Recently, I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time in front of a computer. I’ve also noticed that every night, I end up with a headache. The cure? Glasses. Jake Gross had previously written up this excellent review of ZenniOptical.com, which was perfect for me, because they offer tons of styles and frames for dirt cheap. How cheap? I got everything you see above – frame, lenses, case, cloth and clip on sunglasses – for $18.85 shipped. What follows is Jake’s review, which he has graciously allowed us to steal and use as we wish. He has some excellent tips on how to select and size your frames. - Chris
Zenni Optical – Review by Jake Gross
I’ve worn glasses since I was about 8 years old. Back in those days, it was brown plastic frames constantly taped at the temples. A rambunctious, nerdy 8 year old boy can’t keep such a fragile item in one piece. We didn’t have a lot of money, and glasses were expensive, even in the 80s. As a result, homemade repairs were a necessary evil. (I even recall attaching an arm to the frame with a band-aid at one point.) As I grew older, my frames got broken less frequently, and I even tried contacts for about 5 years (I didn’t like them and will never go back). The fact remained that I wasn’t able to update my frames as often as I liked because my parents couldn’t afford the massive cost.
Once I grew up, a cheapskate from having so little money when I was young, I figured I’d be rocking something like 10 pairs of frames, one for each of my personalities. When I got the bill for my first pair of self-purchased glasses (with insurance), I threw up in my mouth, swallowed it, threw up again, swallowed that, then shuddered. It was over $400. Once again, I went to wearing my frames until the metaphorical wheels fell off. At 31 years old, I had only purchased two pairs of glasses, my most recent pair in 2006. I knew there had to be a better way.
Then, a friend told me about ordering glasses online. They are generally much, much cheaper because they are manufactured overseas (usually China). Various websites that offer this service, but I went with Zenni Optical based on a recommendation.
Buying Glasses Online: A Dilemma
The first, most obvious problem with online eyeglasses ordering is that you cannot try the glasses on. I’ve always liked to try on a bunch of different frames until I found the right look/fit. This was going to be a problem. To be fair, Zenni tries to mitigate this by allowing you to upload a picture of yourself and virtually “try on” frames, but this only gets you so far. Luckily, I found an incredibly nerdy solution. Let’s call this my “field research phase.”
I went to various different eyeglasses chain stores (Sears, LensCrafters, etc.) and fended off the salespeople by repeating the mantra, “I’m just looking, but what’s your name in case I have questions?” This phrasing worked for me instead of just trying to shoo them because when you ask for their name, they know you will look for them if you need help. In other words, it makes them go away. So, I tried on glasses and sunglasses at three or four places. I found a few pairs that l (and, more importantly, my wife) thought looked great on me. Now the geeky part. I used my smartphone to take pictures of the frames I liked, then uploaded them to a cloud-based note-taking app (I like Evernote because it also has a web interface). This method allowed me to write down the measurements of the frames (found inside the temple) in the notes section. These measurements tend to look something like 46/20 135. The numbers are the frame measurements, with 46 being the lens width, 20 being the width of the bridge (the part over your nose), and the 135 being the temple length (length of the arm things). Some frames will have lens height, which is helpful, but not all glasses include this. If you like the measurements of your current frames, you can always use those, too.
Exploring the Online Selection
With the browser-based version of Evernote opened on my computer, I visited the site. They have frames ranging from $6 up to just under $40 (this price includes basic lenses). This is a big change from the price range at a typical chain eyeglasses store ($60-$300), or a private optician ($125-$400). The fact that they have so many frames is a double edged sword. There are myriad options, and you can filter by gender (male/female/unisex), material (plastic/acetate/metal/titanium/mixed), shape, etc, but you’ll still have to comb through tons of frames. Again, I had my pictures in Evernote open on a second monitor as references for lens shape. Remember, those pictures included the measurements to make sure everything was the right size. I agreeable eyeglasses frames quite quickly, and the sunglasses frames I ended up with were $9. Please note, though, that Zenni Optical doesn’t seem to carry any actual name brands. While doing my field research, I fell in love with a pair of Rayban Wayfarers, but was able to find frames (above) that looked fairly identical, and had matching measurements.
Obtaining My Prescription
Now I needed my prescription. I went to my eye doctor, and was upfront that I was only getting an exam, and planned to order my glasses somewhere else. She was completely fine with that, and was happy to give me my prescription. I have read some reviews that other doctors can be less cooperative (eye doctors make the bulk of their profit selling marked up frames), but your mileage may vary. Medical professionals are legally required (at least in the US) to give you your prescription, but you also need your pupillary distance (the distance between your pupils in millimeters) because the lenses have to be made with a specific focal point. My doctor was also happy to measure this for me, but, again, I’ve read of some reviews about doctors refusing to give this information up. On their website, Zenni explains how you can measure it yourself, but I’m a little wary of the accuracy of this method. You can actually go to most Walmart, Sam’s Club, or Costco stores and have them measure it for you. I understand they will do that for free in most cases.
The Ordering Experience
Armed with my prescription and a selection of glasses I was happy with, I placed my order. It was simple: add glasses to cart, type prescription numbers into the required fields, hit purchase. Zenni says it takes about 2 weeks to receive an order, and most of the negative reviews I read about the site centered around shipping taking a while. To eliminate potential disappointment, I planned on three weeks. After about 9 calendar days, I received a tracking number via email from Zenni (it didn’t work). I waited two more days and tried the number again. The tracking number worked; my glasses were on their way from California! From order to ship, it was about 10 days. My three week window seemed to be working out reasonably. The glasses ended up on in my mailbox on a Monday, just 16 days from the day I ordered.
Ok, But How Much Will I Save?
When I was at my doctor’s office, I picked out frames similar to the ones I found on Zenni (the doctor’s selection was far, far smaller than Zenni’s). I inquired how much those would cost me with similar lenses. With my vision insurance, the lenses alone would cost $195, and the frames another $50. Add $30 each for the anti-glare and anti-scratch coating, and I’m looking at $305 with insurance. I didn’t even bother to ask about prescription sunglasses. I also did a little research, as there are other deals to be had at chains like LensCrafters, Pearl Vision, and Sears. However, based on the extras I had added to my glasses from Zenni, coupled with the fact that my insurance doesn’t work at those places, I would still be looking at about $400 (for glasses and sunglasses) from the discount places.
In contrast, the glasses I ordered from Zenni (pictured above) with anti-glare coating, a 1.67 lens index (super thin), and scratch protection cost under $60. The sunglasses with anti-glare and anti-scratch coating, and an 80% gray lens tint were $19.99. Zenni charges a flat $5 shipping no matter how many pairs you order, bringing my total for a pair of glasses and a pair of prescription sunglasses to $83.70. Shipped. This is about $220 cheaper than one pair of glasses at my eye doctor with vision insurance. I should also note that I used the debit card from my flexible spending account without a problem from Zenni or my FSA administrator.
The Final Product
When I received my glasses, I was eager to tear the package open. I was also a little nervous. Could glasses this cheap actually be good? Did I input all the prescription fields correctly when I ordered? What if they’re ugly? What if they don’t look good on me? What if there’s something wrong with them? What if they explode? I bit the proverbial bullet and grabbed some scissors. The glasses were shipped in a small white bubble envelope. The glasses were inside in a few cheap-o (but free) plastic hard cases in little plastic sleeves. I noticed a few extras, too. Each case had a nice microfiber cleaning cloth, and one had a pupillary distance ruler.
The glasses are well-constructed. I mentioned that I ordered the eyeglasses with a high-index lens (1.67). There is actually one more level of thinness (1.74), but it was about twice as expensive. I have pretty bad eyes (-4.5/-5.25), so I was worried that I might need the 1.74. I checked with my doctor’s office during my visit, and they claimed my last pair of lenses were a 1.67 index. Those old glasses were half-rim, so it was really easy to see the lens thickness. I have to say, I’m 100% positive that the lenses in my glasses from Zenni were thinner, even though they are technically the same lens index. They don’t stick out over the frames on the right or left edges (which is where the lens is the thickest). The frames are plastic/acetate, and I haven’t had frames like this since I was a kid. They are surprisingly light and feel great on my face (due in large part to the research I did to make sure I chose frames with the correct measurements). They also didn’t need any adjustment out of the box. My eye doctor’s office said they would adjust the frames for me, but it turned out to be unnecessary. If yours need adjustment, LensCrafters offers free adjustments to everyone, even if you didn’t buy your glasses there.
The sunglasses are similarly well-made. The lenses in these are somewhat thicker because Zenni will not tint higher-index lenses. Of the two options for lenses available, I chose the thinner ones (a higher number index always means thinner). The lenses actually do come up over the sides of the frames a tiny bit. However, it’s just on the outside edge of the frame, and it’s barely noticeable due to the dark tint of the lenses. This pair also did not require any adjustment either; I put them on and they fit fine and appeared to be perfectly straight. When ordering the glasses, I wasn’t sure which was a darker tint: 10% or 80%. I emailed Zenni customer service, and they informed me that 80% is the darkest tint and 10% is the lightest tint. My lenses have the 80%. It’s been 5 years since I’ve had sunglasses, and my drive to work that morning was so much easier because I didn’t have to hold my hand up to block the sun for 35 miles.
If after reading this you’re not convinced, let me give you a one word summary of my experience ordering glasses online: Diamonds! There was definitely some trepidation on my part about the process and some worry that the quality would not be up to snuff. Those worries were completely unfounded. I literally saved hundreds of dollars and got some glasses that (I think) look nice on me. I’ve told my wife that I will not sign up for vision insurance next year. Instead, I’ll save the ten bucks a paycheck and just pay full price for an exam at the doctor (typically ranges from $50 to $75). Thanks to flexible spending accounts, I can still put the money for that exam aside on a pre-tax basis. I’ll admit, I got anxious for my new glasses to arrive a couple of days after I ordered them, and two weeks can seem like a long time. However, the wait was definitely worth it. If you wear glasses, then you should definitely give Zenni Optical a look. As long as you follow my advice about trying different frames on at various chain eyeglasses stores, write down the measurements, and (if you can) take pictures of the frames for an easy comparison of shape, your experience should turn out to be a good one as well.
Jake’s Rating: Five Diamonds