in which i buy eyeglasses online and am super excited about it: zenni optical

I recently bought new eyeglasses: price tag: $165.00. This is 80% less than my previous pair of glasses cost. I can see well and the frames are great. I'm going to buy a second pair -- and maybe a third. Buying glasses online: hallelujah!

At the end of this post, there's a step-by-step account of my experience ordering glasses from Zenni.

The ordeal of new glasses

Buying eyeglasses had become such an ordeal. 

I wear both progressives (distance, middle, and reading in one lens) and transitions (photochromic; automatically darken in the sun). I also like to have great-looking frames. To me, frames are the accessory I wear every day. They must be awesome. 

Taken together, this can easily cost close to $800 per pair.

We are fortunate that both our jobs include extended health benefits, so we do get some of that back. But it's still a major expense.

Now, living in a remote region, it's even worse: the nearest optometrist is 2.5 hours away. If we're ordering new glasses, that's two round trips -- an additional expense, plus time off from work. 

And there's a huge wait! This time around, I called in April to book an eye exam, and the first appointment I could get was at end of October! Welcome to the resource shortage.

I don't know how she does it

Some months ago, I saw a colleague and union sister wearing strikingly beautiful frames. The following day, I saw her again -- with different frames! How on earth can she afford to have multiple pairs of glasses??

The answer: Zenni Optical

I have known for some time that buying glasses online is A Thing, but I had only seen very simple, basic frames purchased online. I assumed that's what was available, and I never dug any deeper.

Once I saw my colleague with multiple pairs of beautiful frames -- and with an eye exam appointment coming up -- I decided to give it a try.

Why do frames cost so much?

This experience makes me wonder why buying glasses from a retail store costs so much. 

Either way, the frames are made in China. 

Either way, the glasses are not made onsite; prescriptions are sent elsewhere for lens grinding and assembly. 

Obviously there are costs involved with retaining a retail store. But can that account for such a dramatic price difference -- or is most of it markup?

Zenni has an page on this question: The Hidden Costs You Pay for Glasses.

I have wondered a bit about the ethics of this transaction. When the price difference is so great, retail stores are bound to lose a lot of business. But I'm not going to pay $800 for a pair of glasses that I can buy for $165 from the comfort of my own computer. The price difference  is too great, and the convenience is amazing.

Frames as accessories

One of the reasons I'm so excited about Zenni is suddenly I can afford more than one pair of glasses. When frames cost $800, I have to find one pair that will work in all situations -- as my Zenni-using friend said, the little black dress of frames. Now I can wear different frames with different clothes. I love accessories, and suddenly I have new options.

Another friend of mine needs to purchase glasses for four children. The expense is mind-boggling. I'm hoping Zenni will help her too.

My experience using Zenni, a step-by-step account

Here are details of my experience buying glasses online through Zenni.

Get your prescription elsewhere

First, you'll need your prescription. 

Check the prescription to see if it includes the pupillary distance (PD). That's the thing the optometrist measures when you buy glasses. 

If your prescription doesn't include the PD, Zenni has detailed instructions on how to measure it. It doesn't sound that difficult, and of course you can take multiple measurements to ensure accuracy. I was a bit wary of this, but the PD was included on our prescriptions.

Create a Zenni account

This is easy and painless.

Browse frames

Whether or not you have your prescription yet, you can scroll through a huge number of frames, and favourite the ones you like. You can sort by shape, colour, face shape,  frame shape, prescription type, price, and several other parameters. 

I definitely recommend scanning through all the links and seeing what applies best. I found frames Ioved under a "new arrivals" link. There are also amazing budget options.

I looked at dozens of frames and favourited the ones I was considering. I always try on lots of frames in the store, and I was glad to do this without using anyone else's time.

Create a Try On

You can virtually try on the frames one of two ways: uploading a photo or creating a "Try On". 

I was unable to get an uploaded photo to work. No matter what I did, the photo I uploaded was too small and needed to be rotated -- but I found no way to fix it. Because of this, I used the Try On. I learned that even if the photo had uploaded correctly, using a Try On is preferred -- because you can see both frontal and side (partial profile) views.

I did not find creating a Try On to be simple or easy, although that wasn't Zenni's fault. It took a few tries, each one getting a bit better, until I felt I had a halfway decent video to work with.

Once I created the Try On, it was very easy to virtually try on any pair of frames. 

You can also see what the frames look like on various models with various skin tones, hair colours, and face shapes. This was surprisingly helpful.

Input your prescription

Next, check the numbers on your prescription and type them in the corresponding boxes online. Check and re-check. 

If categories don't matchup -- for example, does "plano" mean no change? -- a quick google search will clarify. (Answer: it does.)

You can save multiple prescriptions through your Zenni account, sign up for reminders for eye exams, and so on.


Once you've input your prescription and chosen frames, it's time to order your lenses.

There are many options available at different prices -- which kind of photochromic lenses, which kind of anti-glare coating, and so on. This is similar to my experience in any retail outlet.

I always find this part confusing. What is truly helpful, and what is a useless expense? The internet can help with that, but in the end, it's only an educated guess.

I liked doing this part without a salesperson, as I am susceptible to over-buying. I found reading online more conducive to good decision-making.

Order fulfillment

I placed my first order on December 24 and received the notice the glasses had shipped on January 5. That's very fast, especially considering the time of year. 

The glasses arrived in small padded mailer that fit in our post office box, with a hard-plastic Zenni case (pictured above), along with a cleaning cloth and a small PD ruler. 

The finished product

My glasses are great. The prescription is obviously correct, the fit is excellent, and they are exactly what I ordered. Five stars!

Had the glasses needed a fit adjustment, it would have been problematic. Most people could pop in to a nearby optometrist for an adjustment. (As far as I can tell, this is the last free, courtesy service on earth.) I would not be able to do that. This is a drawback for us, but not worth hundreds of dollars and two five-hour drives!

Other Zenni services I haven't used

Zenni has information on how to adjust and repair your glasses, and they sell a frame-repair kit. 

There's information on how to replace lenses in frames you already own. 

You can also book a frame-fit consultation with a person.

While researching this post, I discovered Zenni's celebrity endorsement pages. One features none other than Big Papi! While I won't be buying any frames worn by David Ortiz, I had a nice chuckle over this and was happy, thinking about our man Ortiz. I also enjoyed seeing the one and only Iris Apfel modeling her look

Good luck and enjoy!


With God's Help said...

Thanks very much for this blog post. Needless to say, my optometrist didn't think this was a good idea however I am definitely going to give it a try for the kids. Will likely get a pair for myself too.

laura k said...

WGH, I'm curious about what the optometrist said!

drf said...

Hello LauraK! Bob and I have used clearly.ca for many years and always had excellent results. Last night I tried a new website, eyebuydirect.com, when I could not find frames I liked on clearly.ca. Wirecutter, similar to Consumer Reports, features eyebuydirect.com as their number one choice for purchasing glasses online. Zenni was their second choice. :-) My cost was $226C for progressive lenses. I hope this new source is as good as clearly.ca.


laura k said...

Good luck with it! Sounds like there are many good sources.

Just FYI, Wirecutters, owned by The New York Times, earns money through referrals. Consumer Reports has no advertising and no affiliations. Big difference.

laura k said...

Also Hi drf! 🙂

With God's Help said...

He said because mine are progressives they measurements might not be right. For the price, worth taking a chance I think.

laura k said...

I agree, it's worth it! But also, why would there be any greater chance of error? The optometrist is doing the measuring, and someone else is creating the lens -- either way.

Zenni does have a 30-day refund policy, so there's really not much risk, especially on your first order. Return policy is here.

Amy said...

This sounds great, and I might be tempted to try the next time I get new glasses. But I can't imagine judging frames through the computer. I have a hard time selecting frames when I am sitting in the store with a mirror and good lighting. It is always so difficult for me to judge whether I like the frames, knowing that I will be stuck with them every day for a long time.

laura k said...

Amy, I thought the same thing. But I found that looking at the Try On was basically the same thing as looking in a mirror. The only drawback (which I mentioned in the post) is that it took a while to get a decent Try On. In my view, totally worth it. I've now ordered two complete pairs for less than half of what I was paying for one pair.

If you do try it, I'd be very interested to know how you found it.

Amy said...

I will let you know. I have an ophthalmologist appointment in early April, and I will consult with my doctor. I not only need progressives but also have astigmatism so it may be more complicated to fill the prescription. But I'll let you know!

laura k said...

I have an astigmatism too. I don't know why that would make any difference. Whatever the prescription is, it is, no?

I'm definitely curious to know what the doctor says -- and what it's based on. I wonder if an ophthalmologist will be more open to the idea than an optometrist.

Amy said...

My ophthalmologist is also a close friend. When I next speak to him, I will ask him his opinion.

laura k said...

Nice! Keep me posted.

impudent strumpet said...

I'm interested in hearing how they stand up to the test of time. I've bought a few pairs online in recent years (from a different website) and they tend to develop lens crazing after a year or two, which hasn't happened to me before.

Still a far better deal, and websites tend to have frame shapes and styles that work on my face even when it isn't in style.

However, I couldn't get blue light filters on them, so I'm still using my computer glasses from the optometrist (which I'm not happy with aesthetically, but when I bought them I didn't have time to shop around).

I think there's room for both - I'll go to the optometrist or the vision therapist for more technical glasses, and get the simpler ones online. Or buy the pretty frames online and get the serious lenses installed in-person.

laura k said...

I can see using both. Longevity is never a factor for me, as I've never been able to wear a pair of glasses more than 2 years. During the second year, my prescription changes, and by the time I actually get new glasses, my vision has been less than ideal for (at least) several months.

websites tend to have frame shapes and styles that work on my face even when it isn't in style.

This is nice, too.

Which website did you use, if you don't mind sharing?

Amy said...

Hi Laura, I finally asked my ophthalmologist friend about Zenni and other sites like it. He said that he thinks it depends on the person and how much they can tolerate slight differences in how prescriptions are filled. But he also pointed out that if the prescription isn't just right, the glasses can be returned. I guess what he was saying was that without having someone trained actually see and measure your face and your eyes, the glasses might be slightly off, but that for many, those slight differences won't matter. And in any event the glasses can be returned. So overall, it sounded like a positive response with some caveats.

laura k said...

I'm glad you asked your eye doctor friend!

What I don't get -- no matter who answers the question -- is why glasses ordered online are somehow more susceptible to having errors than ones ordered in person. Either way, the person doing the eye exams measures your face. And either way, the prescription and frames are being sent to someone who makes the lenses.

In my experience there has always been two different people -- the eye exam, and the glasses try-on. There could be errors no matter how one orders them. Unless there's something I'm not getting?

In my own experience, the only difference I'm finding is that my Rx is now perfect, on both pairs. Previous pairs I ordered the standard way, in person, were usually a tiny bit off. But obviously that will vary from person to person.

I hope if you decide to go this route, you have a very positive experience! But be sure to read the refund policy. The first returned pair is a full refund, but subsequent returns are some percentage of the cost, not full cost.

With God's Help said...

Update. Ordered glasses for 2 of the kids. Daughter loves her, they're a bit tight but we should be able to adjust them by heating with a hairdryer according to Zenni. Son doesn't like the texture of the plastic and they look too small for him - I need to get on it and return them. Next I will try ordering for myself.

Amy said...

My experience has been different from yours. First, I go to the eye doctor for an eye exam. I see on optometrist who tests my vision and the ophthalmologist looks for eye disease, retinal tears, cataracts, etc. I get a prescription for glasses, and then I go to the optician, who sits and measures my eyes against the frames I select to get the right measurements for the lenses. He asks, for example, where on my nose I prefer to have my glasses rest and how far I sit from the computer, etc. Then he sends out that info with the prescription to whoever actually makes the lenses. So there is a trained professional who is in between the vision test and the lens manufacturer.

Amy said...

But I agree---human error is possible no matter where you get your glasses. And I may try Zenni in the spring after my next eye exam.

laura k said...

WGH, thanks for the update! Mine glasses arrived a bit tight behind the ears. They've since loosened up. I hope that doesn't mean they will get looser and looser. Good luck with yours and your son's. Keep us posted!

laura k said...

Amy, my experience is nearly identical to yours. The difference is I don't credit the person who works in an optician's retail store with much.

I'm sure they're trained and I'm sure they know things, but to me it seems mostly like performance to rationalize spending such exorbitant amounts of money on bits of plastic. The doctor has already done the measurements. The questions about where you like your glasses to sit and such -- I can do all that myself.

The important work is the eye doctor, who I'm still seeing, and making the lenses, which is happening elsewhere.

So I think the experience is pretty much the same, but our perception of what's going in is different. You very well could be right, I have no idea.

If you do try it, I hope you'll let me know how you found the experience!

Amy said...

Of course! I definitely need new frames, even if my prescription doesn't change. So I could order a new pair and try them and still have my old ones...just in case.

impudent strumpet said...

The one I bought from was iLook Glasses. I don't remember why I chose them. (Which isn't an indictment of them, just one of those things my post-head-injury brain decided to delete.)

I do like the idea of a glasses store that teaches you how to adjust your glasses and how to replace lenses in existing frames! I prefer to keep wearing frames that I like, but sometimes getting new frames is easier, and a surprising amount of time getting new frames costs less.

laura k said...

I always love my frames and am usually sad to see them go. My most recent frames (pre-Zenni) I I especially loved. But OTOH it's fun to get new frames. Especially now that I can have several pairs.