A Which? investigation has found that some online glasses retailers are supplying substandard spectacles that could present safety issues.
The consumer champion posed as three different customers to order one pair of low prescription single-vision glasses, one pair of high prescription single-vision glasses and one pair of varifocals from nine online retailers.
Which? then worked with two opticians to measure the accuracy of the glasses received, and assess whether they had been made according to British standards.
Seven of the 26 (27%) pairs of glasses ordered from online retailers failed the Which? tests, either because the actual measurements were too far off what it had supplied and they did not conform to British Standards, or the lenses were loose and could fall out or be easily rotated.
Two of the failed pairs were from Fashion Eyewear and two were from Goggles4U, with Spex4Less, Select Specs and Direct Sight each having one pair that failed.
11 pairs of glasses ordered were criticised for their poor build quality – eight pairs had poor-quality lenses that were scratched, loose, warped or positioned badly, two pairs had issues with nose-pad positioning, and two had loose arms.
For higher strength prescriptions, opticians recommend that you order high-index, thinner lenses. However, Direct Sight, Fashion Eyewear, Goggles4U and Spex4Less failed to make this clear to customers, producing the higher prescription pair of spectacles with standard lenses that were considered to be much too thick. The glasses from Direct Sight and Goggles4U were considered to be unusable due to weight and vision distortion.
While all nine pairs of glasses Which? ordered with a simple prescription passed the opticians’ checks, this was not the case for glasses with varifocal lenses. Seven out of the nine pairs of varifocals caused concern because no height measurements were taken.
The expert opticians said this could be ‘very unsafe,’ as badly positioned varifocal lenses could cause the wearer to experience vision distortion, which may increase the risk of falling and could be dangerous when driving.
Glasses from Glasses Direct, Mister Spex and Smart Buy Glasses passed all the tests. What’s more, Glasses Direct, Select Specs, Mister Spex and Specky Four Eyes have a no questions asked returns policy.
While ordering online can appear to be a cheaper way to buy glasses Which? is warning consumers that they may be at risk of ending up with poor quality and potentially dangerous glasses.
Which? is calling for online retailers to improve their standards. The consumer group has reported its findings to the General Optical Council.
Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services, said:
“Ordering online might seem like a convenient and cheaper way to buy glasses, but we’re warning shoppers to be wary.
“While simple prescriptions are less risky, our research shows that complex glasses, such as varifocals, might not meet the standards we would expect – potentially leaving you with substandard specs.”
Advice from Which? when choosing glasses from online retailers
- Take care when entering your details, as there’s no automatic right to a refund if you provide an incorrect prescription or have glasses made to your specification (unless they are actually faulty).
- Some sites, such as Glasses Direct and Mister Spex, offer a free try-at-home service. This could be a good way to make up for the lack of in-person fitting advice, and you can take some time to decide what fit works for you.
- If you’ve got a relatively simple prescription, our investigation suggests you shouldn’t run into too much trouble ordering online.
- Find out about the best places to buy glasses by visiting: www.which.co.uk/glasses.
- In an investigation, Which? posed as three customers to order one pair of low prescription single-vision glasses, one pair of high prescription single-vision glasses and one pair of varifocals from nine popular online retailers.
- All pairs of glasses were tested by two opticians, on behalf of Which?, to measure their accuracy and whether they were made according to British Standards.
- Which? bought frames from the lower end of the price spectrum (up to £50 for single vision and up to £120 for varifocals) as price is one of the key reasons people choose to buy online.
Rights of reply
- In response to Which?’s concerns about not taking height measurements for varifocals, Glasses Direct, Select Specs and Specky Four Eyes explained that they accept returns for any reason, including if the glasses are out of tolerance. Glasses Direct and Select Specs told us that their non-tolerance rates for varifocals are very low, and Glasses Direct says it has conducted research about optimum height measurements for varifocals. Mister Spex explained that it offers a varifocal fitting photo.
- On the issue of using average pupillary distance (PD) measurements, Direct Sight, Select Specs and Specky Four Eyes called for the PD measurement to be a mandatory inclusion on the prescription. Direct Sight, Fashion Eyewear and Specky Four Eyes said they offer the option to measure your PD at home. Select Specs pointed us to its PD-measurement app.
- On lens thickness, Spex4Less said if customers found their lenses too thick, it could thin them out for a fee. Direct Sight said that lens thickness would not compromise the visual acuity of any pair of glasses.
- Goggles4U: “Each pair of glasses undergoes different stages of production and quality-control inspection before we ship them to the end consumer.”
- Smart Buy Glasses didn’t comment.
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