Is It Smart to Buy Glasses Online?

Dozens of online stores sell glasses and contacts, many with appealing deals. Know the pitfalls before you click checkout.

Photo: Older woman trying on glasses

It's not difficult to find eyewear online, some of it at pretty tempting discounts. But will you pay later in poor fit or performance if you save now in dollars and convenience? "As with most things, the answer is: It depends," says Dr. Adam Gordon, OD, MPH, a clinical associate professor of optometry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Here's Gordon's easy checklist.

Consider the complexity of your prescription. "If you have a simple single-vision prescription, not a progressive addition lens or bifocal, ordering glasses online may be fine," says Gordon. "If you have a complex or high prescription, or use progressive addition lenses, you may be better served at a brick and-mortar shop or doctor's office."

Be careful with fit. Ordering online may be more successful if you have an average-size head. The other important measurement, Gordon says, is pupillary distance (PD)—the space between the pupils of your eyes. Knowing your PD is key to ensuring that your eyes match up with the optical center of your lenses. The average adult's PD is 60 to 70 millimeters, with most in the 62 to 66 millimeter range; kids' are 50 to 60 millimeters. "If you already have a well-fitting and comfortable frame, you may be able to use that as a reference for size and shape," says Gordon.

Don't rely on online fitting tools. "Using a virtual try-on with an uploaded photo does not provide an accurate display of the frame size or positioning on the face," warns Gordon. If you're ordering online to get a deal, first locate and try on the frames in person, then find the same pair and order online.

Check out the retailer's rep. It's simple to do a quick check with the Better Business Bureau ( to make sure that you're considering a reputable retailer. You can search on the internet for the name of the company along with a word like "complaint" to see if anything comes up. Seek recommendations and reviews for online eyewear retailers from family and friends.

Know the policies. Does the online retailer accept vision insurance, if you're covered? Poke into their policies on returns and exchanges, warranties, and handling any customer disputes. Will they remake the lenses if something isn't right?

Buy online; adjust in person. If your frames need adjustment when they arrive, Gordon suggests having a pro do the job. Some walk-in retailers will check glasses purchased elsewhere, he says, but you'll likely have to pay for the service. Even with that added charge, you may still end up paying less by starting the purchase process online.