How can glasses from Internet vendors be so cheap? How about quality?

I got an eye exam and a new prescription. They priced out a pair for me at about $150, which is net after insurance. The frames were $200, insurance covers $160. Lenses were 120, insurance covers 100. Add $23 for polycarbonate. Add $61 for anti-reflective and UV coating. Add $25 for co-pay, just to add some more money. Total $148.20 out of pocket. I thanked them and left with my prescription and pupillary measurements.

I checked out Zenni and ordered a pair for $30, without insurance.

  1. How can they sell glasses so cheap? Is this another example of stuff made in China with cheap labor?
  2. How is the quality? I can easily assess frame quality once I get them but I have no idea how to objectively assess lens quality.

I have a pair of sport sunglasses that were a bargain price through Amazon, but I can tell the optical quality is not as good as the high-end stuff. I can see internal reflections in the lens and there is something off with the polarization (a reflective object at road level looks different in the two eyes), but for under $30 they are great and fine for cycling. But with prescription glasses I want to be a little more discerning.

The glasses industry is practically a cartel, controlled by an extremely few companies. They charge a lot because until recently there has been no effective competition.

I bought my last three pairs of glasses online from Payne. Last time around they had a deal where if you bought two pair, one pair was 50% off. I think I paid something like $60 total for two pair. Both pair were no-line bifocal (progressive) lenses which tend to be the most expensive lenses to buy. Prices are much less expensive for single vision lenses.

They also have a good selection of frames. One slight problem was that I had a frame style that I really liked but when I went to reorder they discontinued that style. I had no difficulty in finding other frames that I liked. They also have various options for tinted and photochromic lenses. Not all lens options are available for every frame, meaning the frame you choose may not work with the lens you need.

I’ve been very happy with the quality. They are as good as if not better than any glasses I purchased from my eye doctor. I will say that the ordering process is somewhat daunting the first time around. They try to make it as easy as possible but you have to pay very close attention to detail. After the first time around it’s easier. You can return any pair of glasses (one time) to get remade if they don’t work out for you. I don’t recall how the return process works as I’ve never had to return any.

Yes, they’re made in China, at a factory in Danyang.

I’ve bought about a dozen sets from Zenni. Never had a problem. And even the one time I didn’t care for the frames (which is on me, really), it didn’t really matter that much because they only cost me $25. At that price, they’re practically disposable.

I’ve been buying Zenni glasses for over 5 years now. I get a pair of no-line bifocals and prescription sunglasses and pay a total of about $60. I’ve never had an issue with either the quality of the frame or lenses. My prescription has always been right on.

I enjoy buying different frames in different colors and shapes every year. It’s something I wear every day, all day so this way I have options. (My prescription has been the same for quite a while)

I assume most frames in any of the stores are also made in China.

ISTR that Zenni are made in Hong Kong, in a modern automated factory. So they’ve basically removed as much of the actual manual labor as possible, and what there is, it’s very cheap since it’s China.

In my experience, for relatively standard prescriptions, they do a fine job. Where Zenni and the others lack is in the fitting of the frames to your face, and in the cost when you get into a complicated prescription or you want something beyond standard AR coating- you start having to use non-standard lens materials and what-not, and the costs start becoming more in line with traditional glasses sellers.

Right, with my prescription I really need the high refraction polycarbonate. My eyes are very different, and with standard plastic I’d have one very thick lens and one thin one. Hard to have glasses sit straight on your nose like that.

With the high end polycarb, non-reflective coating, etc, they come to around $100 from Zenni. I priced some out from a local shop and it was closer to $300-400. The savings seems to be in the frames.

In my experience, the frames were very lightweight and thin. I suspect they would not last as long as more expensive ones, but I only ever bought Zenni glasses to have as emergency backups, so I hardly ever wore them.

The very cheap frames they sell (probably as loss leaders) are noticeably much thinner than the frame you get at a traditional store, but that’s less true for Zenni’s higher-end glasses. I’ve bought a variety of frames from them over the last few years, and the higher price frames are clearly better, But they’re still WAY cheaper than the ones I get from a regular store.

And as DCnDC says, the loss leader frames are so cheap, they’re basically disposable. If you can use the basic lenses, you can probably get 20 pairs for the same price as one pair of traditional glasses. So if they break? So what! Toss it and use another pair from your stash. If they last more than a month each, that’s easily two years worth of glasses, which is usually about the time the doctors expect you to come in for a new prescription anyways. And my experience with the cheap frames is that they last much longer than a month. Unless you’re living a much rougher life than I am, the lesser quality doesn’t actually impact their functionality very much.

This is a lot of it. Glasses frames are a little bit of plastic and metal, some amount of precision machining, and a ton of profit. Think of all the precision-machined things you can buy for way less than $200. Hard drives, metalworking tools, smartphones, etc. There’s really no reason that glasses frames need to cost hundreds of dollars.

I’m another Zenni customer. I would say that the frames I’ve received from Zenni are at least as good as any store brand I’ve bought. The most comfortable pair I’ve ever had are Zenni.

SWMBO’s glasses from the optician, $800. Better frames, same prescription, same coatings and high index, AND a pair of sunglasses from, $275. Why? Because Luxottica are a bunch of thieves…

Yep. And it was common practice for a long time for optometrists to only release your prescription to their own affiliated opticians. The first time I requested a copy of my prescription I was met with all kinds of hostility.

I get my glasses from Last time I got two pairs, sunglasses and regular, with all the best coatings. Total price was $175. It was eye-opening (ahem), since both together were less than half the price of the last single pair of glasses I got from an optician, probably 15 years ago (I had LASIK, and didn’t need glasses after that until now).

There’s also the factor that opticians have to have expensive storefronts and maintain a large inventory, and that they spend maybe 15 minutes fitting them to your face. And with lower quantities of sales they need more margin to survive - which is the same pronlem most brick-and-mortar stores are facing.

Think, too, that basically the store is probably doing the same as if you buy from Zenni - they collect the number for you - prescription, pupil distance - and then send the order to a factory. So you are basically paying a premium for a brick-and-mortar establishment to exist - rent and utilities, decor, a boat-load of sample frames, and several salaries. Basically to allow you to physically try the frames, answer questions, send in your order, and then fine-tune the fit of the product.

Let’s try a back-of-the-envelope calculation. If you assume there 4 people to keep the store manned, making $36,000 a year each (mathematically convenient number) then the store has to do $12,000 a month just to pay their salaries, or $400 a day. If we use the standard rule of thumb for business that salaries are 50%, the store has to do $800 a day. (Although I have no idea how expensive commercial rents are nowadays)

So the question is - of that $400 you pay for glasses, how much is the store’s share? Unless they also order from Zenni or Warbey Parker they are probably only making say, $100 to $150 off that sale. They need to have 8 customers each day every day just to break even. If they have more than 4 total staff (to cover 9A-9P 6 days a week) then the requirements go up.

Or you buy from the internet at 1/16 the price and skip the personal service.

I wonder why bricks and mortar businesses are having such a tough time?

What do you do when your internet frames don’t fit quite right? There is no place you can take them to get them adjusted. And I don’t have one of those little hot sandboxes.

In the UK opticians were forced to let us take our prescriptions away so that we can find our own supplier some 30 years ago.

I only need 1.5 magnification for reading and I pay £10 for three pairs which usually last me around six months each.

My wife has complex problems and requires correspondingly complex lenses so we typically pay £500+ for hers.

Eye tests for children and over 60s are free on the NHS but spectacles are not (other than very basic ones for children).

Find an optician willing to do so for a fee, I suppose. says the optical centers at Walmart and Costco are walk-in retailers where you can avoid the Luxottica brands and prices, in addition to Zenni Optical and Warby Parker for online service.

Disclaimer: I buy my reading glasses at Walmart, and my college-student daughter works there part-time. :grin:

There once was a time you could walk into any eyeglasses store and they would adjust your glasses for free as a courtesy, whether you bought them there or not. They’ll still do it at For Eyes. I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s a good business practice.