College commissions research comparing spectacles bought online with those bought in optometric practices

This week, we release the results of research we commissioned into to the issue of buying glasses in store or online.  The research found that, when comparing spectacles bought online and those bought and fitted in optometric practices, customers preferred shop bought spectacles.

The research was reported in The Daily Telegraph, and you can read that report here.

The key study findings are:

  • Participants preferred shop bought spectacles dispensed by practice staff, ranking them significantly higher overall than those bought online. This was particularly true of more complex prescriptions, such as Progressive Addition Lenses (PALs, also known as varifocals), which are often worn by the elderly.
  • Researchers found a higher rate of spectacles bought online were classed as unacceptable or unsafe due to incorrect measurements of pupillary distances (the distance between the eyes, measured between the centre of the pupils). When ordering online, pupilary distance is usually measured and supplied by the customer and the measurements provided can be inaccurate.
  • 79% of participants said they would purchase their next pair of spectacles from the high street. The remaining 21% indicated they would purchase their next pair online cited convenience, clarity in pricing, significantly lower prices and the lack of pressure to purchase amongst their reasoning.
  • The average cost of online spectacles was significantly lower than the high street spectacles used in this research.
  • 6% of all study spectacles were classified as unsafe. 78% of spectacles perceived as unsafe came from online suppliers. For 50% of these spectacles, the issue was due to the fit of the frame rather than the accuracy of the lens prescription.
  • Significantly more online spectacles (30%) were classed as unacceptable by participants than practice bought and fitted spectacles (10%), largely due to fit and appearance.

What does this mean for spectacle wearers?  

  • If you are buying glasses online it’s very important to ensure that your pupillary distance is measured correctly. Pupillary distance will not be included in a prescription given to you by your optical professional. It is one of the measurements that will be taken by the person dispensing your spectacles as part of the dispensing process.
  • It is recommended that online purchasing of bifocals and PALs (varifocals) is avoided as they require careful fitting because of the increased risk of falls in these spectacles in frail, elderly patients.
  • Once you have your prescription, you are free to purchase your glasses from any supplier. However, as prescribing and dispensing of spectacles are closely linked it is best to have your spectacles dispensed where you have your eyes examined. It is often more difficult to resolve any problems you may have with your spectacles when prescribing and supply are separated.
  • Remember, wherever you purchase your spectacles, you still need regular eye examinations to make sure that your eyes are healthy.

How the research was completed

A total of 33 participants completed the study and compared 309 pairs of spectacles. Participants purchased spectacles from both a random sample of five of the most easily accessed online spectacle retailers and five high street practices of their choice. The participants then wore each pair for at least two hours over a 2-3 day period, and completed a questionnaire on vision, comfort, fit, and how acceptable and safe the spectacles felt. All of the participants and spectacles were assessed at the University of Bradford eye clinic for clarity of vision, ocular muscle balance (testing the function of the eye muscles), and fit and quality of the spectacle frames and lenses.