Buying Eyeglasses and Contacts Online

June 09, 2011 | Kate Horrell

One thing about the military – sometimes you live some crazy places.  Plus, every time you move, you have to find all new service providers.  Dry cleaners, auto mechanics, and places to buy eyeglasses and contacts.  Most military bases have an optical shop as part of their exchange, but their prices often aren’t competitive.  At our last duty station, we had a fabulous and cheap optical shop at the NEX, but the smart NEX management decided to give the contract to a new company that doubled all the prices.  Our current duty station has incredibly expensive eyeware.  With five people wearing glasses, and one person wearing contacts, optical prices are a big deal in our house.

In response to the demand for affordable contact lenses and eyeglasses, my optometrist put together a little sheet to help demystify buying contacts and eyeglasses online.  I’ve been buying my contact lenses online for several years, but I was scared to buy eye glasses, especially for my kids.  The thought of replacing yet another $50 pair of glasses (this shop also doesn’t really offer warranty service) forced me to confront my fears and give it a try.

First, I did a search for discount eyeglasses.  I found a few sites, then checked to see which ones would ship to an FPO/APO address.  (Obviously, you can skip this step if you live within the US.)  A few sites that definitely ship to FPO/APO include:

Prescription glasses:

Contact Lenses

Shipping charges vary amongst the different companies, so be sure to factor that into your price, and check out their return policies and warranties.  I was shopping for the cheapest possible pair of back-up glasses for my accident-prone daughter, so I wasn’t too concerned about returns, but check that if it is important to you.

Once you’ve found the right choice for you, you will need to enter your prescription information.  It is a little different for eyeglasses and contact lenses.  Contact lenses require prescription verification, and that can be tricky.  If you are overseas, long-distance and time changes will make regular telephone verification tough.  Most military eye clinics aren’t staffed to be verifying prescriptions all day, even if you can explain to the company how to wade through the telephone system.  At civilian providers, there can be a lack of cooperation for verification because it means that they are going to lose your profitable contact lens business.  I have even had a civilian provider claim that they couldn’t find my chart when asked to verify my prescription.  Funny how they were able to give me a reminder call a year later when it was time for my next checkup!

One solution to this problem is to proactively provide a copy of your prescription to the selling company.  Most websites, if you search around the FAQs or customer service page, have an email address to which you can send a scanned copy of your prescription, or can upload the scan to the website.  Always ask your eye care provider for copies of both your eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions – you never know when you might need them!

Eyeglasses are a little easier, as it seems they do not need to see the actual prescription.  The website will give directions for entering the prescription, as well as how to select eyeglasses that will fit properly.  I used my daughter’s last pair of glasses as a sample and measured the necessary measurements.  Another thing you can do is read the measurements off the inside of your current glasses.  You don’t have to get the exact same size, but this will allow you to have a general idea that these glasses will be the right size for you.

If you are completely unsure, take some time to look around your local optical shop and try on numerous pair of glasses.  You’ll get an idea what you like and if you are sneaky, you can write down the model number and measurements on your favorite pairs.

Once you’ve found the right purchase, be sure to check with USAA’s Membershop, Ebates, MyPoints and other similar cash back sites to see if you can get additional coupon codes or cash back.  I found a 10% off coupon code plus I’m getting 7% cash back by using Ebates for my purchase.

There are surely other reputable companies that sell contact lenses and eyeglasses online, these are just a few that I know.  I’m so excited that I got a spare pair of glasses, delivered to me, for less than $11.  Once I find my prescription, I’m going to order a spare pair for myself, as well.  Hope this saves you a little money!