Updating the Eyeglass Retailer Reviews retailers…. part 1

Update: there’s been a bit of a site move, and the most updated version of EGRR can now be found here on mattgadient.com in the Glasses Reviews section.

Now that my 80-120 hour work-weeks of fun on the theme this site uses is complete, another site of mine was long overdue for a rigorous revamp. The glasses one. The one I shamelessly throw banner ads for in the sidebar here. No, a 3 year old didn’t create those ads… those are the best stick-men I can possibly draw.

After making changes to the theme & layout on the EGRR site to look slightly less as though a child decided to draw a web site, I popped in some old user-submitted reviews that had been sitting in my inbox for years and shuffled things around so that the site feels a little more consolidated.

Today it was time to start going over all the retailers. I hate this part. It’s about as fun as using tweezers to yank out a stray nose hair. It takes forever and a day. And when I finally have the updated information, a retailer will go and change their entire site around, making everything I wrote about them wrong. This usually happens the day after I’ve posted my update.
For some reason, this time has been a little different. Enough that I almost considered starting up a blog on that site. Unfortunately that would be yet-another-thing-that-absorbs-too-much-time, so I’ll use my blog here. I don’t care if Google struggles to determine how a site with insanely popular x264/Handbrake posts relates to an eyeglass purchase – it’s my site and I’ll do what I want, darn it!


So, I started going down the list of retailers, and writing this to keep some level of sanity as I went through.


As a bit of forewarning in case a retailer does stumble upon this (or in case somebody decides to go pasting something I said elsewhere on the web to use as evidence that X-retailer is bad), the taglines are meant in a tounge-in-cheek sort of way. And the “suggestions” are just based on what I see (and in some cases assume) which may or may not be correct.


As I go through the sites and document them, I’ll write a little quip here. Updated write-ups should be up on the EGRR site… well…. whenever I manage to get this done.


39 Dollar Glasses

Their tagline: The World’s #1 Online Optical Store
My tagline: We’re the best at everything in the discount arena. Except price. That wasn’t important to you or anything, right…?

39Dollar has one of the most clean & modern sites out there, they don’t bait-and-switch, the site is very newcomer friendly, and as much as I try to find a “needs improvement” aspect of every retailer, they’re always a tough one.

My biggest issues with them is that the AR coating is $25 (higher than nearly anyone else), and that they’re on the higher end of the discount spectrum. Really, that’s it. And the worst part of it is that not only have these been my main issues for ages, but I completely understand why they don’t want to be in the race-to-the-bottom.

These guys are like the “Apple” of the online eyeglass industry in that they let everyone else fight at the bottom while they pull in reasonable revenue offering their neatly packaged experience.

My suggestions for them:

  • keep doing what you’re doing
  • for the love of _________, try to bump down that AR coating price a little somehow

39 Dollar Glasses screenshot Feb 2013

39 Dollar Glasses screenshot Feb 2013

Zenni Optical

Their tagline: (keyword spam)
My tagline: We’re the cheapest. We’re the most popular. We’re the most cutthroat. We own the low-cost glasses area. Don’t dare try to compete with us. Oh and (keyword spam)

Zenni is the most popular online eyeglass retailer in existence. Ever. They’ve been mentioned in nearly every article, newscast, and Jedi mind trick that ever had to do with buying glasses online. Their site isn’t the most well-polished, and selecting a specific price doesn’t work so you have to use the sliders at the moment, but the site has everything you’d expect and doesn’t give you the run-around.

You might wonder where the “keyword spam” bit came from – websites often have a “description” tag, mainly for search engines. It’s a short description of your site (or your page) and nearly every company uses it that way. Zenni instead stuffed keywords in there. Now before some competitor reads this and decides to do the same thing, keep in mind that Google won’t use it, and could potentially penalize you for attempting to stuff keywords in places they don’t belong – the only time Google will allow you to break the “rules” is if you’re immensely popular.

Part of what keeps Zenni strong is that the expectation of low prices is maintained throughout their site. They have a very large selection of glasses at the low prices they advertise, and they don’t start nickel-and-diming when it comes to the basic lens upgrades (beyond basic upgrades tends to escalate the price quickly, mind you). I’d be surprised if anyone who was looking for a cheap pair of glasses ever decided that “the price is getting too high” during the order process. They’ve managed to maintain their BBB rating (and accreditation) too, which is usually something of a feat for retailers operating in the “race-to-the-bottom” pricing arena.

They’ve done things that I haven’t been thrilled about over the years and sometimes their focus on keeping down their costs shows, but when push comes to shove, they’ve done a pretty remarkable job in the low-cost arena.

My suggestions for them:

  • try to reduce some of the…. spamminess. You know, public image and all that.
  • your terms of use (arbitration?!) seems a little anti-consumer. Public image again….
  • not thrilled that bi-focals get the higher cost lens option selected by default despite it being “recommended” (perhaps have nothing selected so the user has to intentionally choose?).
  • beyond things in those areas, keep doing what you’re doing

Zenni Optical screenshot Feb 2013

Zenni Optical screenshot 2013



Their tagline: Perfect Vision, For Less
My tagline #1: Oooh, you wanted UV protection. For your eyes. Yeah, sorry that’s extra.
My tagline #2: The reason our BBB Accredited logo on the bottom doesn’t link to our BBB page is because… oh… umm… this is rather embarrassing…. we’re not actually BBB accredited. What’s our rating then you ask? Ummm… I think it’s one of the later letters in the alphabet. Oh, specifically? Err… I gotta run.

EyeBuyDirect is probably most renowned for their frequent “BOGO” sales (Buy One Get One free). Compared to Zenni above, the EyeBuyDirect website has a cleaner, more modern, easy-to-use feel to it. On a previous order (not one I put up a review for), bifocals were ordered and when they sent a message stating that they couldn’t do bifocals in those lenses, they offered a free upgrade to progressive lenses which I thought was fairly nice. It was also a bit unexpected seeings as they’re competing at the low-end where free-upgrades usually aren’t in abundance.

Like Zenni, they’ve done things I haven’t been thrilled about (the “BBB accredited” logo when in reality they have an F rating for example). Price-wise they’re close but tend to charge more for lens upgrades, though you can find coupon codes that may drop the total price to below what Zenni offers.

My suggestions for them:

  • Either get BBB accredited or remove the logo from the bottom. If you had a great BBB rating but just weren’t accredited, it might look like an oversight. This on the other hand looks shady.
  • Charging extra for UV makes me feel nickel-and-dimed.
  • Right now Zenni has a lower total cost and higher BBB rating. You have a nicer website & lower cost in some cases (via coupon codes and sales). If you’re trying to differentiate yourselves further, I’m not seeing it right now so you might want to make it clear.

EyeBuyDirect screenshot Feb 2013

EyeBuyDirect screenshot Feb 2013



Their tagline: Prescription glasses starting at $38
My tagline #1: Prescription glasses mostly starting at $48
My tagline #2: Your bait-and-switch experts in the online eyeglass industry.
At a glance, the GlassesUSA strategy appears to be one of 2 things:

  • Compete with the price of local B&M stores and hope users don’t notice the other online retailers.
  • Inflate prices and then focus on huge discounts via coupons to give a stronger feeling of “savings”. Utilize “cash back” promotions (in reality, “credit back” would be more accurate) to aid in customer retention.

From what I can tell, despite keeping away from the “race-to-the-bottom” area, GlassesUSA doesn’t appear to have been growing quickly. And spending time on their site again, I’m beginning to see why. The moment a customer is aware of the other online competitors, you won’t be able to get away with nickel-and-diming much when you’re at the higher end of the discount spectrum. And a bait-and-switch will not go over well at all.

Yes, glasses start at $38. A whopping 12 pair in total at that price (less if you exclude duplicates). The focus is clearly on $48+. The price escalates very quickly though. UV doesn’t come free and is part of a $29 AR/UV upgrade package. Bifocals add a whopping $89 to the price. And if your prescription is -2.00 or stronger, guess which lens upgrade is recommended? The $59 upgrade.

To be fair, they do have extensive coupons, listed right on their site that are meant to bring something down to a reasonable price point. But this has confusopoly written all over it. When you first pop onto the site, you currently get a popup for a 50% off coupon code if you provide your email address. Beyond that, with coupons the savings can be substantial on that 1 thing that may have been insanely overpriced to begin with. But you’re sacrificing savings on something else to get it. So customers are probably going to have to pull out a pen and paper.

And in the end, at best your final price probably meets with what the other retailers in the ~$40 range charged. Except their customers didn’t have to jump through as many hoops.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad. Just frustrated. Trying to compare GlassesUSA prices feels like trying to price compare cell phone plans.

My suggestions for them:

  • I get that you’re differentiating yourself but I don’t know if this is the way to do it unless you can effectively market to people who were about to buy glasses locally.
  • 1.5 index lenses by default on a $38-$48+ pair? This should probably be a minimum of 1.56. And if you want to make customers feel warm about savings while differentiating yourself, you could have an option that subtracts $10 if they go with the 1.5.
  • if determined to keep to the higher price region, you may want to focus more heavily on the designer brands you offer.
  • the site itself looks and behaves great.

Glasses USA screenshot Feb 2013

Glasses USA screenshot Feb 2013

Frames Direct

Their tagline: Designer Eyewear
My tagline: We’re the only ones guaranteed to have every possible designer frame you could ever want. You’ll give us much less of your paycheck than you would have given a local retailer. But we’re still getting a good bit of it.

These guys have always been a tough one for me because they only sell designer frames and don’t participate in the discount-end. There’s a little more consistency in their pricing nowadays though – in the past the lens prices were all over the map and they’re now standardized.

They don’t really have anyone to compete with online either. Some discount retailers also offer a few designer brands but nobody matches what Frames Direct offers here in terms of the latest frames and the total brand offerings. Let’s face it, to stock all that stuff costs a fortune. New startups aren’t likely to have that capital. And customers aren’t as likely to risk hundreds on a new retailer that hasn’t had years to become well established. Frames direct is in a pretty safe place – unless someone like Amazon decides to get into glasses, they just have to beat out the regular B&M stores in offerings and price.

In any case, frames with them tend to start around the $150 mark though this varies wildly by brand. And they nickel-and-dime for every option though I can’t really fault them for that due to their target market. Standard single-vision 1.50 index lenses add $45. Bifocals $75. Progressives $239 (that’s not a typo). The “cheap” AR coating is $45. UV is $15. There are plenty of other lens upgrades (transitions, tint, etc), but that gives an idea. Shipping is free if you spend over $99. So unless they accidentally priced something at $0 you’re probably getting free shipping.

They’re one of the few to require that they see/confirm your prescription. Understandable since a prescription typo on glasses that cost a few hundred would put everyone in a bit of an unhappy pickle. They have a number of ways (email a picture, fax, have them contact your optometrist, etc), but suffice it to say that if you lost your prescription years ago and have been inputting it into sites by memory, that won’t work here.

My suggestions for them:

  • While you’re only competing with B&M stores right now, you might want to consider lowering the price of some of those lens options. A discount retailer who does have the capital or is able to set up JIT with distributors could crop up, present the same offerings, and start competing with you. The current prices are only giving them incentive to try.

the Frames Direct information page

Frames Direct screenshot Feb 2013

Frames Direct screenshot Feb 2013



Their tagline: The better way to buy Eyewear
My tagline #1: The first one’s free. And we’re not even drug dealers.

You could almost work the story here into the “Gladiator” tagline. “A contact lens retailer who became…. …an eyeglass retailer that defied the industry.” Not as exciting as General/Slave/Gladiator/Emperor mind you, and the story lacks all the violence, but it really is quite the success story.

In short, they used to sell contacts. Then they started glasses. And they started giving the first pair free. Free as in you just pay for shipping. And even now they include 1.59 index polycarbonate lenses with that free pair. Completely unprecedented but a very clever way to get new first time customers.

They eventually changed from CoastalContacts.com to just Coastal.com.

Prices have crept up. $48 is the new starting point with some emphasis on the lower-end brand names in the sub-$100 range. Polycarbonate 1.59 index lenses come standard on single-vision with 1.58 index being standard on bifocals. The AR coating comes free on both.

One unfortunate aspect is the addition of an imaginary (and mandatory) “handling and insurance” fee of about 7% which is added during checkout. A number of online contact lens retailers sneak this in, and Coastal evidently decided that glasses wearers should pay imaginary fees too. I really despise these types of fees – sure it’s a legal business tactic, but it offers absolutely no benefit to the consumer. Legal doesn’t make it right. It’s hard to quantify when price-comparing (especially since it only shows up at the end), which is 1 of the goals of these things – the other being that hopefully the customer ordered a few things and doesn’t really notice it. Not thrilled that Coastal brought this in. At all.


My suggestions for them:

  • get rid of that handling fee. Incorporate it into the base price or the shipping. If postal insurance is truly an issue, add an *option* for it.
  • the order process isn’t terribly descriptive when it comes to what you’re choosing (until the end). Might want to provide a few more details.
  • the page for a coupon code comes a little bit late in the order process, after the address has already been entered. The first time somebody sees a total price should probably be the first opportunity to enter the code. If I were a nervous first-time buyer, I’d have backed out before entering my address info.

Coastal screenshot Feb 2013

Coastal screenshot Feb 2013



Their tagline: Online Eyeglasses – Doctor Quality
My tagline: Why do we seem so average?

This is about the point where I start burning out writing up information pages. I’ve now filled a sheet of paper with notes (in addition to what I’ve been writing up here). Time for a break soon.

The site itself is somewhat average – easy to navigate, functional, and plenty of information is provided during the order process but nothing outstanding. I had a good purchase experience when I bought from them (the low cost AR coatings survived the hot water test). They aren’t the cheapest, with the bulk of frames starting at about $13, though they’re quite possibly the cheapest retailer for someone looking for AR coatings that aren’t as likely to crack. Their designer frames sit around the $100 mark give or take $10 which is reasonable, though half the brands they list are “coming soon”.

All in all they seem very middle-road. Nothing that really ticks me off, but nothing that gets me ecstatic. They’re one of those sites where you’d never reply to a question with “ooh, I know what you’re looking for – GlassesShop!“, but at the same time if you gave a list of 3-4 retailers for someone to check out, they’d probably be in it whether the person was looking for low-cost, something mid-range, or a designer selection.


My suggestions for them:

  • add a “checkout as guest” option. Not everybody wants to create an account (or has a Facebook account to sign in with).
  • UV coating… Not a fan of the extra charge.
  • If you list 23 designer brands, you should probably have stock for at least 20 of them. All those “coming soon” pages are a bit of a turn-off. It just serves to make the store look incomplete.

Glasses Shop screenshot Feb 2013

Glasses Shop screenshot Feb 2013



Their tagline: The world’s leading discounted prescription eyeglasses store online
My tagline: Once renowned for quality when it came to complex prescriptions, we’re getting less popular each day.

Optical4less used to be the company from Hong Kong who somehow crafted their lenses better than anyone else out there. They were one of few popular retailers back in 2006. Fast forward 7 years to 2013, and you don’t really hear much about them any more. Their site looks *exactly* the same as it did back in 2006. Heck, the frames I ordered back in 2006 (and wear to this day) are still available, in the same location, on the same page.

Taking a fresh look at them again, they’re surprisingly still quite competitive price-wise. The single-vision glasses start at $29 for 1.56 index lenses, and include free UV & AR. Shipping is $8 to anywhere in the world (free if you order 2 paris).

A grand total of $37. That’s delightfully simple.

For those who want something a little beyond the basic lenses, if you’re willing to take glass lenses, they have indexes of up to 1.9 which is incredibly thin. And as much as their options tend to be on the technical side (not as new-user-friendly when it comes to help/tips), everything about the lens options gives the impression that they know exactly what they’re doing.

It’s a shame their online presence hasn’t grown much. When someone would talk about how hard it was to get complex prescriptions locally for non-exuberant prices, it was always fun to watch their face when you said “well, there is this place in Hong Kong you might want to try…“. They’re one of the companies I wish I could order from again in the short term just to get some indication that they’re still around and have maintained quality (as it is, I have a lineup of retailers I have to buy from before getting another O4L pair).


My suggestions for them:

  • Update your site. It doesn’t have to be a complete revamp, but I believe you’re the only one who hasn’t made any real changes over the years. Just making it feel a little more warm and inviting would help.
  • Get out there and start promoting. You have a few things that make you unique – start capitalizing on that. Whether you run ads, reactivate your commission program, or start getting active on various groups/forums, you should really consider doing something.
  • Allow checkout as a guest. A number of people are hesitant to register an account for a simple purchase. Even more are hesitant to do so from a company in HK. You need to make this as painless as possible.
  • The cheapest bi-focals (and progressives) are a bit on the pricey side. Enough that if someone has a simple bifocal prescription, you’re not really a viable option.

Optical4less screenshot Feb 2013

Optical4less screenshot Feb 2013


Alright, my sheet of paper is full and I’m a little exhausted.

I’ll have to finish later, then compile the information, then put it on the site. Then I have to hope at least a week goes by before a retailer completely changes their site.

In any case, before then I should have part 2 up here (update: part 2 is complete and you can find it here) which I’ll put together as I go through the remaining sites.