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May 2016

Pros and Cons of Online Shopping for Eyeglasses, Part 2

Online Shop-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.

 

*Who, you ask? Alex Brandt, Cascadia Eye’s official blogger. You can read the my intro post here!

**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!

Pros and Cons of Online Shopping for Eyeglasses, Part 1

Hello! The Cascadia Eye blog is back, and so am I.*

Online Shop-smallWith help from our CEO, Sheri Saldivar, I have been working on this blog topic for a while now. You see, for the first time we are launching our very own e-store—featuring independent brands for both sunglasses and ophthalmic frames, and a new outlet shop (more news on that later)!

And because of this, we’ve also now done quite a lot of research on the subject of e-stores for glasses.

(This is part 1 of a two-part piece. Part 2 is here!)

As independent eye service professionals, our doctors and opticians view online shopping for eyewear a little bit differently than your average shopper. Now, I personally love shopping online. It’s fast, convenient, and means I don’t have to leave my house. However, some of that speed and convenience automatically goes away when it comes to prescription glasses. That’s because there are so many factors that go into functional eyewear; much more than choosing a color and style that fits you.

If you're buying sunglasses, it's less complicated.

If you’re buying sunglasses, it’s less complicated.

And our top concern will always be how well it serves your all-important vision and comfort.

Popular e-stores for glasses can range from quality that is comparable to what we offer—and at similar prices—right on down to unbelievably low prices. But even the stores that offer quality product have elements that should raise concern for doctors, opticians, and you.

What online glasses retailers are not:

1. They’re not automatically offering the same quality for less money. Contrary to what you might have been told, the price of frames you purchase online is not cheaper, matching quality for quality, than what you can get in our optical. We checked the leading markets, and found a few different price points (for frames only—we’ll talk about lenses in a second):

  • Mid range (roughly $70 – $110)—either the higher-quality independently created frames (much like our own Cascadia brand) or name-brand frames that have been discontinued
  • Low range ($7 – $20, give or take)—mostly “house-designed” frames from sites where low price is the chief selling point

Does the second price sound unbelievable? Let’s break it down a little bit. An independent optician committed some first-hand research recently and found that not all frames are created equal. The cheapest frames she ordered—those in the $6.99 range—came to her with brittle hinges and visible cracks in the plastic before she even took them out of the bag (labeled “made in China,” no less).** In this case, you do get what you pay for…which is a completely different product from anything we would willingly dispense to our patients.

And what about lenses?

This one is huge. As someone invested in your vision, I’d even venture to say it’s the most important. Setting aside the all-important issue of proper measurement, which I’ll address further down, what about lens quality? What about durability and scratch-resistance? What about anti-reflective coating?

For Cascadia Eye, our standard lens—that is, for people whose prescriptions aren’t so high that a special, lighter material like Trivex or high index is needed—is about $50-$65. (The different material we offer is listed here; just scroll toward the bottom of the page.) The standard lens comes with a scratch-resistant coating and 1-year warranty; anti-reflective coating is a separate addition—with an additional warranty—and it’s one that we stand by for hardness, smudge-resistance, and overall clarity.

Now back to that independent optician researcher I previously mentioned. None of the lenses she ordered, from leading online stores, had the kind of quality we expect. They scratched easily. The anti-reflective coating, also purchased separately, smudged instantly. Even the highest-priced products were not exempt from this.

In other words, know what you’re paying for. You can find lenses online for less than what we charge, but they are not a better value; they are not the same lenses.

2. They’re not ‘bucking the system’ on your behalf, any more than an independent optical (like Cascadia Eye). Here’s a direct quote from one of the sites:

The eyewear industry is dominated by a single company that has been able to keep prices artificially high while reaping huge profits from consumers who have no other options. […] By circumventing traditional channels, designing glasses in-house, and engaging with customers directly, we’re able to provide higher-quality, better-looking prescription eyewear at a fraction of the going price.

This company is offering itself as an alternative to “the eyewear industry.” Now, Cascadia Eye actually agrees 100% with the need to break away from the big corporations. In fact, I’ve written about that very subject myself—and about how we’re addressing it with our own personal brand, among other independent designers. So when this store seems to be implying that indie optical shops like ours (i.e. brick-and-mortar stores that are not part of an optical chain) are part of the problem—and that shopping online is the solution—I just want to raise my hand and say, “Wait a minute.”  Because Cascadia Eye is a brick-and-mortar store that is all about finding alternatives to big-name brands, and we feel like we’re succeeding for our patients.

3. They’re not necessarily providing the “same accurate measuring techniques used by opticians to get the perfect fit.” (Quoted from one of the sites). This is a complex subject, with lots of information about how opticianry works, so I’ll address it more fully in part 2 next week.

But briefly I want to address a primary point of concern for conscientious opticians and doctors: the matter of pupillary distance (PD). PD is a measurement that determines the distance between your pupils. It helps us to center the prescription in exactly the right place; an inaccurate PD can lead to just as much vision trouble as an inaccurate prescription. But because it’s not usually included in your prescription print-out (the optician ordering your glasses usually takes the measurement, not your doctor), when you order online you don’t necessarily know that number.

While online stores do encourage you to put in a PD from an optician, they also tell you how to take your own measurement. This is not a great idea.*** It is much more accurate to let a professional do it for you, rather than squinting at a mirror and using a ruler. Even worse, however, is the notion of an ‘average PD,’ which I was astonished to see on a leading site. No one has an ‘average’ PD. If you’re ever tempted to take that shortcut…don’t.

The Takeaway, part 1:

I don’t want to leave you on a discouraging note. There is actually a lot to love about online shopping for glasses, even with some of the problems that need addressing. We’re attempting to do just that with our own e-store; I talk about that in the next post! (I also address a big issue—progressive lenses—and dig a bit more into the role an optician plays in your glasses.) But for this first part, I wanted to present a little clarity from the perspective of eye care professionals like us.

Because if you are looking into an e-store for your next pair of glasses, we all want you going into it with—ahem—clear vision.

 

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.

 

*Who, you ask? Alex Brandt, Cascadia Eye’s official blogger. You can read the my intro post here!

**Also interesting to note is the easy “reorder” function on these sites—as if they expect you to need to order that same frame/lens combo again soon—and a lack of warranties anywhere.

***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 by the incorrect PD!

Spring Arrivals in Optical

At the same time our new optical addition Italia Independent (a.k.a. I-I or EYEYE) came in, we also got some new frames for our private label, Cascadia. They include a beautiful new rimless (drill-mount) line, comparable to Silhouette’s light and airy designs but significantly lower-priced (even $100.00 less!).

We were so excited to add them – and some great new Cascadia sunnies – that we took them out to the beautiful gardens at Roozengaarde with some very good-natured models: the family of our new marketing manager, Heather Knudsen.

Why? Because tulip season has arrived!

EYEYE and Cascadia sunglasses

Here are the results, featuring Italia Independent, Cascadia brand shades, and the new Cascadia drill-mount styles. Models are Rick and Karen Saldivar, daughter Heather and son Jared Saldivar.

Want to know where you can find these beauties? (The frames, that is!) EYEYE is sold in our Mount Vernon optical and online, Cascadia sunnies are also in Mount Vernon and online, and our new drill-mount Cascadias are everywhere.

Contact Cascadia Eye

If 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.