Data from the US showing that over half (56%) of adults had made an eyewear purchase online isn’t exactly surprising, but the 35% of prescription glasses wearers that said they had bought spectacles online on more than one occasion certainly was. Until recently, anecdotal estimates of the share that online retail has in the eyewear sector have always been in the single digits. This new research from the Vision Council, suggests that figure may be significantly higher.

It shows the acceleration that online eyewear retailing has enjoyed in recent years, fuelled no doubt by the pandemic, but also by a growing band of digitally native individuals. For a recent episode of Optician’s podcast, Talking Optics, I spoke to Yves Prevoo, the founder of online refraction platform, easee, about how the technology worked and how it might be integrated in future. Prevoo is convinced that by 2030, everybody’s eye care journey will begin entirely online, and easee wants to be there to show everyone the way. Where these online platforms will drive traffic to is the $64,000 question.

As a sector that is largely wary of online refraction, I found myself asking whether this was justified. After all, easee only caters for adults between 18 and 45, which isn’t the key demographic for most optical practices. Who can blame easee and the countless online/offline retailers for targeting those not truly catered for by traditional optical practices? The young, digitally native people of today can be the patients of tomorrow if they have the right offering.

Having said all that, it’s ironic that practices around the country are turning to the internet retailer to buy contact lenses for their own patients, and its often cheaper than buying direct from the manufacturers. It’s faster, too. Someone will have to explain the thinking behind that to me, but it doesn’t feel like a sustainable business model for anyone.