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The Best Way to Buy Contact Lenses: Online vs. in Store

Buying contact lenses can be a daunting process given the variety of options available.

The three primary ways to buy contact lenses are from your doctor, a local retail store, and online. While some sources may tell you one option is better than the others, each has their positives and negatives. The key is to find the option that is right for you.

Getting a Prescription

To purchase contact lenses, you must have a prescription from an eye doctor.

After conducting an eye examination, an optometrist may determine that you need corrective care to help your eyesight. If this is the case, they may prescribe you contact lenses. 

Importantly, your provider is required to provide you with a copy of your prescription, which allows you to purchase contact lenses from outside sources, including online websites and local retail stores.

When you receive your prescription information, it is important to verify that the following information is included:

  • Your name
  • The date of your examination
  • The date your prescription begins and the day it ends
  • The name, address, and contact information of your provider
  • Any specifications about the lenses, including the power, materials or manufacturers, diameter, and curve

Having this important information will ensure that the needs of your eyes are met appropriately regardless of where you end up purchasing your contact lenses.

Buying Contacts From Your Eye Doctor

In many cases, your provider will be able to sell you contact lenses directly. This is generally a straightforward process, and you simply purchase the lenses following your examination with your new prescription.

Many eye doctors stock contact lenses, so you can have your lenses in hand immediately. In some cases, they may not have your prescription in stock, so your lenses may be mailed to your home, or you can pick them up at your doctor’s office.

Buying Contacts Online

In order to buy contact lenses online, you must first have a prescription with the information detailed above. Once you have received a prescription, you can choose from a number of online retailers.

According to Forbes, some of the best places to purchase contact lenses online include the following:

Other big-box retailers also offer contact lenses online, such as Target Optical and Costco

When buying contact lenses online, you can often take advantage of discounts and special offers. Many sites offer discounts on your first order if you sign up for their mailing list.

Buying Contacts From a Retail Store

If you live near a retail store, especially Walgreens or Costco, you may be able to fill your contact lens prescription there. Just like with any other method, purchasing contact lenses in person or online from a retail store requires that you provide the vendor with your prescription.

Many stores have the option to check their inventory online before heading there in person. In order to save time, check your local store’s inventory to make sure that your specific brand of contact lenses can be found.

Pros & Cons of Each Option

Each method of buying contact has its own set of pros and cons.

ProsCons
Eye DoctorYou’ll already be there for your eye exam, so you can have contacts in hand quickly.  Product is given to you directly by a health care professional.They likely accept your insurance, lowering the overall cost.Prices can range from cheaper to more expensive than other options, solely based on your provider.
OnlineOrdering is relatively easy, and information can be saved for future purchases.You can research sites to find better rates, potentially giving you a more economical price overall.You have the widest variety of choices online.Sites may offer discounts or special offers.Depending on the site, they may accept your insurance, lowering the overall cost.You may have to pay shipping charges.Some sites may not always be able to fill your exact prescription.
Retail StoresThis option may be more convenient since you can leave with contacts.Some stores may offer deals or discounts on contact lenses.You may be able to access optometrist services within the store itself.They may not always have the product on hand to fill your exact prescription.They may not accept your insurance.

How Does Insurance Work for Contact Lenses?

Depending on your insurance plan, contacts may be covered. If your insurance plan covers vision services, your lens fitting appointment will likely be covered.

Some plans also cover the cost of contact lenses. If you have a plan that covers contact lenses, be sure to check with the source you are buying from to ensure they accept your insurance in order to avoid unexpected costs.

To find out if your eye doctor accepts your insurance, contact their office directly. Some online sites, such as 1-800 CONTACTS, accept insurance for contact lens sales. Some retail stores, such as Walgreens, accept insurance when you visit in person, but they do not offer an option to use insurance if you order online.

Make sure to ask the retailer if they accept your insurance plan before you begin the purchase process.

What is the Cheapest Way to Buy Contacts?

There isn’t a single answer to this question. It will depend on the retailer you choose, your insurance coverage, and any special deals you can access.

A good starting place is your eye doctor. Most reputable doctors will tell you how to access the best pricing on your contacts even if they sell them in their office. 

Keep an eye out for special offers from big-box retailers like Costco, Target, and Walgreens, and compare these deals against online retailers that are dedicated to contact lenses, such as 1-800 CONTACTS.

Always ensure you are buying from a trusted and reputable source, particularly if pricing seems too good to be true. Some websites may be selling contact lenses illegally, or they may give you a type of contact lens that is different from your prescription. Using the wrong contact lenses or expired contact lenses can cause unwanted, harmful side effects to your eyes.

Where to Buy Contact Lenses FAQs 

Where can I buy contact lenses?

You have plenty of options when it comes to buying contact lenses. Most eye doctors sell contacts in their offices. You can purchase contacts online from both dedicated contact lens retailers as well as big-box retailers. You can also walk into brick-and-mortar retailers and walk out with contact lenses.

Can I buy contact lenses over the counter? 

In order to buy contact lenses, you need a prescription from your doctor. Contact lenses cannot be sold to anyone without a current valid prescription. If a retailer will sell you contact lenses without a prescription, they are not legitimate.

Can you buy prescription contact lenses online?

Yes. If you have a prescription for contact lenses, you are able to buy them online.

References

  1. Buying Contact Lenses. (October 2020). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

  2. Buying Prescription Glasses or Contact Lenses: Your Rights. (May 2021). U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

  3. The Contact Lens Rule: A Guide for Prescribers and Sellers. (June 2020). U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

  4. 7 Of The Best Places To Order Contact Lenses Online. (August 2022). Forbes.

  5. Yes! We Accept Vision Insurance. 1-800 Contacts.

  6. Can I Order Contacts Online With Insurance? For Eyes at Walgreens.

  7. Contact Lenses. (August 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last Updated November 1, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.