One in five customers who had typically only ever bought spectacles from the High Street would buy their next pair online, after participating in a comparison study between web and in-practice purchasing.
The University of Bradford and Cardiff University have conducted research contrasting 155 pairs of spectacles bought in High Street practices against 154 pairs bought online. Participants significantly preferred the shop-bought spectacles.
However, online purchasing did provide a number of benefits to some customers, principal investigator and University of Bradford researcher, Professor David Elliott, told OT.
As well as being cheaper, he explained that some participants in the study felt that online spectacles retailers had: “a simple and clear purchasing structure, as well as a system that doesn’t make a customer feel pressured. These are the positives that the High Street can learn from.”
This feedback – and a recommendation for High Street practices to take sufficient time for frame adjustments – was drawn from the experiences of the 33 participants in the study.
The first-of-its-kind research sourced five frames for each patient from the most popular web retailers and five from a variety of High Street practices, including supermarket and multiple opticians, as well as independent businesses.
When put through their paces by the researchers, the online spectacles were significantly more likely to be classified as unsafe.
The results, in the research funded by the College of Optometrists, are concerning particularly for varifocal and multifocal sales, where elderly, frail patients in poorly fitted frames can be at an increased risk of falls, Professor Elliott warned.
“That people can buy these types of spectacles online without a warning is outrageous,” he emphasised.
Online-bought frames were also more likely to be deemed unacceptable by the participants as well, mostly due to the fit and appearance of the spectacles.
“For some, what they got in the post wasn’t like they were expecting the spectacles to be,” Professor Elliott highlighted.
The majority of participants, in the research published in the journal Optometry and Vision Science, had only purchased spectacles at a High Street practice, but following the study, one in five said they would purchase their next pair online.
The other four out of five said they would stick with the High Street practices.
The researchers also recommended that warnings about the dangers of falls should accompany all online sales of varifocal and multifocal spectacles.
Online retailers could improve customer satisfaction by offering fittings services and frames for customers to try on at home, ensuring their stock matches their web information closely and encouraging more accurate pupillary distances, the researchers concluded.
One study participant, Jill Bell, said: “The main thing is that you don’t get to see the glasses when you buy online. As part of the study, I chose one pair of frames that looked similar to ones I had seen in the shops. But when they arrived, they were much thicker than I expected so they were not what I wanted.”
In contrast, another participant, Jess Cook, said that she felt more comfortable buying her spectacles online, especially after a pair from a supermarket opticians was dispensed with the lenses the wrong way around.
She highlighted that: “I had a brilliant experience at one High Street retailer, which was great. In the other shops I didn’t feel that the level of service was good enough to compensate for the fact that you have to spend so much more money than to do [it] online.
“I do also feel that there is a wider range of spectacles available when you shop online,” Ms Cook emphasised.
To read more, visit the College of Optometrists’ website.