An articlle by Daniella Miletic in the Melbourne Age news paper, 24th September 2010
TO ONLINE retailers, Rachel Wilson and Edmond Washington represent the growing confidence among consumers to purchase more than just their books online, but for Australian optometrists they may represent a threat to future revenue. In February this year, the couple had their eyes tested at their local optometrist, asked him to print out a copy of their prescriptions and went online to order both frames and the lenses for less than half the price they had paid for spectacles in the past.
”The ones I got online were about 80-something dollars and the ones I got last time were $300 and something, so as a student the difference was significant,” Ms Wilson says. The pair filled in a GlassesOnline form in less than five minutes and a week later Ms Wilson received her pair in the mail. Mr Washington’s took a fortnight longer because his prescription was more complex. ”I have a high prescription, so they called me up and asked if I’d like thinner lenses,” he says. ”I’ve been wearing glasses for 15 years and this pair is perfect; I haven’t noticed any difference between these and other glasses I’ve had.”
Australians are increasingly ordering their prescription glasses and contact lenses online at big discounts, taking business from optometrists who have traditionally provided prescriptions, frames and lenses.
Kevin Reece started GlassesOnline in 2006 when he saw that retailers of online prescription glasses were winning a slice of the UK market. He says the difference is that he doesn’t have to pay for shop fitouts, which allows him to pass on discounts. He claims his average pair of glasses sells for about $150, but they start at $49. ”Once you have a prescription, it really is just a matter of fabricating those lenses in a laboratory,” he says.
But optometrists have warned that spectacles ordered over the internet may not come with the same warranties and technical advice. Shirley Loh, of the Optometrists Association Australia, says the group is aware that some consumers are buying glasses online. ”I don’t think it’s causing closures of optometrist practices, but it is more of a concern that it may become more widespread in the future,” she said. ”Both optometrists and the association have been making efforts to make sure that the public is educated about optometry services and products, and reminding them how technical they are. It seems people can often forget because they look quite simple, a pair of glasses, but the technology that goes into that, the lens designs, the lens materials, the fitting of the lenses to the frame and then the fitting of the frames to the patient’s face is very technical.”
One inner-city optometrist told The Agethat while some things, such as a box of contact lenses, might be cheaper online, e-tailers were not a serious threat. ”When it comes to prescription glasses online, unless they are very simple it would be very hard to do successfully,” he said.