Online Eyewear Vendors: Cost Effective or Costing You Your Eye Health?

Think about this, how much are your eyes worth to you? People will spend an average of $750 a year just to update their phones to the latest and greatest. On the flip side, when it comes to their eyes, people will spend the least amount on glasses or contact lenses.

As an eye care practitioner and and an owner of an independent optical, I have become accustomed to seeing patients looking for inexpensive eyewear options or contact lens supplies. What these patients are referring to are the brands such as Warby Parker, EyeBuyDirect, 1800Contacts. These companies have revolutionized the way consumers can shop for eyewear by simplifying the ordering process. For instance, Warby Parker will send frames to consumers to try on and simply allow them to enter their prescription information digitally.  Though this seems more convenient for the consumer, certain errors can arise and greatly effect the consumers visual experience.

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I recently had a patient come in to check the prescription on his glasses he purchased online through Warby Parker. After measuring his glasses, the prescription was made incorrectly due to an inaccurate measurement of his pupillary distance (PD) and optical center (OC). The PD is the distance between the optical centers or the distance between your pupils, and the optical center is the measurement of where your eyes sit and measuring to the bottom of the frame, not the arbitrary center of the lens of the frame. 

The majority of online vendors do not have the necessary tools to measure this, and is part of what makes online vendors less credible when it comes to eye health. Online retailers, whether it is for contacts or glasses, do not take into consideration your eye health. These big box retailers are even recommending you get your prescription renewed through their online system. Imagine the inaccuracies that could arise if they cannot even measure the PD correctly? You only have one pair of eyes, and they need to be checked in person by an actual doctor. These retailers maybe helping your pocket book, but are they hurting your eyes by doing so? Are they offering you the best and latest technologies that protect the eyes or are they offering you whatever is the cheapest lens material and coating they can find.  

After listening to a podcast about the founders of Warby Parker, I have learned that they had no real experience in eye care. They were business students wanting to create a product/brand. While I applaud them for their story and dedication, I do not agree with their claims of their $95 glasses being the same as $500 ones in terms of quality and performance. Not every pair of glasses are made the same.

When I went to Vision Expo this year in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to meet with many different independent brands. I actually got to sit down with the founders and learn how their frames are manufactured and what materials are used. Many of the more expensive frames are made with Italian Mazzucchelli acetate and pure titanium, which is what makes these materials more unique and higher in quality as well as having the highest purity standards.  When comparing to big box brands, we do not know what type acetate they are using and what non-regulated chemicals may reside in the plastics, many produced in China. I am not saying everything in China is made badly, however we have to think long and hard especially about the labor. When factories are paying their workers twenty five cents an hour, how much care is really going into what you are wearing on your face everyday? In our optical, we have invested in independent brands with an understanding of exactly what materials are used and where/how they are manufactured. Not every online retailer selling you that inexpensive alternative can go in depth about the story behind each frame. 

What is also unknown by many consumers, is that most independent optometrist are in network with insurances, meaning they can actually get a pair of $500 quality glasses for an affordable price without having to turn to alternative vendors. Consumers can also finance their purchases at zero percent interest for up to two years! This is great especially if there is a want for multiple pairs of high end independent eyewear. Fear not of the price or the process, because in the end you are investing in yourself and most importantly, your eye health.