Online Eye Testing

Would you take an online eye test to fill your next glasses prescription? Eyewear companies like Warby Parker and Opternative are betting on it, and offering online testing as a convenience for customers who prefer to skip the in-person appointments.

Hexa Research is projecting that the online eyewear industry in the U.S. will grow to $505.4 million by 2025, up from $338 million in 2017, according to PC Magazine. This makes online eye testing an attractive offering for companies and consumers alike.

But what is the reality of offering online eye tests, and can they really be trusted?

Warby Parker has 86 retail eyewear stores across the U.S. where people can get their eyes tested in person, but the company said it developed the online eye test to provide convenience to customers who live outside of these neighborhoods, as well as those in more rural areas.

Warby Parker developed a service they call “Prescription Check,” which means customers take an eye test online and then a doctor checks it over to write a prescription. However, customers have to pass an eligibility test to be able to use this service. If you don’t meet the criteria, Warby Parker will refer you to see an eye doctor in-person.

The test mimics the standard eye test you might get in a doctor’s office. An object appears on screen, and customers look through lenses to report what they can and cannot see. “The test displays the objects on the screen, and customers input answers into their phone,” according to PC Magazine.

Dave Gilboa, founder and CEO of Warby Parker, said to PC Magazine: “if you don't have a particularly complicated prescription, if you don't have a family history of glaucoma, if you don't have any complications that would require you to go get a comprehensive eye health exam in person, then we do find that a lot of the population really can benefit from a service like this."

Warby Parker also uses the technology of iPhone X to help customers get remotely fitted for frames. Warby Parker’s app shines scattered light on a person’s face, which results in a 3D rendering. Its app then measures “facial data points” (with the infrared camera, this means as many as 30,000 points), and chooses a selection of frames based on that information.

Opternative also offers a similar eye exam that can be taken on a laptop or phone. Its test analyzes “distance, color vision, and astigmatisms,” according to PC Magazine. Like with Warby Parker, and eye doctor examines the test remotely and writes a prescription. The eye test is part of its online store, so if you’re browsing for frames, you can take the test on the spot without having to go to a different part of the app or website.

While both companies advise that people get regular check-ups even while using their online tests, outside experts are weary of customers opting for online testing in place of seeing doctors. In-person visits are more thorough and personal, and there’s less chance of missing potential health problems. Some experts warn that even buying glasses online is a risk, as the lenses are sourced from different countries and there isn’t always consistency with the products.

Dr. Chris Wroten, an optometrist at the Bond-Wroten Eye Clinic in Louisiana told PC Magazine: "Separating the eye health check from the vision test is certainly a concern I would have just from the perspective of the overall health and well-being of our patients.”