With a valid contact lens prescription, you as a consumer can buy your lenses from a number of different places—an eye care practitioner, optical chains like Lens Crafters, warehouses like Costco, online retailers, over the phone, or by mail.
If you choose not to buy your lenses from your eye care practitioner (ECP), it is up to you to be extremely aware of whom you are buying from. Contact lens sales are strictly regulated by the FDA and FTC (Federal Trade Commission), but not every retailer abides by these regulations. Find out the best places to buy contact lenses, below.
What to Consider When Buying Contact Lenses
There are several things you should take into consideration before buying contact lenses. For example, your insurance company may offer you discounts or benefits when you buy from a specific seller, such as your eye care provider.
Besides insurance coverage, other factors to consider include:
- Cost of lenses, including shipping prices
- Coupons, rebates, and other deals offered by the seller, manufacturer, ECP, etc.
- Brand name of lenses
- If seller has your lenses in stock
- The seller’s reputability
- Consumer reviews of the retailer you are purchasing from, and the likelihood that they might sell you lenses illegally
What Is The Importance of Having an Rx?
You cannot get into any legal trouble by purchasing contact lenses through any retailer without a prescription, but the retailer can. Still, many retailers continue to sell lenses to anyone who wants to buy them. To make sure your eyes remain healthy you should not order lenses with an expired prescription.
Also, it is not a good idea to stock up on lenses right before the prescription is about to expire because your eyes may already have changed. It is much safer to be rechecked by your eye-care practitioner.
If you have not had a check-up in the last year or two, you may have eye problems that you are not aware of. This could result in the wrong prescription being given to you, which could damage your eyes.
Your Optional Retailers – Where You Should Go To Buy Your Contacts
There are pros and cons to buying contact lenses from any source. Many people look for the best prices and deals, but it is also wise to consider availability, customer service, convenience, and insurance coverage.
Eye Care Practitioners offer professional services and bundled packages that include things like the office visits and care products. Prices can vary from one ECP to another, but some of them are able to sell you larger quantities at comparable prices and offer timely shipping. If you look hard enough, you should be able to find an ECP who offers such deals; you should also be able to find an office that is open later hours and on weekends.
Online Retailers allow you to buy at any time of day, any day of the week. This convenience can have consequences though, if you are not careful in your selection of a retailer. Only buy from an online retailer that you trust or that has very good reviews from a majority of its customers.
Online retailers can make mistakes and ship incorrect prescription contact lenses. Some have terrible customer service, and some may even try to cut costs by sending out almost-expired contact lenses.
Besides the huge risk you are taking, the other drawback is the extra expense of shipping your lenses. Plus, you will not have the convenience of getting them right away unless you pay extra money for overnight shipping.
Optical chains like Lens Crafters and Walmart are a great place to buy your contacts, since most locations are able to fit you for your lenses on-site. They also offer eye exams and usually have a large supply of lenses on site at affordable prices.
If you already have a current prescription and need lenses immediately, you can purchase your lenses right then and there. Another convenience is that these types of stores tend to be open later in the evening and on weekends.
The drawback to buying from these retailers is that they tend only to carry the most popular brands, and prescriptions that are not carried have to be ordered.
Big warehouses like Costco and Sam’s Club have optical departments similar to those you find in the optical chains. They usually have an ECP on site, along with a wide variety of lenses, longer hours of operation, and the convenience of purchasing and receiving your lenses that day.
Where Not to Buy Your Contacts
If you find a web site you think is illegally selling contact lenses, you should definitely report it to FDA or FTC. If you do not get the exact lenses you ordered, you should report the problem directly to the company that supplied them.
You should not have a problem like this buying from your ECP or from an optical chain or warehouse. Be careful of online retailers—there is no direct contact with the company, and getting the correct contact lenses can take hours of dealing with customer service.
Another important thing you should consider once you receive your lenses—and before you wear them—is the label. There are specific items that are required by law to be on the label. If any of these items are missing, you may have a problem.
Look for these things and make sure they are correct before you wear your lenses:
- Your name
- Examination date
- The date you received your prescription after a contact lens fitting (issue date) and the expiration date of your prescription
- The name, address, phone number, and fax number of the seller
- Material and/or manufacturer of the prescribed contact lens
- Base curve or appropriate designation of the prescribed contact lens
- Diameter, when appropriate, of the prescribed contact lens
- For a private-label contact lens, the name of the manufacturer, the trade name of the private label brand, and if applicable, the trade name of the equivalent brand name
It may seem like a lot of information to double check, but remember, it is your vision, not theirs. All these items are specifically regulated by the FTC, and a seller can get into a great deal of legal trouble if they are not properly labeling lenses.
It is also illegal for any seller to sell to you without a current or up-to-date contact lens prescription. Be wary of any contact lens retailer that does not verify your prescription. Such actions warrant FDA or FTC notification.
Talking to Your Eye Doctor
Here are some questions to ask your eye care provider or any contact lens retailer about buying contact lenses:
- Do you have lenses in my prescription available right now?
- How long will I have to wait for my lenses if they are not available now?
- How much will my lenses cost, including costs for shipping and fitting?
- If I do not want to buy from you, which places do you recommend I look?
- What should I look for when comparing places to buy my contact lenses?
- Which online retailer do you recommend?
- Do you offer any rebates or coupons if I buy from you?
- Food and Drug Administration, Contact Lens Prescription, Aug. 2009 http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/HomeHealthandConsumer/ConsumerProducts/ContactLenses/ucm062345.htm
- All About Vision, Where’s the Best Place To Buy Contact Lenses? http://www.allaboutvision.com/buysmart/contact.htm
- Contact Lens Council “Statistics on Contact Lens Wear in the U.S., Nov 2004 http://www.contactlenscouncil.com/pcon-stats.htm (Based on 2000 data)