Where to buy: Buying glasses online vs. in-store is your choice

woman being fitted with spectacles

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 glasses?

And can buying glasses online give you the same value, comfort and satisfaction you get when you purchases glasses at an opticians 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 spectacle frames are nearly endless. Often, online retailers have more frames to choose from that the selection you find at a small optical practice.

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 colour and wardrobe and lifestyle can lead to confusion and frustration. Some optical websites offer a virtual try-on tool  that will scale the frames to your face.

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 spectacle 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. Many on-line suppliers also employ experienced opticians who are available for expert advice on the phone, or video-chat.

Great vision requires accurate PD measurement

The optical centre of your spectacle lenses is the part of the lenses that gives you the sharpest, most comfortable vision. The optical centre of your lenses should be directly in front of your pupils.

To determine how to place the lenses in your frames so the optical centre is customised for your eyes, the manufacturing 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 pupilometer, 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. Lots of on-line retailers have developed special Apps that will accurately measure your PD to get over this hurdle.

Fit: Getting the most comfortable spectacles

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.

How well your spectacles 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 centres 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 spectacles in person at a "brick-and-mortar" opticians with the help of a knowledgeable eye care professional.

Making sure your new glasses look great on you

When you shop in a traditional opticians and want to know how a pair of glasses looks on you, you simply try them on.

When you buy glasses online, most sites have a method for you to see what the frames will look like on you by using the a web camera, or the camera on your smartphone. Some also offer tips on finding the right spectacles for your face shape and recommend styles of frames to complement your facial features.

Buying multifocal spectacles online

Bifocals and progressive lenses present additional challenges when buying spectacles 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 personalised fitting and troubleshooting by an experienced optician, however, Apps have been created to calculate the measurements needed to adjust the glasses so they fit perfectly and in the future these will create a much more personalised on-line experience.

Warranties and return policies

Whether you choose to buy glasses online or at a local opticians, 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 might not be getting the same level of personal attention and professional expertise from a knowledgeable eye care professional.