Online optical stores

Online optical stores are undercutting bricks-and-mortar retailers by a wide margin, but they can make critical mistakes.
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02.Shadow shop


We ordered multifocal glasses from four online retailers. Our expert optometrist, Professor Stephen Dain from the University of NSW, checked the fit on our shadow shopper. 


Fitting test

To fit multifocal lenses correctly, a number of measurements are needed that likely won’t be included in the online prescription form and also vary depending on factors such as the frame you choose and how you hold your head. Among other things, these measurements determine where your pupil is in relation to the lens’ centre to make sure there’s no distortion.

Another variable in finding the right lens type is how and where you plan on wearing your glasses. Not surprisingly, then, two of the spectacles we ordered weren’t correctly fitted for our shadow shopper. (The fitting for both spectacles could be at least partially improved if you found an optometrist who agreed to correct them, though that would somewhat negate the convenience of buying online.)

  • Clearly Contacts Our shadow shopper had to drop their head forwards to get the best distance vision and the frame impeded the near vision.
  • Zenni Optical The frame didn’t sit symmetrically on the shadow shopper’s face, so near vision was at an angle.
Below standard

We had the lenses tested by the University of NSW Optics and Radiometry Laboratory against the voluntary standard.

  • Zenni Optical’s glasses had a fault in the prescription – one axis, correcting astigmatism, was incorrect. (It may be possible to correct this if the fitting were adjusted, but you’d have to visit an optometrist.)
  • Vision Direct’s glasses failed the robustness test – both lenses cracked through their entire thickness and broke into multiple pieces. This would be dangerous if you play sport or had an accident that broke your glasses. (Vision Direct told us that as a result of our test they’re undertaking an investigation and have upgraded all orders to higher-quality lenses at no cost.)
  • GlassesOnline passed both tests.
CHOICE verdict

Online retailers can be a good option for most single-vision glasses, but they pose substantial risks if you have a complex prescription – especially one for multifocal lenses. Should you decide to give an online optometrist a go, check the store’s refund policy and keep in mind that is can be very difficult to enforce the Australian Consumer Law with overseas retailers.


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