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Buying Eyeglasses Online: A Good Idea?

If you've ever ordered products online, you know that the Internet often beats a regular store hands-down in terms of convenience. For one thing, you don't need to leave your house. Plus, with just a few clicks of your mouse or taps on your screen, 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 each person's head and eyes are different, too. Several accurate measurements are needed to achieve a comfortable fit.

An advantage of going to a traditional optical store is that an optician can walk you through the process and take the proper measurements. When you order online, you must make each decision on your own, and it can seem overwhelming.

Optician fits new eyeglasses on a woman's face.
Selecting and fitting multifocal lenses require a professional's expertise.

Getting Started

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, the type of hinges the frames have, and other features.

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? How much protection from ultraviolet light do you want? What about an anti-reflective coating? Are photochromic lenses a good idea?

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.

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.

Eyeglass frame by Alain Mikli
If you prefer a high-fashion frame like this one by Alain Mikli, you may want to buy at a brick-and-mortar store. Trying it on is the best way to know how it's going to look and feel on your face.

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's easy to order your new eyeglasses online 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.

Like the eyewear itself, the decision whether or not to buy glasses online is very individual. If you decide to give it a try, arming yourself with as much information as possible beforehand will make the online buying process go smoother.

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Page updated August 2017

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