May 8, 2011

Websites offer eyewear deals

NEW YORK - Want to spend less - maybe a lot less - for good-quality prescription eyewear? A growing number of websites cater to people willing to make this most individual of purchases online.

New websites like Warby Parker (warbyparker.com) and the upcoming eyefly.com from clothing-and-accessories seller bluefly.com - as well as more established players like framesdirect.com and 39dollar glasses.com - are defying conventional wisdom that consumers want to touch before they buy certain products.

Starting with technology that determines the shape of your face from a digital photo, the sites say they offer the same service and personal attention as a brick-and-mortar shop, but with better selections of frames and at lower overall prices.

So far, less than 3 percent of the estimated $25 billion Americans spend annually on eyewear, including contact lenses and non-prescription sunglasses, goes to online purchases, according to the Vision Council, a trade group representing manufacturers and suppliers.

Warby Parker, which has sold more than 50,000 pairs of glasses since its February 2010 launch, says its $95 prescription glasses are comparable to eyewear that would sell for $500 at a high-end boutique. The difference is that Warby Parker's frames don't carry designer names, which cuts the number of middlemen between manufacturers and consumers, co-founder Neil Blumenthal said.

Buying prescription eyewear online also can let you check out hundreds of different frames - by manipulating the photo you upload - and it can mean spending a lot less time on the process.

But there are plenty of pitfalls, including errors when customers type in the prescriptions themselves.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you navigate:

- Selection: Framesdirect.com, which bills itself as the largest full-service online eyewear company, offers more than 100,000 frames, including some from top designers, and it sells contact lenses. Also offering a generous selection is 39dollarglasses.com. Both sites offer so much that shopping can be overwhelming.

Warby Parker cuts the clutter and produces a complete pair of glasses for $95, but its selection may be too small: about 35 styles, all in acetate and most fairly chunky.

- Price: If you need a strong correction or like extra-thin or tinted lenses, fees for those extras can add up. High-index lenses can add $30, for instance, and a strong correction another $30, though vendors can charge differently for add-ons.

Be sure to examine each company's shipping fees, too.

And remember that any fine-tuning or tightening you need after you've worn your glasses a while will have to be done in person, and your local optician may charge for those services if he or she didn't sell you your glasses.

- Return policies: As an example, bestbuyeyeglasses.com doesn't allow full returns or exchanges but will give you 50 percent off new lenses if you exchange a pair of glasses within 30 days of purchase. Warby Parker, on the other hand, promises to refund your full payment within 30 days.

by Anne D'Innocenzio Associated Press May. 8, 2011 12:00 AM




Websites offer eyewear deals

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