Buying Eyeglasses Online
A good idea? Not necessarily.
If you've ever ordered products online, you know that the Internet often beats a regular store hands-down for convenience. For one thing, you don't need to leave your house. Plus, with just a few clicks of your mouse, you can comparison shop for a great price.
However, you need to consider certain issues when you buy eyeglasses online, because every pair of glasses is a custom-made item. Not only are there different designs and materials of both frames and lenses and different lens treatments, but everybody's head and eyes are different, too. So you or an optician must take various measurements for a proper fit.
An advantage of going to a traditional optical store is that an optician can walk you through the process. Sometimes, he or she will do this so smoothly that you're not even aware of all the choices. When you order online, you must make each decision on your own, and it can seem overwhelming.
Most online eyewear providers feature a catalog that shows the frames they offer in detail. You can view each available color and read a description of the features, such as what frame material they're made of (plastic or metal, for example), and whether they have spring hinges.
You also need to decide what lens material and which lens coatings, if any, you want. Are polycarbonate, high-index or regular plastic lenses best for you? Do you need ultraviolet (UV) coating? What about an anti-reflective coating? Is a tint a good idea?
- Have questions about dry eye? Submit them to our dry eye expert or find answers to previously submitted questions
- Still afraid of Lasik? This new interactive quiz separates fact from fiction
- This useful, one-stop guide takes you through the LASIK experience before, during and after surgery
If you're comfortable making these decisions yourself, you should have no problem with online ordering; if not, you may want to ask an optician for help.
Selecting and fitting multifocal lenses require a professional's expertise.
Great Vision Requires Accurate PD Measurement
The optical center of your eyeglass lenses is the part that gives you the truest vision, and it should be directly in front of your pupils. To determine how to place the lenses in your frames so the optical center is customized for your eyes, the eyeglasses lab needs to know the distance between your pupils, or PD.
It can be tricky to measure your own PD, somewhat akin to trying to cut your own hair. Dispensers need lots of practice to be able to measure PDs correctly, and even experienced opticians have difficulty taking their own in a mirror.
Most online optical providers present you with several ways to go about this important task. Some suggest the simplest method, which is to have your prescribing eye doctor or an optician take the measurement for you. Alternatively, they offer step-by-step explanations of how to take your own PD in the mirror, or how to have a friend take it for you.
Fit: Getting the Most Comfortable Eyeglasses
The way that eyeglasses fit your face and head is another important issue. Frames that are too large or that don't fit the bridge of your nose properly can slip. Not only is that uncomfortable, but you also can get a headache if you're not looking through the optical centers of the lenses.
Unskilled at choosing your own glasses? At brick-and-mortar stores, an optician is there to help you.
Alternatively, if your glasses are too small, they will be uncomfortable to wear; they can pinch the sides of your head and leave red marks on your temples. They also can cause discomfort behind your ears or on your nose.
It can be challenging to try to fit yourself with eyeglasses, but some online stores offer tips. One site suggests that you select eyeglasses in a size that is close to your current glasses, or that you measure your head with a measuring tape or use your hat size as a reference.
It's important to note that the prescription strength and weight of your lenses also play into whether your eyeglasses will be comfortable and look good.
Many times, an experienced optician is a good judge of whether the frames you love will work for you, or whether they will cause you problems once the lenses are inserted. A knowledgeable optician also can tell you about thinner, lighter lenses that will make your glasses more attractive and more comfortable especially if you have a strong prescription.
Making Sure Glasses Look Great on You
When you shop in a traditional optical store and want to know how a pair of glasses looks on you, you simply try them on.
Optical websites offer creative solutions to address this important issue. Some sites allow you to upload a photo of yourself to the site, and then superimpose the image of the frames you're interested in on your picture. Others offer tips on finding the right eyeglasses for your face shape and recommend styles of frames to complement your facial features.
Buying Bifocal Eyeglasses Online
Bifocals and progressive lenses present additional challenges. Fitting multifocal lenses is an intricate process because an additional prescription power is added to the lens, and extra measurements must be taken.
Most sites shy away from offering bifocals and progressive lenses, although some give shoppers the option of contacting them via e-mail and going through the process on an individual basis, rather than by filling out a form.
Multifocal lenses also come in many different styles. Determining which one is right for you often requires an in-depth discussion with a knowledgeable dispenser or doctor. Even if you already wear bifocals, if you are limited to just certain lenses on a website, you might not find out whether you're getting the optimal lens for your visual needs.
Online Return Policies
Some companies that offer Web-based optical goods post their return policies on their sites, so if you find the glasses aren't right for you, you can get some sort of refund. These policies often are consistent with what is offered at brick-and-mortar optical stores. Naturally, if you return a pair of eyeglasses that has been mistreated or is missing parts, you probably won't get much of a refund, or any at all.
Convenience and Price
In many ways, it is easier to select eyeglasses if you have an optician helping you.
However, purchasing eyewear online often is less expensive and may be more convenient. If you already know which frames you want to purchase and have measurements taken by an optical professional, it can be a delight to sit down at the keyboard to order your new eyeglasses and wait for them to arrive in the mail.
Certainly, people who have difficulty traveling, are in remote areas or are just plain busy may prefer buying their glasses online rather than making the trip to an optical store.
The bargains that you can get online can be attractive, but it takes a bit of work to make sure you're getting a good deal. Just as with any other product, a little comparison shopping by telephone, in person or at other websites can be valuable.
Like the eyewear itself, the decision whether or not to buy online is very individual. If you decide that buying eyeglasses online is for you, arming yourself with as much information as possible beforehand will help you get the most out of the experience.
[Page updated July 2014]
For more Eyeglass Frames and Lenses articles, please visit this section's home page or use the search box below.