Thursday, July 14, 2016

4 reasons NOT to buy glasses online

four-eyed cupcakes

Every now and then, I have patients tell me that they plan on buying their glasses online.  I can certainly understand why that would be appealing: low prices, large selection, and ease.  In our drone-delivery, instant-gratification culture, convenience is king!  I, personally, am all about finding cheaper prices from the comfort of my Snuggie (before you start judging, it's a Buzz Lightyear Snuggie).  However, knowing what I know about vision and eyewear, I would urge you to think twice before buying glasses online.  In pursuit of convenience and ease, we forgo the knowledge and expertise of the eyecare professional team in precisely fitting and knowledgeably selecting our eyewear.  This blog post is my attempt to "let the buyer beware."


Here are 4 things to consider when looking into buying eyeglasses online:

1. Questionable lens accuracy and quality. For me, this is the biggest reason to avoid buying glasses online.  A recent study of internet eyewear orders found that nearly half (44.8%) of the glasses examined had incorrect prescriptions or safety issues:
  • Nearly three out of 10 pairs (29%) of glasses ordered online had at least one lens that failed to meet the required prescription.  When you buy a pair of glasses from an optometrist's office or optical, someone typically checks the lenses for accuracy and quality before the glasses are dispensed to you.
  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of the lenses failed impact resistance testing, which highlights a major safety issue.  Children’s glasses performed even worse, with 29% failing impact testing. (1)
Quality and safety are a big deal, as is prescription accuracy.  These are not areas where you want to cut corners.  At a very minimum, you need to be sure that the power in your lenses is the power on your prescription.  I have had more than a few patients come in complaining about the glasses they bought online, only to find that the prescription in their lenses is in fact not the prescription I wrote for them.  And there's more to it than just having the prescription correct; you can still have headaches, eyestrain, and problems seeing even if the numbers match.

Beyond having the correct power in your lenses, you also need to be looking through the right part of the lens to see clearly and comfortably.  The optical center of your lens should be placed right in front of the center of your pupil.  For the maker of the glasses to know where exactly to put the lens within the frame to achieve that, an accurate pupillary distance is needed.  Multi-focal lenses (lenses that allow you to see at more than one distance, like bifocals or progressive addition lenses) involve additional measurements and powers; fitting multifocal lenses is a careful process and should definitely be done by experienced professionals.  The segment height is a specific measurement for multifocal lenses, and it needs to be measured while you are wearing the frame, with the frame positioned where you normally wear it.  Both the pupillary distance and the segment height are very important measurements that influence what part of the lens you are looking through, and what power you are getting when looking through that part of the lens.  The more complicated the prescription, the more crucial it is to consult with experienced professionals.  Some forms of optical correction, especially for children, are prescribed as part of a treatment for a condition, such as accomodative esotropia or accomodative insufficiency.  If given the incorrect treatment, the condition will not be effectively treated.  After all, glasses are considered Class 1 Medical Devices by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Glasses are not just an accessory; they require a precise prescription and accurate measurements to enable you to see clearly and comfortably.

2. Lack of customization.  Health care should be pursued in-person, because it should be tailored to the individual.  What you need in eyewear depends on your specific prescription and visual needs.  A conversation with your optometrist and optician about such things should happen in order to build a pair of glasses that gives you the best vision and comfort for your daily life.  Do you use a computer all day?  Do you drive for a living?  Do you knit?  Do you play golf?  Now more than ever, there are SO many choices in terms of lens types, materials, and coatings; it really is important to speak with a knowledgeable expert to help you navigate the options and decide on what products suit your visual needs and increase your visual comfort.

3. Lack of input in selecting an appropriate frame.  Frame selection is both an art and a science.  Did you know frames have sizes?  Glasses are NOT one-size-fits-all.  If glasses don't fit properly, you can experience physical as well as visual discomfort.  Aesthetically speaking, certain frame shapes look better on certain face shapes.  But more importantly, there are some frame sizes and styles that should be ruled out based on your prescription and/or the type of lens you need. A trained optician can tell you what frames to avoid.  The way a frame looks certainly matters, but there are many other factors to consider when choosing a frame for your lenses.

4. Customer service.  This is by no means a rule, but in general, the smaller the shop, the better the customer service. There are typically only a few degrees of separation, if any, between you and the manager or owner. You have a person to go back to if you are having any issues with your glasses, or if you need a frame adjustment. I believe human interaction is SO important to building business relationships and creating loyalty. Maybe I'm an old soul, but it's just not the same as clicking around on a website or calling a 1-800 number.


Every pair of glasses purchased online is not a disaster.  But I would suggest that you as a consumer consider service and quality as well as price and convenience.  Glasses are an investment, and you want your money to go towards a pair that fits properly and comfortably, and provides you with the best possible vision. If you choose to purchase your eyeglasses online, be informed and may the odds be ever in your favor! :)

CliffsNotes: Glasses are not one-size-fits-all accessories. A team of eye care professionals can help you choose a frame and lenses that are ideal for you, considering your prescription and visual needs.  In my opinion, the convenience of ordering glasses online is not worth the potential compromise in accuracy and quality.

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