If you're looking for more options and discounts on eyeglasses and contact lenses, browse some stores in the military exchanges' online mall.
For those who don't live near a military exchange with an optical shop, the online mall opens up possibilities. The stores were set up to offer the same low prices that shoppers find at brick-and-mortar optical shops in exchange complexes.
Armed Forces Eyewear, for example, lists more than 100,000 items — eyeglasses, prescription and nonprescription sunglasses, goggles, tactical eyewear and contact lenses. There are styles for men, women and children. Armed Forces Eyewear is the military division of Frames Direct, a large online retailer.
The Web site offers members of the military community discounts of up to 30 percent. The discounts are available only to those authorized to shop at the military exchanges — active-duty, National Guard and reserve members, retirees and family members.
Shipping is free by regular mail on everything but contact lenses, and if items are in stock, you'll generally receive them in three to seven business days, said Lauren Purcell, military liaison for Armed Forces Eyewear.
The site also offers deals for the military community exclusively, allowing you to select from a variety of packages with lenses and frames for $39, $59 or $79.
For prescription lenses, orders can take up to two weeks for the company to order and process in the lab. Before shipping, an employee calls the customer to make sure the order is correct. If it's a prescription lens, the customer can fax or e-mail the prescription, and the company will verify the information with the doctor's office.
If you're unsure about buying frames and lenses online, just try them on! Armed Forces Eyewear has a feature called FrameFinder Virtual TryOn, which lets you upload a photo of yourself and place different frames on your face. The company also has developed a TryOn kiosk that will be installed at on-base optical stores starting next year.
The company gives a 100 percent refund if the product is returned within 30 days, including prescription eyewear. Minimal restrictions apply to contact lens returns.
You can go directly to the site through www.afeyewear.com">www.afeyewear.com. You'll see a variety of items, but before you can view prices, you'll be prompted for your information as an authorized exchange customer.
You can also go to your military Exchange Online Mall at www.aafes.com">www.aafes.com, www.usmc-mccs.org">www.usmc-mccs.org, www.navy-nex.com">www.navy-nex.com and www.cg-exchange.com">www.cg-exchange.com.
There are lots of ways to get into the store. In the "retailer" drop-down menu under the Exchange Online Mall icon, choose "Armed Forces Eyewear." Or go to www.exchangeonlinemall.com">www.exchangeonlinemall.com and click on "Contacts and Eyewear."
Another exchange mall retailer, MilitaryContacts.net, offers discounts of up to 30 percent on mail-order contact lenses, and free shipping on orders of $50 or more or on four or more boxes of contacts.
The company gives full refunds if lenses are returned within 30 days in their unopened vials or boxes. The packing list must accompany the returned product with a note explaining why the product is being returned.
In addition to going directly to the MilitaryContacts.net Web site, you can also find the company at the online exchange malls through the routes described above.
Both companies have customer service support to help answer your questions. Identify yourself as a military customer.
Make sure you comparison shop and look at any insurance plans you have to weigh the options.
Quick holiday discounts
There are a few shopping days left before the holidays, so check out what else is available on the Exchange Online Mall.
The 2010 Exchange Online Mall Book is a free, 56-page guide to more than 100 online stores, all offering discounts to authorized military exchange shoppers.
Retailers sell items ranging from clothes to music, from cell phones to auto parts.
They're available in exchange stores or you can browse the book online at www.aafes.com">www.aafes.com, www.usmc-mccs.org">www.usmc-mccs.org, www.navy-nex.com">www.navy-nex.com or www.cg-exchange.com">www.cg-exchange.com.