A Which? investigation has warned of the dangers of buying cheap spectacles online after 15 of 36 pairs bought from 13 online retailers failed tests carried out by a panel of optometrists. Of the 15 that failed, 10 pairs had lenses that did not meet British standards.
In a second investigation, 13 of 15 retailers unlawfully sold contact lenses without seeing a valid prescription or checking with the consumer's optician. One company sent lenses for the wrong Rx and brand and Which? added that the General Optical Council had asked to see the findings. Asda Opticians and The Contact Lens Shop were the only two of the 15 online retailers who refused to sell contact lenses to the researchers.
Which? pointed out the dangers of ordering varifocals online, with five companies sending varifocals without asking for additional measurements. It added that without the interpupillary distance and vertical pupil position, tasks such as driving and walking up and down stairs could be dangerous.
Ten of the 36 pairs were given borderline passes because the online companies did not have the correct measurements to ensure the correct back vertex distance. However, eight of nine pairs with a simple Rx passed the tests.
Which? pointed out that online was not always the cheapest. In the case of contact lenses, a three-month supply of CIBA Vision Dailies Aquacomfort Plus ranged in price online from £75 to £101 versus £84 on the high street.
It added that, with spectacles made to the consumer's specification, there was no automatic right to a refund if the purchaser was not happy with them, unlike on the high street where they may be able to return them.
A spokesman for the Optical Confederation said: 'With internet supply now global, it is more important than ever for customers to be sure that they know what they are buying and whether their purchase will meet their needs. Distant internet suppliers are too often out of the reach of unhappy customers. Our advice is find a practice or name that you trust and, if they offer an online service, they will also provide back-up to ensure your eyewear and eye health is safe.'
The College of Optometrists also expressed concern. President Kamlesh Chauhan said: 'Wearing the wrong lens can be very uncomfortable and can cause eye strain which can lead to headaches. More disturbing are the errors that Which? has highlighted with complex lenses, even where a valid prescription has been supplied. It may not even save patients much money to spend the time, as well as take what appear to be substantial risks, by going online.'