Should you buy eyeglasses online? - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

FOX 5 I-Team investigates

Should you buy eyeglasses online?

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A pair of eyeglasses can run you several hundred dollars. To get that prescription filled every year or two is not always practical for families with tight budgets. So, some people put off getting new, updated glasses because they can't afford them.  

Online eyeglass retailers have popped up. They're cheaper, but do you sacrifice quality for a lower price?  

The rock bottom prices these online retailers offer are hard to resist.  Sometimes you can get brand new glasses for under $10.  A great low price on new glasses isn't a deal at all if you can't see out of them.  The I-Team tested three online shops with a mother who is just as budget-conscious as most of us.

Anna Kelly is a busy working mother with two children and a tight budget. Like many mothers, she won't spend money on herself.

"I haven't bought new glasses in six or seven years because it's several hundred dollars," said Kelly.

She admits she generally wears contacts, but she would love to have a pair of new, updated glasses.

Kelly and the I-Team tried out three online eyeglass retailers: Zenni Optical, Eye Buy Direct, and Coastal.com. But Kelly needed an up-to-date prescription before buying the glasses. She went to the doctor and got her prescription.

Kelly typed in the numbers from her prescription on the websites. During the process, she felt a bit overwhelmed by the choices and the information that was required by each site.

"Some of the sites were kind of clumsy," said Kelly.

Here's a tip. On your prescription make sure your eye doctor gives you your pupillary distance or PM. It's the measurement between your eyes from pupil to pupil. You'll need that and it's not always included.

Anna shopped, and easily found three pairs: A simple, single vision prescription before shipping at Zenni is $6.95; the same price for a stylish pair of glasses at Eye Buy Direct at $6.95; and at Coastal.com, it was much more expensive at $66.95.

After they glasses arrived, Kelly and the I-Team took them to Birmingham to the University of Alabama at Birmingham optometry lab to see if the prescriptions are correct. Dr. Jamie Reid of the UAB School of Optometry said the send-away labs got all the prescriptions correct.

Is that all that matters right? The next test showed why Anna wouldn't be wearing any of her new glasses home.

Reid said the glasses did not fit Kelly's face.

Despite testing the glasses online with her picture, none of the glasses fit properly.  Reid says in every case, the center of the left lens didn't hit the middle of her eye which distorts her vision.

"I wore them for a few minutes earlier and I got dizzy," said Kelly.

The I-Team called Zenni and the owner says return them to get 50 percent of your money back or return it for full credit and try another pair.

At Eye Buy Direct, management claims they'll take them back for a full refund.

At Coastal.com they have the same return policy and offered a buying tip.  Three numbers on your current glasses will tell you what size you wear. On the company's web site, go to the "Find your perfect fit" section just type in your numbers. You will then have a selection of glasses that they feel will work for your face.

All three of Anna's choices were a no-go, so what is she going to do?  She's buying some glasses online.

Kelly says it doesn't matter if the sunglasses are not perfect since she wouldn't be using them all the time.

On Friday, the I-Team takes a look at a more difficult prescription – astigmatism and progressive lenses.

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