Online spectacles

The College’s position on the sale of spectacles online.

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The College’s position

Spectacles are increasingly being sold online.  Approximately 6% of all prescription spectacles were bought online in 2015.  

We recommend that:

  • Patients exercise caution when buying their spectacles online as research shows double the number of online spectacles failed optical tolerances compared with those from high street practice
  • Optometrists ensure patients are made aware of the problems with online purchases, particularly in relation to progressive addition lenses, where participants in our study ranked high street spectacles significantly higher on factors such as preference and fit
  • More data is gathered to strengthen the evidence base. Current research can be improved by  recruiting a higher number of participants with a broad range of prescriptions.


How we arrived at this position

The College funded A Comparison of Spectacles Purchased Online and in UK Optometry Practice in 2016. In this study, Cardiff University and the University of Bradford compared 154 spectacles bought online with 155 from UK Optometric practices. 30% of the online spectacles tested failed optical tolerances. Another study in the United States found that 45% of online spectacles failed at least one aspect of optical quality measures. 

The evidence shows that a larger proportion of spectacles bought online were classed as unacceptable or unsafe because of incorrect measurements of pupillary distance.  When ordering online, the customer usually measures and supplies pupillary distance readings themselves, which leads to inaccuracies. Overall, in terms of quality, fit and patient satisfaction, our research shows that participants ranked high street spectacles significantly higher than online spectacles. Having said that, 21% of participants indicated they would buy their next pair of spectacles online for convenience, clarity in pricing, significantly lower prices and the lack of pressure to buy. 


Impact on patients and practitioners

Patients should weigh up the risks of buying spectacles online. Optometrists and dispensing opticians should explain the issues clearly to their patients, and consider the latest research  in relation to the service they offer.


Useful links

Assessment of online spectacles in the UK

Karl Citek et al (2011), Safety and compliance of prescription spectacles ordered by the public via the Internet, Optometry - Journal of the American Optometric Association, Volume 82, Issue 9.

Look After Your Eyes - Mail order/Internet contact lenses



Last updated: May 2017