Over the past few years, the number of pairs of prescription eyeglasses sold online in the UK has been in the millions – with more people turning to the quick browse-and-click approach than ever before. For those who already have their prescriptions, upgrading to the latest designer pair couldn’t be easier, and in 2020, as the global Covid-19 pandemic continues, the number of those eschewing in-store shopping in favour of online alternatives has continued to grow.
Even so, it’s not for everyone, and those in need of an eye test or a new prescription currently still have to visit their local optician to be assessed face-to-face. But between waiting to be seen by an advisor and rushing through the trying-on process – not to mention busy stores and harsh lighting, it’s little wonder that those who can choose their perfect pair of frames from the comfort of their own homes are increasingly choosing to do just that.
Increasingly, if you have strong prescriptions, or require transition lenses or blue-light blockers then shopping online doesn’t mean you have to miss out. And, at the point of sale, you can often make your own decisions about what extras you really need, rather than feeling pressured or harassed by pushy sales advisors.
As you would expect, like most markets, the overall eyewear market has experienced a hit of -11 per cent in 2020. Even so, large brands such as Specsavers are continuing to sit pretty at the top of their game, with an increase in sales revenue of four per cent. This, it seems, could be largely due to its comprehensive online offering, which features eyeglasses from top designer brands such as Prada and Carolina Herrera. However, other online only sites, which focus solely on the provision of online prescription glasses, have been giving them a run for their money, with the likes of ebuydirect counting a new Oakley glasses collection and the latest prescription Ray-Bans amongst their inventory.
Many of the brands and providers that have remained strong in spite of market volatility have technology to thank for that. While in the past, you would have had to visit a store to try on your frames, this is no longer the case. Many online eyewear retailers have taken advantage of the latest innovations to provide a ‘try on’ feature, which allows customers to try their favourite pairs on for size by simply uploading a selfie or allowing an app to scan all angles of the face for their chosen model to be applied, just as it would look on them in real life.
Many online opticians also now offer a free at-home try on service, where they’ll deliver the physical frames to customers to try on and collect again at a later date. Even so, the shift to online has been slower for the eyeglasses market than in many others. But it’s not just the need for a prescription that has hindered progress.
To order a pair of glasses, the wearer will also need to know their ‘average pupillary distance’ to ensure that they get a good fit. The ‘PD’ measurement tells opticians the distance between the centre of one pupil and the other, to ensure that every pair of glasses is perfectly set up for the best vision experience – but currently, it is not possible to have the measurements taken online.
That said, some of the market’s biggest leaders are working hard to change this, aiming to produce an online tool that measures PD using the camera on a computer or smartphone. Should this come to fruition, it is certain to accelerate the shift to online prescription glasses and make the entire process easier for those looking to buy.
It’s not just a technological shift that is required, but a cultural one, too. But as the Covid-19 pandemic continues, we can expect to see this happen more quickly than it otherwise would have done. What 2021 holds remains to be seen, but with more people shopping online than ever thanks to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it’s likely to be another period of growth.