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Consumer Reports' guide to buying eyeglasses online

Consumer Reports survey identifies websites with best values for glasses, and a controversial strategy for trying on frames. CR photo

Shopping for eyeglasses isn’t what it used to be. Sometimes it doesn’t even involve trying on the frames. Online retailers offer convenience and discount pricing, but there can be risks. Consumer Reports recently surveyed its readers and did its own eyeglass shopping to reveal advice on how to get great glasses at a great price.

A lot of people still buy glasses the old fashioned way, at the doctor’s office or at a local eyewear store. Consumer Reports says you may get more attention there, but according to a survey of its readers you may also pay a lot more. Our readers paid an average of about $400 for frames and lenses at eye doctors and independent eyeglass shops. That’s about two to 3 times what readers paid shopping online. That’s before any reimbursement from insurance.

Consumer Reports readers evaluated six online retailers. Warby Parker sends five pairs of frames to try on at home—shipping is free both ways. It gets high marks for quality and selection. Warby Parker’s average price for frames and lenses --- $141. And Zenni Optical also did well overall -- Average price $69. It’s big drawback, you can only try on the frames virtually using a photo.

Consumer Reports recommends you try on any frames you are considering purchasing online first- to make sure that they fit right and that the quality is good. This is a controversial, but popular practice called "showrooming", finding what you like in a brick and mortar store- in this case eyeglass frames- then looking for it online.

Retailers loathe the practice. Some even call it unethical and say it victimizes businesses who must pay for the space, inventory and employees, only to be used as a showroom for people looking to actually buy somewhere else.

However you buy online- always be sure to check out the warranty and return policies. You may have only 30 days for returns.

And if online eyewear shopping isn’t for you, Consumer Reports readers also evaluated dozens of brick and mortar retailers. Prices at discount stores like Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart are often less than at an eyeglass chain or doctor’s office. However the frame selection may be more limited.

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