Buying Eyeglasses

Buying eyeglasses online or in person: Your choice

woman being fitted with eyeglasses

The Internet has been a real game changer when it comes to the convenience of buying products. Also, comparison shopping online is often quick and easy.

But is online shopping the best way to buy eyeglasses?

And can buying glasses online give you the same value, comfort and satisfaction you get when you purchases glasses at an optical store with the help of an eye care professional?

Getting started

Woman trying on glasses

Selecting and fitting multifocal lenses require a professional's expertise.

One of the advantages of buying glasses online is that your choices in eyeglass frames are nearly endless. Often, online retailers have more frames to choose from that the selection you find at a small optical store.

But more choices isn't always a good thing. Too many frames to choose from without expert help in selecting the frames that fit you well and complement your skin tone, hair color and wardrobe and lifestyle can lead to confusion and frustration.

Some people thrive making these choices themselves online and enjoy having lots of choices. But for others, too many choices makes picking the right frame time-consuming and confusing.

Also, the choices don't stop with the frames. You also need to choose the design, material and coatings for your eyeglass lenses. Decisions you need to make when choosing lenses include:

If you're comfortable making these decisions yourself, you should have no problem buying glasses online. But a knowledgeable optician can guide you through these choices so you look and see your best in your new glasses — and get the best value, too.

Great vision requires accurate PD measurement

The optical center of your eyeglass lenses is the part of the lenses that gives you the sharpest, most comfortable vision. The optical center of your lenses 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 measurement.

It can be tricky to measure your own PD, somewhat akin to trying to cut your own hair. An experienced optician can take your PD measurements quickly and accurately. Also, most opticians use a device called a pupillometer, which provides more accurate and precise measurements than using a hand-held ruler or other device to measure your PD yourself in front of a mirror.

Fit: Getting the most comfortable eyeglasses

How well your eyeglasses fit your face and head is another important issue.

Colorful frames

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.

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.

Alternatively, if your glasses are too small, they will be uncomfortable and pinch the sides of your head or cause discomfort behind your ears or on your nose.

When buying glasses online, most retailers will give you useful information to help you decide if a frame is likely to fit your head and face. Some will even send you frames to try on at home before you make your final purchasing decision.

Or you can eliminate concerns about fit and comfort by buying your eyeglasses in person at a "brick-and-mortar" optical store with the help of a knowledgeable eye care professional.

Making sure your new 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.

When buying online, you typically have to upload a photo of yourself so you can use a “virtual try-on” tool , which gives you a more limited idea of how the frames look on you. And you can’t touch and feel the frames to get any idea of the quality of the materials or workmanship of the frame.

Buying multifocal eyeglasses online

Bifocals and progressive lenses present additional challenges when buying eyeglasses online.

Fitting these multifocal lenses (required by many people after age 40) requires additional measurements that aren't needed when choosing regular ("single vision") lenses.

Also, multifocal lenses often require subtle adjustments to the frame so the different optical zones of the lenses are perfectly positioned for clear, comfortable vision at all distances.

For these reasons, if you need multifocal lenses it may be more difficult to get the comfort and clarity you desire without personalized fitting and troubleshooting by an experienced optician.

Warranties and return policies

Whether you choose to buy glasses online or at a local optical store, be sure to ask about warranties and return policies that apply to your purchase.

Buying glasses is a significant investment, and the type of satisfaction guarantees your retailer offers is an important part of the value equation to consider when comparing prices.

Convenience and price

Buying glasses online or buying them in person at an optical store both have advantages.

The decision whether or not to buy glasses online is a very individual one, depending on your personal preference.

When comparing prices, keep in mind that though online prices may be less expensive than the price for the same product at a brick-and-mortar optical store, you won't be getting the same level of personal attention and professional expertise from a knowledgeable eye care professional.

Wherever you choose to buy your glasses, the first step is to schedule an exam with an eye doctor near you to update your eyeglass prescription. Take that step today!

Page updated June 2019