10 things to watch when buying glasses onlineWhich? finds potential dangerous practice online

23 May 2012

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Buying cheap glasses online could be dangerous for your eyes, a new Which? investigation has found.  

Which? researchers bought 36 pairs of glasses from 13 online retailers and 15 pairs failed expert tests carried out by a panel of optometrists. 

Of the 15 that failed, 10 pairs had lenses that failed the British standard. 

In a separate investigation, researchers attempted to buy contact lenses online without a valid prescription. 

Thirteen out of 15 retailers investigated sold contact lenses to researchers without seeing a prescription, which is unlawful. 

By law, online sellers must confirm a buyer has a valid contact lens prescription by either seeing it, or checking with the optician who supplied it. 

Asda Opticians and The Contact Lens Shop were the only two online retailers that rightly refused to sell contact lenses to researchers. 

Which? members can read the full report about buying glasses online. If you're not a Which? member, you can sign up for a trial for £1.

Here we tell you what to look out for when buying glasses or contact lenses online or on the high street:

1.    Beware varifocals online

Five online companies sent researchers varifocals without asking for additional vital measurements. Measurements such as the interpupillary distance (PD) for each eye and the vertical pupil position are vital for the wearer. 

Without these measurements tasks such as driving or walking up and down stairs could be dangerous. 

At the very least, an online company should ask you for additional information such as a photo of you wearing the frames to enable them to take these measurements.

2.    Problem higher prescriptions online

Ten of thirty-six pairs pairs of glasses were given borderline passes by our experts. This was because the online companies didn't have the measurements to ensure the correct distance from the pupil to the glasses lens. 

This is very important in higher prescription glasses. Without these measurements the wearer may not get the best quality of vision from their glasses.

If your prescription is  +/-5 or above, you may want to think again about buying online unless you can subsequently get the glasses checked by an optometrist.

3.    Simple prescriptions pass tests

Eight of nine pairs of glasses with a simple prescription (under +/-5) bought online passed our tests. 

Based on the results of our investigation, you may be fine buying online with a simpler prescription.

4.    Unlawful online contact lens sales

Our researchers ordered contact lenses online from 15 companies without an adequate prescription. 

Thirteen companies sold lenses to our researchers.This is potentially unlawful practice and the regulator, the General Optical Council, has asked to see our findings.

One company also sent lenses for the wrong prescription and brand.

5.    Online not always cheapest 

A Which? researcher shopped for a three-month supply of Cibavision Dailies Aquacomfort Plus lenses. We found them on the high street from £84. 

Online, we found them for £75, but prices were as much as £101 from one company, including shipping, handling and insurance charges.

6.    Unhappy with glasses?

Although prescription glasses may cost less online, they are made to your specification so there's no automatic right to a refund if you're unhappy. 

If you buy glasses on the high street you may be able to return them depending on the company's returns policy. 

If glasses are not as described or faulty, legal rights still apply. If you're unhappy with your purchase, find out how to return faulty goods.

7.    Can't resolve a complaint?

If you bought your glasses on the high street and you've got a complaint, you can contact the Optical Consumer Complaints Service. 

It offers a confidential mediation service to try and get an agreement between patient and optician but cannot offer advice. Read our guide on how arbitration works for more information. 

 If your complaint is about an optician's fitness to practice, contact the regulator - the General Optical Council.

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8.    High street special offers

There are so many different deals on the high street that it can be hard to spot a genuine bargain. 

Always look closely at the terms and conditions. 

For example, does the offer only apply to standard single vision lenses rather than high index or photochromic? 

If your prescription is excluded, or extras such as coatings on lenses cost extra, the cost can mount up.

9.  Quality doesn't always mean designer

Several of the special offers our experts looked at applied to designer frames. 

But some companies that make designer specs also make high-quality non-designer frames, some of which are similar to the designer versions but don't come with a logo. 

Try both designer and non-designer frames and assess the quality for yourself.

10.    Regular eye tests

Wherever you buy, regular eye tests and contact lens check-ups are vital. It's recommended that you have a sight test every two years (or more frequently if advised), and an eye test is an eye health check too.

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