Buyer Beware: Purchasing Eyewear Online

Buyer Beware: Purchasing Eyewear Online

The Covid-19 pandemic brought many changes to how we lived our daily lives. One of the big changes was in our spending habits- specifically, how often we made purchases online versus in person. Online shopping has always been popular since the early 2000s, but it increased more than 110% from May 2019 to May 2020.

Canadians do 10% of their spending online. It’s easy and convenient with online retail giants such as Amazon, where you can purchase anything from clothing, books, pharmaceuticals, food, toilet paper, electronics and more. And it can be delivered in as little as 24 hours, on evenings, weekends and holidays.

A topic that has been of some debate and controversy is the purchasing of prescription eyewear and contact lenses online. It’s cheap and easy- but there’s a definite downside to online opticals. There’s more to buying glasses and contacts than inputting your prescription.


You can’t try the glasses on when purchasing online. You may be able to “virtually” try them on, but that definitely isn’t the same thing as physically trying on in the office. Your eye care professional also knows what lens type, material and coatings are best for your prescription, while the optician/optometric assistant is trained in helping you choose the best options that suit your face shape. They can assess the size of the frame on your face/nose/ears to ensure a comfortable fit. It’s like purchasing a pair of shoes that are a size (or more) too big or small. There’s only so many adjustments that can be made if they don’t fit well to start.


Depending on the lens style that you are purchasing (single vision versus progressive, bi-focals, etc), pupillary distance (PD) and optical centre height measurements will be required. Some measurements need to be done with the frame sitting on your face. Optometric staff are trained to do these measurements properly and accurately (and many places will offer an adaptation warranty should you need the lenses remade due to inaccurate measurements). Online retailers have a tool that helps aid you in measuring your chosen eyewear yourself, but (and most optometric staff will tell you this based on personal experience!) it is VERY difficult measuring heights and PDs on yourself.

Warranties are valuable.

Online optical purchases usually do not come with a warranty (due to lower costs). And even if they have one, it will be very inconvenient to have to ship back eyewear to be repaired. Most optometric practices offer a two-year warranty on frames against manufacturer defects, as well as two years against surface scratching and/or coating defects on the lenses. There are also warranties on prescription changes, adaptation issues and/or changes in lens design or material.


When eyewear is purchased from an actual brick and mortar store or optometric practice, they are properly adjusted to fit your face. Should additional adjustments be required, you will be able to have that done at any time, free of charge. If your glasses lose a nose pad, are missing a screw, were stepped or sat on, we would be able to repair or replace whatever necessary. Your prescription eyewear from an online retailer would not be able to be adjusted to fit your face- unless you pay an optical or optometric practice to do that for you. Many places are also wary of adjusting or repairing eyewear purchased from elsewhere- for fear of breaking the glasses and not wanting the responsibility for products that cannot be warranted. It may be difficult to find a place to have your online eyewear fitted properly.


Wrong. Contact lenses (when purchased from an eye care professional) are checked on the eye for proper fit and vision before being dispensed, as they are considered a medical device. If there are any issues, or adjustments that need to be made to the prescription or type of lens, your optometrist can do that for you. Lost and ripped lenses can also be replaced at no charge (usually). Your prescription is also guaranteed to be accurate, purchasing from an eye care professional. Not all contact lenses are created equal, and optometrists are familiar with lens materials that are safe, as well as complications that can occur due to improper fit or usage. Ordering your contact lenses online could result in an incorrect prescription, a lens type that isn’t suited to you or even a possible eye infection. Some lenses sold online are not even approved by Health Canada (even on Canadian retail sites). There are also issues with counterfeit products and expired products.


Because prescription eyewear and contact lenses are considered medical devices and must be dispensed by a licensed optometrist, optician and/or ophthalmologist, it is technically illegal to purchase them online in Ontario. Online retailers have found their way through a “loophole” by being registered in another province.

The bottom line.

It’s your prescription, so it is your choice on where to purchase your eyewear and contact lenses. A recent Canadian study assessing popular online retailers found that 81% of eyewear had the incorrect prescription. Another 23% failed impact testing, meaning the lenses weren’t made to the minimum thickness for shatter resistance and safety. And 70% did not provide even basic comfort (meaning they were completely ill-fitting). In total, more than 90% of online eyewear arrived incorrectly, in some shape or form. When purchasing online, the phrase “buyer beware” has never been so fitting. We highly recommend purchasing your eyewear from a licensed and trained professional to ensure quality, safety and satisfaction.