Best-Kept Online Secret: Cheap Eyeglasses

Commentator Daniel Pinkwater marvels at how he can get really well-made glasses online at a fraction of the cost of over-the-counter ones.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Commentator Daniel Pinkwater is good at many things, writing children's books, trainings dogs, and he's always the life of every party. He owes his special view of the world to being terribly nearsighted all his life and that's why he was so excited to finally get the perfect pair of glasses.

DANIEL PINKWATER: I wish you could see my cool eyeglasses. The frames are modern, hip, cool and sexy. The lenses are progressive, that means they are the no line, continuous, good for all distances bifocals. Also, they are photochromic, turning to sunglasses when you go outside, and they are scratch-resistant, filter out harmful ultraviolet rays, and have an anti-reflective coating, so you don't get those halos around the headlights of oncoming cars at night.

Glasses wearers will know that when I went down to the mall and ordered these goggles I had to lay out a sum of money equivalent to the price of a used car for them - but I didn't. These spectacular spectacles cost about 100 bucks. I got them online. I Googled cheap eyeglasses and a number of listings appeared.

I picked the one that offered a complete pair of glasses for 7.99 plus shipping, 14 bucks. Couldn't possibly be any good, but I took a chance, ordered a pair of reading glasses. In addition to having a copy of the prescription, you need to know your pupilary distance to order like this, that's the distance between your pupils. You can request it when you get your eyes examined or you could have someone take a measurement with a metric ruler.

When the glasses arrived, they looked okay, worked okay. I took them down to my excellent optometrist and he checked them out. They were right on, would have cost about 125 at the store. I asked him, how the commercial enterprise justified a 90 percent difference in price? He said the lenses cost about a quarter to make, the frame maybe a buck, but there is rent, advertising, all that overhead.

Then, it was the issue of patriotism. Do you want to patronize an optician in some foreign country, instead of an American optical shop that buys the lenses and frames from some foreign country? Mm-hmm.

No punch line to this, just a consumer tip. Next time, I think I'll order some of those Elvis-Presley-type sunglasses.

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SIEGEL: Daniel Pinkwater is a longtime commentator for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. He's also a children's book writer, and if you go to his Web site, pinkwater.com, he's giving away his new novel for free.

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SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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