Buying glasses online: A good idea?

woman being fitted with eyeglasses

Considering buying your next pair of glasses online?

Purchasing eyeglasses online is definitely convenient. You also can compare prices to get a good deal.

But there are other things to consider when you buy eyeglasses online. For example, accurate measurements are needed to achieve a comfortable fit.

If you visit an optical store or your eye doctor in person, these measurements are taken by someone who is skilled at fitting eyeglasses. When you buy glasses online, it can be more of a challenge to know if the glasses you choose are going to fit.

Here are other things you should know if you are considering buying your next pair of eyeglasses online:

Getting started

Woman trying on glasses

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

Online eyeglass retailers often have a large selection of frames to choose from. You can read a description of the features each frame, including its size, what the frame is made of, and other features.

In addition to this frame information, there are important choices to make about your lenses. For example:

If you are comfortable making these decisions yourself, you should have no problem buying glasses online. But you may want to ask your eye doctor or an optician for advice for best results.

An accurate PD measurement is essential

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 exact distance between your pupils. This is called your pupillary distance, or PD.

It can be tricky to measure your own PD; generally, this measurement will be more accurate if taken by a trained optician or your eye doctor.

If you buy eyeglasses online, most sites 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. Be patient and measure your PD several times until you get consistent measurements.

If your PD is inaccurate, your new glasses might cause eye strain and headaches.

Choosing frames that fit

The fit of the frame is another important issue. Frames that are too large or don’t match the size of the bridge of your nose will constantly be sliding down your nose, which can be really annoying and uncomfortable.

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.

Alternatively, if your glasses are too small, they might 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 many online stores offer convenient fitting tips.

Also, be aware that your eyeglass prescription and weight of your lenses also play into whether your eyeglasses will be comfortable and look good.

An experienced optician typically can help you avoid frame choices that will cause discomfort from a poor fit.

If you choose to buy glasses online, be sure to understand what the site’s policy is regarding returns and warranties if your glasses are uncomfortable after you purchase them.

Making sure your new glasses look great

When you shop for glasses in person in an optical store, you can try on the frames and know how they fit and feel before you purchase them. You also can look at yourself from many angles with mirrors to get a good idea how the glasses look on you.

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 lenses online

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

Fitting multifocal lenses successfully requires very accurate measurements (and more measurements) than fitting single vision lenses. If measurements are even a little “off,” it can affect both your vision and comfort with progressive lenses.

Again, if you choose to buy glasses online, be sure to read the site’s policies regarding satisfaction warranties and what happens if you are not comfortable with your glasses after purchasing them.

Convenience and price

Most people expect that buying eyeglasses online will be more convenient and less expensive than buying them in-person at an optical store.

In many cases, that’s true.

Other advantages: Buying glasses online gives you access to a very large selection of frames, often at great prices. And you can shop at your convenience any time of day or night.

Only you can decide which way of buying glasses is right for you.