Cheap online eyeglasses put to the test

Save hundreds on prescription glasses

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HOUSTON – Ever wonder why eyeglasses, made of just a small plastic or metal frame and some glass, are so expensive? You can easily shell out more than $300 for a pair. But consumer expert Amy Davis is showing viewers how some consumers are skipping the traditional optician and saving big bucks.

Some glasses are fashion-forward, practical, some blingy, but no matter the style, owning glasses and being frugal is tough.

"I know I've paid $200, $300 for a pair of glasses," Scott Sherman said.

"I would put it off because I knew I was going to be out a couple hundred bucks if I wanted to get the type of frame that I wanted," Theretter Wells said.

Wells needed bifocals. She wanted progressives, but felt they were out of her price range. Sherman was due for some new single-vision lenses.

Both were putting off their purchases until we introduced them to prescription glasses online.

There are at least a dozen sites selling hundreds of frames and lenses at a fraction of what you'd pay at an optician or your doctor's office.

Wells and Sherman ordered two pairs each, one from Zenni Optical and another from Eye Buy Direct.

You'll need your prescription from your doctor, along with your pupillary distance, or PD. That information is generally on your prescription. Just type in that information on the website where you order your glasses and then you can upload your photo and virtually try on hundreds of frames.

"It was fun playing with it as I was going online and putting my face on it and going, 'Hmmm... no,'" Wells told Davis.

Wells picked a pair of progressives from Eye Buy Direct for $82.96, including shipping. She ordered traditional bifocals from Zenni Optical and paid $37.90 out the door.

Sherman chose a single-vision lens from each. They cost him $15.95 at Eye Buy Direct and $17.90 at Zenni Optical.

The glasses arrived in about two weeks, but before we let them wear them, we took the glasses to the University of Texas Medical School to test the prescriptions.

All four pair checked out perfectly, according to Dr. Robert Feldman, the chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Science at the medical school.

"They're making the glasses correctly," Feldman told Davis. "They're making them to the right power. They're making them to the right pupillary distance. It's just a matter of how they fit."

Feldman said that is what you don't get when you buy glasses online -- a professional fitting and the service that comes with it.

"The frames that they typically use when you buy online are typically one size fits all, and they'll be more or less right for most people," he said.

He said bifocals and progressives ordered online are more likely to be problematic simply because the lenses are more difficult to make.

Both Wells and Sherman were happy with the glasses they ordered.

"They're fine. They're great," Sherman told Davis. "They're like any other pair of glasses I've ever had."

It made KPRC 2 and Sherman wonder the same thing.

"If they can do it for this cheap, why can't other people?" Sherman asked.

"It's almost a monopoly," Feldman told Davis. "There's one company that has a huge portion of the market."

The company is called Luxxotica and it controls about 80 percent of the major brands of eyeglasses, including Lenscrafters and Sunglass Hut.

The new online businesses are trying to take a cut of that market and make seeing clearly not so cost-prohibitive.

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Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.