How to buy glasses online (Part 4): DB Vision

This is Part 4 of my multipart review How to buy glasses online. I have already posted my review of Warby Parker and Glasses.com. This is the third and final review to complete my comparison, and will be followed by a recap and summary post in Part 5.

DB Digital Balance – DBVision.com

Each of the companies reviewed in this series stand out from the crowd for one reason or another: Glasses.com for its branding and designer frames. Warby Parker for its soaring popularity and media coverage. DB Vision also caught my eye for some exceptional reasons. It is probably the most unique in terms of the product (digital lenses) and shopping experience (online or via kiosk in select locations). DB may be the least well-known, but hopefully this review will change that.


Since this has been my first time buying glasses online, I have relied a lot on word-of-mouth and online product reviews to narrow down my options. DB Vision was, for me, a mysterious newcomer (launched in June 2012 according to their Facebook page) that I happened upon incidentally with a Google search back in early July when I was looking for sites that offered free home try-on. Their website is sleek and modern in appearance and layout, but the brand itself is so new that a quick search for DB Vision or "Digital Balance reviews" brings up next to nothing.

That's usually enough for me to move along, but their offer of a pair of frames + digital lenses for only $99 (a rock-bottom $59 for standard polycarbonate) and no bump in price with either type of lens for high index got me extremely interested. Just the frames alone were priced at only $39 and could also be ordered with plano (non-Rx) or prescription sunglass lenses [See "Updated Prices" below]. They also provide 30-day no-hassle returns and have a one-year anti-scratch policy on all lenses.

I returned to the website a few days in a row to browse the frames and read more about the lenses, coatings and other information. When I viewed the Find A Location page to see where the company was based, it simply stated "shopping malls, pharmacies and military bases", with no addresses. The website has since been updated, so I'm going from memory, but there was an indication that you could visit kiosks at these locations and purchase your glasses with a swipe of a credit card. The minimalist level of information kept me a little in the dark, but I was intrigued. An optician with self-service kiosks in malls and pharmacies? As the kind of person who prefers self-checkout to dealing with humans, that's right up my alley. Major geek points. As it happens, however, their locations are all in Texas.

Some expert Googling skills helped me to determine that DB Vision is part of the Dr. Barnes group of companies including Dr. Barnes Eyemart Express, Dr. Barnes Vision 4 less, Dr. Barnes Vision Mart Express and Dr. Barnes Eyewear Express. Wow, he sure loves his name. (I admit Dr. B. is a nice name.) None of these are well-known in New York, so I had simply never heard of them.

What would the quality of DB Vision lenses be like? I was tempted to start with a set of home demo frames and go from there, but one can never be too safe before giving away their credit card details to secure an order from an unknown company with a minimalist website. I'm naturally wary about this, so I threw out a tweet to see if anyone could help.


My request for reviews and link to Dallas eyeglass mogul H. Doug Barnes' multimillionaire profile netted me a kind response from @DBVisionEyewear explaining that the company is new and inviting me to be their first reviewer, even going as far as to offer me a complimentary pair of glasses. The personal touch sold it for me and I placed my first in-home try-on order for 4 demo frames.

Later, I would receive a tweet and blog comment from Nancy (@teagreenmint) raving about the quality and price of her digital glasses from DB Vision. You can read about her experience buying from a DB Vision kiosk at RiteAid here. Apart from some delays with shipping (20 days from start to finish with some gaps in communication) her order was packed well and she is very happy with her glasses and the customer service. I love that social media can so easily change the way companies do business and consumers find information and like-minded shoppers. This is one of the reasons why I decided to write these reviews. Many thanks to Nancy for getting in touch!

[Update] Hot off the presses: If you're visiting from Texas, be sure to check out this article over at Dallas News for more information about the Barnes family, DB Vision's innovative business plan, its in-store and mall locations, and how to purchase your frames from one of their kiosks. I like this quote in particular:

As for competitive reception at the mall: "It’s been bloody murder," he says. "We knew that they weren't going to be happy, but we didn’t know how bad of a reaction we were going to get." DB Vision opened 20 feet away from the entrance of the EyeMasters in NorthEast Mall in Hurst. "They would just stand in their doorway and glare at us," Barnes says. "They forced us to move to the center of the mall. It’s next to the Gap, so it's actually better for us."

That's how you know you're doing something right!

Note that the frame options and buying process differ in-person from online and that this review is for the website only. Already purchased from DB Vision at an offline location? Be sure to share your review in the comment section below.


Customer Service

My Twitter contact from DB Vision kept in steady communication with me throughout my ordering process and answered all of my questions (there were many) in a cheerful, polite and prompt manner. I also received a helpful email from Matt McBride answering some of my questions about the company's background, lenses and home try-on service. For instance, he gave me this bit of background about the company:

Who is DB Vision?
DB Vision is the newest optical experience by Dr. Barnes, – a visionary committed to value and quality for more than 37 years, and who owns and operates more than 130 optical retail stores in 32 states. Based out of its home office in Farmers Branch, Tx, DB Vision is focused on developing the best online optical retail experience possible, along with small optical retail footprint solutions in malls and pharmacies.

Because my online order was being dealt with personally – there are no DB Vision kiosks in New York at present – I had no delays and felt that there was always someone at hand to help me. The website could do with some improvements to streamline the ordering process (more on that below), but I could not have asked for more patient customer service. By the end, I had opted for 4 home trials spaced over a month and asked plenty of questions about the lenses, coatings, edge polish, frames, etc. I have yet to encounter a single offline optician who would be as generous with their time and information as that of the online retailers reviewed here.

As far as social media engagement, I dealt mostly via DM on Twitter. There have been only a few public posts on that account, and no real action on their Facebook page (not that I'm so bothered about Facebook). Since I am one of the earliest customers on the website and their kiosk locations are still being named, perhaps it is just early days. Maybe they are even better known in Texas and the name has simply not reached New York yet. I do hope that they will consider taking a more active role on social media. It's a great way to spread the word and keep an ongoing conversation with existing and potential customers.


Digital Balance Lenses

Out of all the companies in my multi-part review, only DBVision.com offers digitally-surfaced lenses that they call Digital Balance lenses:

Polycarbonate Digital Balance Lenses

DB Vision offers high-definition eyeglass lenses called Digital Balance. Digital Balance lenses are the result of an advanced manufacturing process that reduces higher-order aberrations – difficulty seeing at night, glare, halos, blurring, starbursts, double-vision – occurring in lenses created with traditional lens manufacturing tools and processes. With digitally surfaced Digital Balance lenses, the fabrication of the lenses from an eyeglass prescription is optimized with advanced manufacturing tools or "surfacing" equipment much more precise than conventional tools. In fact, digital technology can surface a lens in higher power intervals compared to increments of conventional eyeglass lens tooling. When optimizing the lens power, the technology also takes into consideration how the lenses, when in the frames, are positioned in front of the eyes. The result of a Digital Balance lens is a viewing experience 10 times more accurate at all points of the lens when looking through it, and a view that's like looking at the world in high definition!

You have to admit that it sounds amazing. And it should! Any high-index wearers who have been to their local optician or Lenscrafters recently will certainly been pushed into upgrading to digital or HD lenses. My optician was going to dispense me 1.67 high index digital lenses (as offered by DB Vision) for $375 plus I would have had to buy my frame elsewhere because I don't have vision insurance. That deal was actually fair by offline optician standards. Lenscrafters wanted something like $750 for their equivalent lenses after all the prerequisite up-selling that they force on customers.

Now, while I am becoming proficient in purchasing glasses online, I am not an expert on digital lens surfacing or high definition lens options. I do think that what Luxottica companies up-sell as improved digital lenses are certainly not worth what they charge. The information provided by DB Vision does specifically not indicate that their digital lenses are "free form", which is a term I have often heard to describe the digital process. I don't even know if there's a single industry standard on that, so I am not sure of the technical veracity of claims about better clarity.

I found this useful website which explains in the most detail I have seen thus far how new digital, free-form lenses make an improvement upon the prescription clarity of standard polycarbonate lenses. Apart from lessening higher-level aberrations via more accurate surfacing, the other improvements - namely, greater Rx accuracy up to 1/100th of a diopter, and better vision acuity based on how close the frame sits to your eye - seems like something that would have to be measured at the time of your optical exam using digitally calibrated machines and/or at the time of your fitting, respectively. How that can be achieved by purchasing via the web is not entirely clear to me. All I know for sure is how I feel and see when I put them on; and I think most people will agree that that is the most important test.



Frame Selection

To put the DBVision.com shopping experience in context with the other companies under review here, they also offer in-home try-on (IHTO) for free, with 4 frames for up to 5 days and free return shipping. They carry a variety of metal and acetate, full-rim or half-rim, frames organized on the site into four categories: Business, Vintage, Sport+Sun and Fashion, with 18 unique styles in each category. These categories are helpful and pretty accurate in terms of an overall label for the styles contained in each one.

Business frames tend to have a more executive look, with simple styling and sharper angles in acetate, half-rim metal and classic wire frames. Since I tend to like simple, rectangular frames, a lot of these were my favorites. In my first two IHTOs, I ordered several of these as demos, including Broker (which I nearly selected as my final choice) and Asset.

The Vintage frames are mostly chunky plastics in bold, geek-worthy styles like wayfarers or aviators. My absolute favorite frames that I tried on came from this category – called Berkley – but they were sadly too large for my face. If you are considering them, they are a very nice frame with a solid build and black front acetate backed by tortoise shell, which gives them deep, rich warmth that will work well with most skin tones. I was sad when these didn't work out for me.

The Sport + Sun collection features fashionable sunglasses as well as streamlined wire frames with sporting lifestyles in mind. I tried the Finish Line wire frames, which have curved stem tips that really hold on well to the back of your head during physical activity. I almost went for these wire frames just for the jogging benefits. They really stay put.

Finally, the Fashion collection stands out with its colorful and shiny details on the temples. You can't tell at first glance on the website until you look at all angles of the frame, but the glasses in this collection are adorned with metallic patterns, sparkly rhinestones or even leopard print. I surprised myself by choosing a frame from this collection – Soho – in chunky gray acetate, but they are also rather vintage in style.

My first IHTO order arrived within a few days of placing it and the following three orders were just as prompt. Overall, the frames are excellent quality and I believe that they all have sprung hinges for comfort. I had one wonky frame in the trials, but this is something I also experienced with the other companies. It can be annoying, but I am certain that no company would hesitate to send out a new demo pair for you should you contact them about it. I just ordered them again in my next set.


The frame selection at DB Vision (72 different styles) is certainly broad, but it would have been nice to see two or three color options per frame. Sometimes a second color is shown in the sample images, but it is not clear whether or not you can order it. For instance, my Soho frames also come in tortoise/olive as worn by one of the models on the item page (I'm partial to tortoise).

As mentioned above, a majority of the glasses have some kind of hardware adornment on the temple, like a chrome segment or pyramidal rows of plastic. I tend not to like shiny metal bits stuck to things and looked for more plain options. But as it happens, the Soho frames have silver details on the temples, and I like them a lot! So I am fairly confident that there are frames in their collections to suit everyone. Sometimes you have to go out of your comfort zone and you'll be surprised. A trickier request would be to have the frames come in petite sizes. That would be helpful for me, but a lot of frame manufacturers only make one size. It's just my bad luck that I like more "masculine" frames that tend to be larger.

[There is not much room here for a full explanation about what I mean when I say that the frames "are too big" for my prescription, so I am going to write a separate section in my next post regarding binocular PD, "frame PD", lens sizes and how you can optimize your frame choice for high-index lenses.]


Website Features

The DB Vision website was still under construction when I first visited and it has since been updated to contain more information, such as store locations. The four glasses categories described above are prominently featured for easy browsing from the top of the page. You can also view the frames on models in their online look book.


Also on the site are FAQs about their lenses, coating options and policies. Admittedly, the website has a few teething problems. For one, some pages of the look book do not match the frame selection. Clicking on the links, you are brought to the wrong page, or, alternatively, the frame available for purchase is a different color. I mention this only because it is an easy fix to remedy the links.

As I also noted about the Warby Parker website, there are no vertical dimensions on the frames, so you are left wondering just how big your glasses will be. Had I known some of the frames would be 37mm in height(under 29mm is ideal for me), I would not have included them in my IHTO. There is no virtual try-on, so IHTO is really the only option and of course that's the best way to be sure of the fit. The pictures of the models wearing the glasses do not help as much as one might think. Plus, I have been confused by the colors of the frames and even the tint on the sunglasses, because it looks much darker on the model than the sample photo of the frame on its own.

Having said that, I love the 360-degree interactive images on each frame page. The pictures are really clear and you can get a good feel for the glasses by turning them around. As far as I can tell, it's a site feature unique to DB (and its sister sites).

Any information not yet on the site has been readily available to me through my Twitter contact. One way that communication could be improved for customers, however, is with a live chat facility. I tend to use live chat more than telephone when I'm shopping online. It's just a preference, but I think it helps to have as many live communication options as possible. Of course telephone support is available.

One of the reasons why I had to place my final order for my DB Vision glasses by Twitter and email is because I could not enter my prescription on the website. The strength of my OD was not listed in the drop-down menus. Relatively speaking, it is not that strong a prescription, and they did a great job filling it, so I'm not sure why the option is not on there. One last note is that in the order history in my Account, no tracking number is provided for shipments (even though there's a place for it). On the positive side, there is a page which instructs you on how to adjust your glasses yourself in case they don’t fit right out of the box. DB will also refund you up to $10 if you have to take them to your optician for an adjustment.


My DB Vision Glasses

I placed my order via email on August 28th and received my new DB Vision glasses in the post via overnight delivery on September 7th. The delivery was prompt and the glasses were very well packaged in a sleek black case inside a DB vision box, which was bubble padded in an outer cardboard shipping box. Inside the case, they were wrapped in a foam sheet secured with tape. Also included were a new cleaning cloth (very nice) and a handy screw driver tool. I appreciate the care that went in to packing them so well. I actually really like the glasses case, too; it has squared edges and a nice "brushed" appearance on the matte black finish.

At 49mm wide by about 32mm high, the Soho frames have bigger lenses than I'm used to wearing. I would normally not order lenses this "tall" because I always presume that I will notice a lot of distortion or dizziness. But I really loved how they looked in the home try-on and wanted to try something new. They have a fun, vintage-geeky style to them that suits me perfectly. Also, I predicted that they would be a good test for the clarity of the digital lenses, especially the claims that Digital Balance lenses offer a wider, more accurate and sharper field of view. Are they really as great as they sound?

The glasses looked perfect when I unwrapped them. Since I have had some initial trouble with this from Glasses.com, I examined the edge of the lens closely before putting the glasses on. They were cut completely accurately. The thick acetate frame hides the edges nicely and I immediately loved the black/gray color frames even more than I remembered from the demo frames.

I slipped them on and gave my eyes a few minutes to adjust. They definitely felt different from my other glasses and they were certainly clear and sharp. At the time of writing, I have been wearing them since I first tried them on. They feel great and don't make me dizzy at all. I never see any reflections or lines in bright sunlight or in traffic at night. The anti-reflective coating is as good as any premium-priced lens I've worn before. Having "tested" them a bit over the past few days, I also believe that there is a wider field of view compared with other lenses I have worn. That is to say, there is less distortion as I look through more peripheral parts of the lens and when I move my head from side to side. As a result, I'm exceedingly pleased that I chose the frames that I liked the most even though they had bigger lenses. Avid readers may recall that in my last update to my review of Glasses.com in Part 2, I hypothesized that some of my dizziness might have come from the large lenses. Not so with my DB Vision glasses.


The frames are also comfortable. For the sake of being thorough, the bridge may be a little wide for my nose (they slide just a bit) and I do kind of wish they had maybe a 16mm instead of 18mm bridge, but that can easily be remedied with some stick-on pads or by following the adjustment advice on the website. I used the included screwdriver to tighten up the stems at the hinges which needed only a half turn at best. Just to cover everything, the silvery detail on the left side/temple feels a tiny bit loose if I grip it with my fingers, but nothing that I would otherwise notice while they are on.

I can safely say that I highly recommend DB Vision glasses and Digital Balance lenses for the quality of frame and lens, their selection of both modern and classic frames, and their generous and attentive customer service. I have been receiving many hits on my website since I first made mention of reviewing DB Vision. There is obviously a decent pool of potential customers waiting to learn more about the company and maybe a little nervous about jumping in with a new retailer in what is becoming an overwhelming marketplace. To these visitors, I recommend that you give DB Vision a try!


Updated Prices

One of the things that initially drew me to DB Vision was their competitive prices. As mentioned above, in early July 2012, the cost of frames was $39, and any frame including lenses started at $59 for regular polycarbonate and just $99 for digital lenses. Since then, there have been some changes. All frames (as of August 19, 2012) now cost $50. The option for standard polycarbonate lenses has been removed, so now they only offer digital lenses. The price of these has jumped to $199 (excluding frames), or $249 with frames. While this is still highly competitive (recall that the same deal from my local optician would have cost me $475 for frame and lens), it is more than double the introductory price. The price for no-line progressives also jumped up to $299 from what I believe was $159 or $179 previously. Adding transition lenses in gray or brown adds $75 to the price. I am pretty sure that the cost of Rx sunglasses has increased, too (now $269) but I can't remember what it was originally. As much as I'd like a pair, I can't afford Rx sunglasses at that price.


Similarly, and although this is technically out of the scope of this high-index review, my mom and dad are looking for no-line progressives + transitions, and these are another expensive buy from the optician. From DB Vision, they come out to $424 for digital progressives. At Glasses.com, designer frames with no-line polycarbonate progressives and transitions came out to $198. Eyebuydirect can do "free form" photochromic progressives for as low as $75. (I have read good things about Eyebuydirect, but as yet do not know how their "free form" lenses might measure up to DB Vision's high quality digital lenses). So as not to continue inadvertently publicizing their earlier prices (I published my review table in Part 1 with the then-accurate figures some weeks ago), this explanation was necessary.

Update: I just read the following in the Dallas News article mentioned above (published two days ago, September 8, 2012):

Barnes wanted to offer only the high-end digital lenses but found that some customers didn't trust newfangled lenses. And some felt the prices were too good to be true, so he actually raised them. "The most shocking thing was that people couldn't and wouldn't believe the price. By raising the price, we've seen more people be comfortable with purchasing the digital product."

Really, Texas? This appropriately biblical facepalm is for you:





Final Thoughts

Which brings me to my last point. Up until now, I had been wearing the same glasses since about 2002 and the same lenses since about 2004 (I had them re-lensed when I could not afford to buy new frames). Although the frames have held up, my lenses were well and truly past their utility at least 3 or 4 years ago. The coating had all but scratched off (I wear them every day, in all conditions, including gale force winds on cliffs in Spain during my fieldwork). For the past year especially, looking through them was extremely uncomfortable. The right eye had a big worn patch right in my field of view; everything looked blotchy and unclear. Now, after wearing my new glasses for a few minutes, I could never return to the old ones. I'm not even sure how I managed to tolerate them for so long and I just hope it didn't do any lasting damage.

The frames only survived as long as they have because I am really careful with them, knowing that, despite their importance for my everyday well-being and optical health, I cannot afford to replace them at the prices that opticians generally charge. After scraping by on student loans and loose change to pay for my PhD only to enter a dire job market with no healthcare coverage, no insurance and no federal aid or state benefits, I have to watch every penny. Anyone who has ever spent upwards of $600 on glasses that they could not really afford - evidently not a problem for wealthy Dallasites fearful of a good deal - never sits on them by mistake, throws them, leaves them lying around out of their case or cleans their lenses with the corner of their shirt.

Understanding the extortionate cost of wearing high index glasses is yet another reason why I have been so meticulous throughout my reviews. A lot of people might not notice small imperfections where I look for them. But my glasses have to last a long time! I have even kept my old frames which – I give credit in part to sturdy construction by Ocean Pacific in addition to my own care – are still in pristine shape and would probably outlast most new frames on the market today. I doubt I'll wear them again given the plethora of frame choices at reasonable prices online, but you never know.

I am very thankful that companies like DB Vision, Warby Parker and Glasses.com (among dozens of other online retailers) exist and that they offer such amazing discounts to their customers. For some, acquiring a haul of cheap glasses on the internet is just for fun, but being able to afford to see again was a lifesaver for me. For once, I own more than one pair, alleviating my horror that my glasses might break at an inopportune moment and I will have to recruit a seeing-eye dog to find my way home. I am also confident that if my prescription changes or if I need to replace them in a year or two, I have much more affordable options than ever before. Not only that, but they look great and give me fantastic clarity of vision. No more ugly, over-priced, bottom-of-the-barrel frame and lens options earmarked for the uninsured who are invariably treated like dregs by Luxottica.

Above all, DB Vision was extremely generous in offering me a complimentary pair of glasses without any demands as to the content of this review (unlike "sponsored" reviews of other popular online retailers that you will certainly find on other blogs). Everything you have read here is my honest opinion and reflects my actual experience. I am always pleased to find companies that understand and adapt to today's consumer world influenced by social media, where people expect honest reviews to reflect the integrity of honest companies, or they move along elsewhere.

I wish DB great success as they expand into the growing market. Their edge will be their digital lenses with their standout production (the best cut lenses I have seen throughout my buying experiences), attention to detail in packing and shipping, good variety of frame styles, innovative shopping methods (online or via kiosk) and, of course, the personal touch. All they need now is a storefront in New York!


Want more?

Stay tuned for a summary post recapping my shopping experience (with photos of my glasses if I get around to taking some) an updated comparison table, a Frame PD tutorial and tips about choosing the right frame for your face given the properties of high index lenses.

Continue to Part 5.

Looking for more reviews and advice? Go back to Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3.


Eyeglasses Review Index



Images:

All DB Vision images are from DB Vision.com and belong to DB Vision.
Jesus facepalm from MotivatedPhotos.com

4 comments:

DMI said...

Hey, thanks so much fr your crazy research and detailed analysis of your adventure. Based on your article, I am thinking of buying a pair from DB Vision. However, i see that they have been bought out by Rite Aid. On the other hand, the prices have gone back down to the original low prices. Contemplating...

Fran Barone said...

Thank you for your comment, DMI. Yes, it looks like Rite Aid bought out DB. The frames and lenses look the same. I actually haven't worn my DB frames in a while because they need an adjustment. The lenses are clear, but a bit heavier than my others, so they keep sliding down. The price is pretty much in line with other companies of this sort and of course the in-home trial is handy, so you really can't go wrong at least to begin with. Only thing is that I can't see if they still have a good returns policy on the glasses. Guess I'll have to add an update to this post soon.

DMI said...

I recently ordered the in-home try on from dbvision (RiteAidVision) and it was definitely cool to try on pairs before buying them. I am used to making the 'educated guesses' when ordering my usual pair from Zenni's online. However, i am so close to ordering a pair with digital lenses due to my issue with glare at night, but i a caught in between because i just don't understand how it can be a true digital lens without them doing special measurements and/or frame fitting to the individual.

Jeff Lints said...

Thanks so much for your thorough reviews. Just what I was looking for!

Post a Comment

If you got this far, you should probably leave a comment, no?

top