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Pros and Cons of Online Shopping for Eyeglasses, Part 2

eyeglasses online-smallThis is the second part of our blog about the trend of shopping for frames and prescription lenses online, some of the pitfalls to avoid, and how Cascadia Eye is attempting to address them with our own online store. If you haven’t read PART 1 yet, I highly recommend reading it first!

In my previous post, I* talked about how leading online eyewear stores position themselves in ways that are concerning to eyecare professionals. I broke down the three primary claims I saw popping up:

  1. Lower prices for the same quality
  2. ‘Bucking the system’ on your behalf
  3. ‘Measurements as accurate as an optician’s’

The first two claims might not be outright lies, but do require unpacking to see the real truths behind them. The third claim, at least from the perspective of an optician or eye doctor, is simply untrue.

So then I promised I would address the role of an optician more fully, and why it’s important to practice caution when ordering online, in Part 2. It’s a pretty complex process, so I will do my best to simplify it.

The trouble with cutting an optician from the equation:

Opticians2015FBCoverCascadia Eye’s opticians,** who are trained in-house and usually earn their national certification (ABOC) within their first year, do much more than helping you pick out your perfect frame:

1.) Opticians determine the best lens material for your prescription. Do you have a very strong prescription? You’ll probably need a thinner, lighter material so the lens doesn’t get unbearably thick and heavy.

Online shops won’t always take into account all the factors of prescription, especially when they may only have a few lens material types. And even if the site has multiple lens types, including thinner and lighter options, they probably won’t be able to help you figure out which lens is best for you. (And just so you know – here at Cascadia Eye, it is our opticians’ policy to never try to upsell you to a more expensive lens if your prescription and vision preferences don’t require it.)

2.) Opticians measure segment height for progressive and bifocal lenses. When it comes to progressive lenses, where reading vision is added to the bottom of distance vision lenses without the visible line of a bifocal, everything is different. Segment height, or seg height for short, is the measurement from the bottom of your lens to the place where the progressive addition starts. Opticians take this measurement based on where the glasses sit on your face, which means each measurement is tailored to your specific needs.

The most popular stores for online glasses offer progressive lenses, and we think that is a mistake. For segment height, they use an algorithm based on the shape and size of the glasses you choose. Your face, and where the glasses sit on it, has nothing to do it. Progressives are already hard to get used to at first, even with precise measurements from a live optician. A prescription based on an impersonal average is even more likely to be problematic.

Unfortunately, these sites do not allow you to enter in a seg height you might have obtained from a professional, and there’s no guarantee it would work with the frames you chose anyway. Our advice? If you want the convenience of progressive lenses, having a real live optician from start to finish is the safest option.

3.) Opticians measure your Pupillary Distance. In Part 1 I already mentioned PD, which measures the distance between your pupils and tells the lens makers where to center the prescription. If you already have an accurate PD from an optician (NEVER from taking your own PD or using a so-called “average”***), you can order glasses online and they will most likely be right – IF you are only ordering single-vision lenses. Here is one case where you can see an optician for a measurement, and then apply it to an online purchase.

Opticians in the Sedro-Woolley optical4.) Opticians adjust the frame to fit your head comfortably. This is the one other thing that an online purchase simply can’t do for you. There’s no such thing as an average-sized head, so even if you order glasses online and everything else works out great, at some point you will probably want to pop in to an optical shop and have an optician make some adjustments for you. That’s one of the reasons Cascadia Eye’s online shop has in-store pick-up, so when you come to collect your glasses we can fit them to your face right then and there.

How to have the best outcomes when ordering online:

Like I said before, ordering glasses online isn’t always a bad deal. I understand the appeal of seeing something cool, liking it, and clicking on it right then. If you go into your online shopping experience with open eyes (pun intended) and the right measurements, it can work.

But it’s not for everyone, and as eyecare professionals we particularly advise against it if you have a particularly strong, progressive, or otherwise complicated prescription. In addition, if you’ve never worn glasses before, you probably want your first experience to be in an optical so you know the right size of glasses to fit your face comfortably.

That said, even if you have a simple single-vision prescription, here’s what you need to ensure the best outcome to your ordering:

  • CURRENT prescription from an eye doctor. (Within two years of your last exam)
  • PD as measured by an optician. (Not in a mirror with a ruler. Not an “average” from a website.)
  • Lens width, bridge width, and temple lengths that work best for you, in mm. (Here is where already having worn glasses comes in. Your old frames will show these measurements on the inside of the temple like this: “52-14-140,” or “55-18-145,” or various other combinations in similar ranges. The first number is your lens width. The second number is your bridge width. The third number is your temple length. Most online stores, ours included, will list these measurements for each frame offered. Matching those numbers, or at least coming close, will help you get a better size for you. It’s not a guaranteed fit without trying it on, but it’s a good place to start.)
  • A real live optician afterward, to make adjustments for you. (Maybe you don’t mind your frames sitting a little crookedly. But often, even a slight adjustment of where the lenses sit in front of your eyes can lead to better vision. And unnecessary pressure at your temples from a bad fit can lead to headaches, too.)

Heather in I-I, Rick in CascadiaWant a pair of sunglasses without prescription lenses? It’s even easier! You’ll still want the last two components to ensure a perfect fit, but sure – Go for it!

We do our best to ensure these conditions are met. We do not accept expired prescriptions (over two years old) – we prefer that you fax or email a photo of the prescription you received from your doctor. (Or, if you are a patient of ours already, we can simply access your records.)

Once you enter your prescription and PD, we have an in-store pick-up for the glasses to ensure they are adjusted correctly. “But wait,” you might ask, “Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of online shopping?”

Well, look at it this way. It is nearly impossible to shop for glasses without leaving your house for one reason or another. You’ll need an eye exam at some point. You’ll need an optician to take your PD. Unlike purchasing books or housewares or clothes, if you want your glasses done right, there are some things that simply shouldn’t be done online.

But if you like to see your options on a screen and prefer clicking buttons to talking face-to-face, you can do that. It can save you time and cater to your hours (picking up glasses afterward is a comparatively short trip – you can even accomplish it on your lunch break!) So there is still plenty of winning to be had.


Contact Cascadia Eye

Alex BrandtIf you would like to learn more, or if you would like to schedule an appointment at Cascadia Eye, please contact us today. We are happy to answer any questions you might have!

In addition, join us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ to ask your questions about eyes, exams, and our practice. We’d love to hear from you – and there might be a blog to address your questions in the future.


*Alex Brandt is Cascadia Eye’s official blogger.

**These also include our multi-trained Optometric/Optical Technicians, who are also ABO-certified opticians in addition to being trained ophthalmic assistants and patient services coordinators.

***There are two types of PD measurements.  The type you do to yourself (in a mirror, as some sites direct) and/or averages only give you the total distance between your two pupils (and not accurately, at that) which is a number like 60.  Using a “binocular” measurement of 60, for example, when putting the lenses in your frames they would split the 60 in half and put the optical center in one eye at 30 and the other at 30.  In the real world it is very rare for people to be that symmetrical.  Most people’s real “monocular” (each eye) with a binocular measurement of 60 would be more like 31 in one eye and 29 in the other–or some other combination besides 30/30.  If your power is high enough, even a millimeter off will result in blurred vision because of prism induced due to the incorrect PD!

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