Optical Industry: It’s Time for an Overhaul

When I joined the optical industry in 2016 I had no idea who they were or what they produced. I had never even seen a manufacturing facility, had no clue how eyeglasses were made, and chuckled at my naivete many years prior when I bought Marc Jacob sunglasses and took them to JCPenney optical and thought they would somehow apply my prescription to the tinted lenses. I kept telling the optician that I wanted to keep the same tint and the person gently explained that the lenses in the sunglasses would be removed and a new pair inserted. Fast forward a decade and there I was walking through a lab, viewing rows and shelves of lens inventory that would eventually become someone’s new tinted sunglasses.


Although the technology to create lenses and offer innovative designs is ever evolving, the optical industry remains a laggard with respect to the consumer.  Each pair of lenses is as unique as each prescription, but the industry leaders have failed to embrace the expectation of the 21st Century Consumer: to purchase prescription eyewear in the same way we procure any other product, online.


As with any other product, the breadth of online frames is endless. The easy part is selecting frames online, but then the process becomes quite muddy. I must locate my script, written in black ink by my doctor, key in the cylinder, axis, sphere and now that I’m in progressives, the complexity begins.  Not only do I need my pupillary distance, which I can measure myself, I need my segment height and the optical center for without these the add power will not be in the correct position and I will experience visual discomfort. But where does this data come from? And can I do it myself?  The simple answer is, no, a skilled professional provides this data.  But how then can I buy a pair of conversation starting frames online? I can’t. Well, I can. I can buy the frames, drive to my favorite optician for the proper markings and they will send them off to a lab for production. But I’ll pay through the nose. So what is the solution?


The solution I’d like to see is improved try-on technology that seats the frame properly on my face, identifies my optical center, measures my segment height and transmits those values to the producing lab along with my Rx. This same technology would store my Rx data in an online eyewear wallet that I have access to for future purchases. Such a solution is not without challenges; if the prescription is incorrect or the frame requires adjusting, a visit to an optometrist is still required. On the upside, the cost savings would far outweigh the hassle of a trip or two to an optometrist.


Innovation in the online eyewear purchase process is essential to how consumers shop today. If we can book a flight to Dubai, build and price a Mini Cooper online, and order products that arrive in a single day, we cannot be that far from building an e-commerce solution centered around the consumer. This is a challenge for intrepid, creative, user-centered software designers who see beyond today.

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