm WAY ahead in the game.