Results published of first ever study comparing spectacles bought online with those bought in optometry practices

  • 24 Aug 2016

College of Optometrists funded study comparing over 300 pairs of spectacles.

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A study commissioned by The College of Optometrists found that, when comparing spectacles bought online and those bought and fitted in optometric practices, customers preferred shop bought spectacles. 


The study, published in the leading American journal Optometry and Vision Science, found that customers preferred shop-bought spectacles fitted by practice staff, ranking them higher overall than those bought online. Researchers from the University of Bradford and Cardiff University compared 154 spectacles bought online with 155 spectacles from UK optometric practices.  Participants completed a questionnaire on vision, comfort, fit, and how acceptable and safe the spectacles felt and all participants and spectacles were assessed at the University of Bradford eye clinic for clarity of vision, ocular muscle balance and fit and quality of the spectacle frames and lenses. 

Mike Bowen, Director of Research for the College of Optometrists, said: “This study is important, not just because it’s the first of its kind, but also because of the rise in online purchasing. It’s important that optometrists explain to patients that someone trained in dispensing, can guide on the shape, fit and appropriateness of a certain pair of spectacles over another, which is particularly important for the elderly. As a sector, we need to prepare for the changing ways in which customers are shopping and ensure that consumers are getting a high quality service from whatever platform they choose to purchase.” 

Professor David Elliott, Professor of Clinical Vision Science at the University of Bradford and principal investigator in the study said: “The results of this research should help patients understand the possible adverse effects of spectacles not being supplied correctly. This is particularly important for older patients wearing bifocals and varifocals, as frail, elderly patients need their multifocal spectacles to be fitted carefully due of the increased risk of falls in this group.”

The key College of Optometrists 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).
  • Researchers found a higher rate of spectacles bought online were classed as unacceptable or unsafe due to incorrect measurements of pupillary distances. When ordering online, pupilary distance is usually measured and supplied by the customer and the measurements can be inaccurate.
  • 79% of participants said that they would purchase their next pair of spectacles from the high street. The remaining 21% that 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.

The study resulted in the below recommendations for optometrists: 

  • The dispensing of PALs by online retailers using online estimations of fitting heights and estimated pupillary distance measurements should be accompanied by a warning about the potential danger of falls. 
  • Online retailers could improve their services by providing patients with frames to try on at home; ensuring stock matches website information; by encouraging more accurate PD measurements; and by offering a fitting service if not currently providing this service. 
  • High street practices should ensure patients do not feel rushed or pressured when making purchases, provide clarity with pricing and should allow sufficient time for spectacle frame adjustments. This is also supported by other research published in the College’s journal Ophthalmic & Physiological Optics1,2.

Details of the study 

309 spectacles bought online and in retail shops (where they were dispensed by practice staff), were compared by survey participants. All spectacles were then assessed at the eye clinic of the University of Bradford for participant preference, indication of acceptability and safety (based on fit, appearance, fitting height distance being outside tolerance, amongst others), lens and frame quality and fitting and lens prescription. Preference, indication of acceptability and safety factors were measured by participants, lens and frame quality, fitting and lens prescription were assessed by an experienced dispensing optician at the eye clinic. 

This research is an example of the important projects funded by the College of Optometrists. This membership year, beginning on 1 October, will see a new opportunity for members, organisations and the public to support the College’s research work. It is now inviting donations to allow individuals and organisations to play a part in the College’s work to develop evidence that is capable of advancing the profession, reduce preventable vision loss and providing accessible, high quality, eye care for all. 


To read about  or contribute to the Research Fund, visit the College’s donation page


College members can download the following briefing: 






Note to editors: 

  1. This study was undertaken by researchers at the Bradford School of Optometry & Vision Science and the School of Health Studies, University of Bradford, and the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Cardiff University on behalf of the College of Optometrists. 
  2. The College of Optometrists is the professional, scientific and examining body for optometry in the UK, working for the public benefit.  Supporting its members in all aspects of professional development, the College provides pre-registration training and assessment, continuous professional development opportunities, and advice and guidance on professional conduct and standards, enabling members to serve their patients well and contribute to the wellbeing of local communities.


  1. Shickle D, Griffin M, Evans R et al. Why don't younger adults in England go to have their eyes examined? Ophthalmic Physiol Opt 2014; 34: 30–7.
  2. Shickle D, Griffin M. Why don't older adults in England go to have their eyes examined? Ophthalmic Physiol Opt 2014; 34: 38–45.





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