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The primary aim of this project, undertaken by the University of Bradford, was to determine the general accuracy, visual performance, and patient comfort of spectacles bought online compared to the current standard of spectacles purchased from high street optometry / optician practices.

Historically, prescription spectacles have been purchased via high street optometric or optician practices, generally under the supervision of a qualified optometrist or dispensing optician. With the huge increase in use of the internet, spectacles are now being increasingly sold online. A Which? report in 2012 provided an evaluation of 36 pairs of spectacles from 14 popular UK websites and failed 15 (42%) as being outside British and International Standards. Another 10 (27%) were classed as ‘borderline’.1 Research which evaluated the optical quality of spectacles bought online in the United States, assessed 154 pairs of spectacles and reported similar problems to those found in the smaller UK Which? tests, with 44.8% of spectacles failing at least one parameter of optical analysis or impact testing.2

1. The real cost of cheap glasses. Which? 2012: 26-8.

2. Citek K, Torgersen DL, Endres JD & Rosenberg RR. Safety and compliance of prescription spectacles ordered by the public via the Internet. Optometry 2011; 82: 549-555.

The findings

The findings were published online in Optometry and Vision Science in August 2016 and in the October 2016 issue of the journal, and included the following points: 

  • 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.


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 Optics.

Member briefing

Download the member briefing below:


Other resources of interest