While online eyeglass retailers might mean well, a lot of inquiries are surfacing about the reliability and trustworthiness of their eyeglasses and eye “exams”. Convenient to the new age consumer who would rather stay inside and order from their computer, the convenience comes with some caveats that every consumer needs to consider before purchase.
The main cause for concern is whether the convenience of online retailers matches the quality of physical optometry offices (the short answer is: no, it doesn’t even come close). In the debate of quantity versus quality, your eyes deserve the utmost care. Quality eyewear makes a difference, from the material of the lenses to the measurements and protective coatings that online retailers take for granted or get incorrect. Part of that utmost care includes proper education and examinations that cannot be fully conducted online.
This past week, the American Optometric Association (AOA) asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate an online vision test offered by 1-800 Contacts that can confuse consumers on the services they are potentially receiving. On their website, 1-800 Contacts offered what they called “ExpressExam”, powered by Visibly (formerly known as Opternative). The way 1-800 Contacts worded their online “eye test” led people to believe they would be talking to an actual doctor about their eye health when this wasn’t the case. The “ExpressExam” implied a more thorough examination that what was really offered, which was only a basic vision test.
Unfortunately, 1-800 Contacts isn’t the only company to do this. Online eye tests are growing as fast as the online retailers themselves. And while some online vision tests can be enough to get a basic valid eyeglass prescription, they cannot be relied on for eye health and diagnosing eye conditions. In 2016, Opternative was investigated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after the AOA filed a formal complaint against the company for misleading consumers and posing significant health risks to the public with their “online eye exams”.
The worry for Opternative and online retailers like 1-800 Contacts stems from more than just misleading language. Buying glasses online can result in getting the wrong prescription and durability of lenses, as well as the fit of the glasses. In a study conducted by the AOA, 29% of online-ordered eyeglass lenses failed to match the right prescription, 23% failed impact resistance testing, and an overall 44.8% of eyeglasses from online retailers were found to have safety and eye health issues. The lack of quality control and precise measurements critical to eye care caused huge safety and health concerns. Even lens material is important in order to ensure your vision will be clear. Many online retailers use lens materials from outside the US, where safety requirements are more lax. This can result in materials that scratch or shatter easily, leading to eye injuries. Earlier in 2019, one local news station even conducted their own small study on the accuracy of online-purchased eyeglasses and found several issues with the cheap lens materials that cause warping, glare, and inconsistencies in vision. One pair was completely unusable.
Accuracy is very important to your eye health, and even the most critical and minute details are lost with online eyewear retailers. While most online retailers still recommend going to an optometrist for a prescription measurement, they’re more lax on measuring pupil distance (PD) which is important for determining where to place the center of the lenses for the best optics. Many online retailers, like Warby Parker, leave this test to yourself, relying on the webcam or front-facing camera of your computer or phone. While the technology behind these cameras might be impressive, they’re not nearly as accurate as a professional measurement carried out by a specialist.
Although online eyeglass retailers boast the convenience and budget-friendly factors, you should always keep in mind the trade-offs in the quality, accuracy, and reliability of the glasses. It’s still recommended by the AOA as well as Downtown Vision to meet in-person with an optometrist or eye care specialist to get a thorough eye exam and receive the quality that you can’t get anywhere else.