Your Guide to Buying Glasses Online

There’s no shortage of eye-care professionals who are skeptical about buying frames and lenses online. “These are custom-made devices. It’s not like buying a box of Cheerios,” explains Dr. Andrea Thau, an optometrist and president of the American Optometric Association. Prescription glasses, according to this camp, are complex medical devices—especially for people who need progressives or other multi-focal lenses, which require complicated measurements best taken while patients are wearing the frames they’ve selected. And once a pair of glasses is delivered, they say, the lenses should be checked to make sure the prescription is correct and the frames adjusted for fit.

Examine the return policy and warranty. A retailer’s policies are especially important when buying online, where typically you must pay for your glasses before you receive them. Find out if the online seller will remake your lenses if there’s a problem or error.

Enter your prescription carefully. All those numbers and unfamiliar terminology, such as “axis,” “sphere,” and “cylinder,” can make prescriptions complicated. It’s easy to blunder when transferring the data to a website form. Some retailers may ask you to upload an image of the prescription to avoid potential errors.

Check your vision. If you have difficulty seeing with your new glasses, ask the online retailer to verify that the lenses were created using the proper prescription. If that checks out, go back to your doctor, who can recheck the lenses and make sure a mistake wasn’t made during your examination.

Know when you need a pro. If the frames need adjustment, many websites provide instructions on doing the job yourself. But Gordon says it’s less risky to have a professional do it. Many walk-in retailers will adjust glasses purchased elsewhere, like if you bought your glasses online, though you may have to pay for this service.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the February 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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