Which? uses cookies to improve our sites and by continuing you agree to our cookies policy.

Best and worst opticians stores

Buying glasses online - what you need to know

By Joanna Pearl

Article 5 of 7

Put us to the test

Our Test Labs compare features and prices on a range of products. Try Which? to unlock our reviews. You'll instantly be able to compare our test scores, so you can make sure you don't get stuck with a Don't Buy.

Buying glasses online - what you need to know

More and more people are saving money by buying glasses and contact lenses online, but  - with research showing higher rates of problems than on the high street – is it right for you?

We surveyed Which? members about their experiences of shopping for prescription glasses online, and asked opticians for their advice on how to ensure you get the best from buying glasses on the web. We’ve compiled it all into five things you need to know:

1.    Ensure you have the right measurements to hand

More and more people are shopping around for glasses - getting their eye test from one optician, but buying their glasses from another. When shopping online, you have no choice but to split your glasses-buying in this way.

The College of Optometrists - the professional body for optometrists - urges caution. By splitting the prescription and dispensing parts of buying glasses, it can be more difficult and time consuming to resolve any problems.

Opticians are also not required to put all the measurements needed to dispense glasses on your prescription, as some are taken when your glasses are dispensed rather than when your eyes are tested. This means that by buying online you may be missing details such as your such as your PD (pupillary distance).

Those measurements are key to getting the right glasses. Research shows that a key reason for online glasses not being right is the customer giving the wrong PD measurement. If lenses such as varifocals are not positioned accurately, the glasses could be unsafe when driving and using stairs. 

If you do decide to buy glasses online, there are steps you can take to try to get the fitting right. Look for websites that send you a selection of frames to try at home. Also look for websites that have a ‘best fit finder’ and frame fitting advice, and that give full frame measurements. And if you need to take measurements yourself, make sure they’re accurate.

We’ve surveyed more than 8,000 Which? members who are customers of high-street opticians. Find out the best and worst optician stores, and the best and worst companies for laser eye surgery.

2.    Take care when buying bifocals or varifocals online

Varifocals are the cause of many complaints to the Optical Consumer Complaints Service.

The ideal varifocal lens design provides sharp vision in the far distance, middle and close up for reading, is comfortable to swap between each zone, is easy to get used to, and has few distortions at the edges.

Varifocal design has become very sophisticated over the past 10 years, but there are big differences in quality and variability of lenses. Use our guide to choosing varifocals to make sure you know what level you need and what quality you’re buying.

Precise fitting measurements – such as the pupillary distance (PD) and the vertical pupil position - are crucial to how well any lens will perform.

Our experts also strongly discourage shoppers from buying bifocals or varifocals from websites that don’t ask – at the very least – for additional information that would help them gain the necessary measurements, such as a photo of the customer wearing their chosen frames.

3. Customer satisfaction is high

Only a minority of Which? members that we surveyed have bought glasses online, with nearly half (46%) of them buying from Glasses Direct. However, customers rate buying glasses online higher than buying on the high street.

Glasses Direct gets a thumbs-up, with 95% of its customers satisfied, and the same percentage saying the price for glasses was either excellent or good.

One customer told us: ‘I have used Glasses Direct on numerous occasions. The variety of frames is large. Their sizing process is easy. They often have special offers, and their price is far better than high-street opticians.’

4. Buying contact lenses online

In the UK, contact lenses can only be fitted by, or under the supervision of, a registered optometrist, qualified dispensing optician or medical practitioner. Once fitting is completed, your practitioner will issue you with a contact lens specification.

You can then buy contact lenses from a shop or go online, provided the sale is under the ‘general direction’ of a registered practitioner.

The law says that online sellers must confirm that a buyer has a valid contact lens prescription by seeing it, or checking with the optician who supplied it. Eyes change over time, and an optician can pick up on complications and worrying practices, such as inadequate cleaning, that threaten eyesight.

If you do shop for lenses online, don’t assume that prices are always lower; factor in shipping, handling and insurance costs that can bump up prices.

5. Know your rights

If goods you buy are faulty and don’t do what they're supposed to, or don’t match the description given, you have the same rights under the Consumer Rights Act as you have when buying face-to-face.

Any terms and conditions that say you must cover the cost of returning an item don't apply where the goods being returned are faulty.

When you buy goods online, you have additional rights to return them. This is because your decision may be based on a brief description or a photograph – so what you receive isn't always quite what you’d expected.

The Consumer Contracts Regulations give you 14 calendar days from the day after you receive your goods to cancel. See our Consumer Rights section for more information.