Best and worst places to buy your next pair of glasses

Eyeglasses displayFor the uninitiated, buying glasses can be an eye-opening (and wallet-opening) experience. Choose designer frames, ultra-thin lenses, progressive lenses and lens coatings and it's easy to drop over $400 for the pair. Bad service and poor quality would make the experience even more painful.

Such pain is not necessary, however, if you make a good choice on where to shop. In its December issue, Consumer Reports (subscription required) reports on its survey of more than 30,000 readers about their experiences with the nation's largest optical companies, based on quality, frame selection, fitting, expertise, price, speed and follow-up service.

Consumer Reports' five best places to buy glasses, and average cost per pair:
  1. Costco Optical, $157
  2. Independent local eyeglass shop, $211
  3. Private doctor's office, $212
  4. Kaiser Permanente, $166
  5. Empire Vision Centers, $155
Five worst places to buy glasses:
  1. JCPenney Optical, $177
  2. America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, $161
  3. Visionworks, $182
  4. Eyemasters, $205
  5. Pearle Vision, $228
The spread in scores between the best vendor (Costco at 86) and worst (JCPenney at 71) was not wide, however, suggesting that the differences among those companies on the list are not pronounced. In other words, if you chose JCPenney, your experience was probably not wildly different than what you would have experienced at Costco.

Among other large retailers, the survey found that glasses from LensCrafters had a median price of $244 a pair, even with a coupon (60% of all purchasers used a coupon). Note that this price is almost identical to Pearle Vision. Is it a coincidence that the same company (Luxottica Group) owns both?

These results show that price and quality do not go hand in hand in shopping for glasses, however.e So how can you save money when shopping for spectacles?
  • Know the materials and the options before you start. There are a number of different lens materials and treatments that can drive up the price; some play to your vanity. If you have a heavy prescription, ultra-thin lenses many be worth it; for light corrections, a cheaper material may suffice. Do you need anti-reflective coatings, scratch resistance or UV protection?
  • Look for coupons.
  • Don't automatically buy glasses from your optometrist. Ask for a written prescription and shop around; you could save hundreds.
  • Stay away from designer frames. You could be paying a markup of 700% or more for that name on the frame, a frame that might, in other ways, be virtually identical to no-name frames.
  • Consider shopping online. With companies such as,, and you could get glasses at half the price of even the big box stores. One major downside; you'll have to fit the glasses yourself.

For the full Consumer Reports survey, see the December 2010 issue.
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