Real Deal: The Case of the Online Shoppers

Online shoppers ask for PD

illustration by karla durangprang

How can this business stem the tide of lost sales and frustrating repairs?

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 edition of INVISION.

Shortly before 7 p.m., Dr. Arroyo entered an exam room to work with Zeke, a college student and her last patient of the day at Arroyo Optical in Phoenix, AZ. She had been caring for Zeke’s eyes since he was a middle schooler, and was optometrist to his whole family.

“Great to see you! Oh, those are some funky glasses,” she said, scoping out the oversized frames, nosepads splayed so wide the metal bridge nearly cut skin off his nose. “I didn’t put you in those, did I?” Dr. Arroyo asked.

“No, I actually lost the last pair I got from you. I bought these online a few months ago,” Zeke said. He grinned and admitted, “They were really cheap.” “I bet,” she replied, glancing at the exam sheet. “You read my eye chart at about 20/30, so we’re going to check your eyes to see if we can get better than that.” She motioned to Zeke to remove his glasses.


Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual eyecare businesses and people.


Natalie Taylor is an experienced optometry practice manager for Advanced Care Vision Network and a consultant with Taylor Vision. Learn more at

The refraction progressed slowly. Zeke was OD -3.00-0.75x100 and OS -3.25-3.00x030, but in the end he could easily read 20/20. Dr. Arroyo stepped out to neutralize his eyewear, and found that each lens was off-axis by about 5 degrees. She dotted the OCs and went back to the exam room. As she suspected, her dots were 5mm below his pupils.

“The numbers I got today are slightly different from last year’s, so I’m prescribing new glasses,” she said. “But no ordering online, OK? With your prescription, you really need a professional taking the measurements and fitting them to your face. This pair” — she said, gesturing to his glasses — “aren’t up to my standards.”

“Oh, well, I already found a pair ...,” he said.

Dr. Arroyo’s chest clenched in frustration. “Zeke,” she said. “Help me understand why you don’t want to buy glasses from your eye doctor.”

Zeke thought for a moment. “To be honest, I hadn’t considered it,” he said. “It’s my first time buying my own glasses, so I can’t afford a lot.”

“Had you already looked at the prices here?” Dr. Arroyo asked.

“No, but I buy a lot of things online. I guess it was just automatic for me to look for glasses, too,” he said. “Actually, my mom and dad want me to get copies of their prescriptions too. I told them where I got this pair and they ended up finding sunglasses online for like, 50 bucks!”

Tired and defeated, Dr. Arroyo sent Zeke home with everything he needed to order online, including his parents’ PDs from six months ago.

Two weeks later, Zeke and his parents visited the office seeking eyewear adjustments for their new frames. Zeke’s mother informed the optician, “Dr. Arroyo gave us our measurements, but these sunglasses seem much different than the pair I bought here six months ago.”

“I’ll check the numbers for you, and adjust them,” the optician said. “But there is a risk of breakage, and since we didn’t sell them, we can’t warranty the parts.” Zeke’s father nodded complicitly, but his mother’s eyebrows shot up in suspicion.

True to Murphy’s Law, when the optician heated the temple of Zeke’s cheaply made new frame, it snapped. Before he could even bother with the lensometer, Zeke’s mother was demanding that the practice cover the costs.

“Ma’am, I’m so sorry, but these things do happen, and it’s one of the reasons online eyewear is inexpensive ...,” the optician began.

“My son told me the doctor pressured him to buy here,” she exclaimed. “You broke them on purpose! I’m not leaving until I speak to Dr. Arroyo!”


1. When frames purchased online are damaged during adjustment, what is the best customer service policy?

2. What about if you had charged money for the adjustment?

3. What can ECPs do to help patients understand the benefits of purchasing in a brick-and-mortar store?

4. Is it appropriate to charge for PDs? What about frame adjustments?



Lake Worth, FL

The Internet is a fact of life and is not going away. Within a few years refractions online will be common. As an optician who owns a small optical store, we do best with an older clientele who appreciate old-school service, and with patients who have more complex Rxs. With PDs, it’s simple: The optician takes it when glasses are fitted. Adjustments? Very tricky situation since you can’t be rude, so I take each case as I see fit. Focus on patients who will appreciate you.


Fort Kent, ME

No repairs. No adjustments. If they persist or truly can’t wear them they way they are, then charge for services but have them sign a waiver. Place the disclaimer on the prescription so they know in advance that the free services they have known for years are no longer available when eyewear is purchased elsewhere. A listing of all the services included in the purchase of eyewear from the provider will also help to educate the patients.


Edina, MN

We have them sign a waiver that releases us from responsibility for damage to product that was purchased elsewhere. We do not charge for adjustments, as that would create a larger problem. We usually take the opportunity to go over the value of high-quality products. Help patients understand all that goes into fitting frames and evaluating the entire process from lens selection to temple length and bridge size. These are things that are difficult to do unless the customer is present.


Syracuse, NY

My policy would be not to adjust online eyeglasses at all. This would prevent any problem that may occur during an adjustment.


Huntington, NY

Patients must be explicitly told that you are not responsible for breakage. Are they willing to accept that? If they are, then go ahead. We explain that they will have to go back to the online dealer if it does break.


Lake Charles, LA

Adjusting frames from other sources than us is tricky. Inspect the frame closely before doing anything. If it remotely looks fragile, don’t adjust. Give the disclaimer (even in writing) about breakage. When it breaks, replace it with an inexpensive frame or a regular-priced frame at a discount. Have a good, better, best of frame inventory and prices. You can’t compete dollar for dollar, but you can’t be in left field with your prices either. Let the customer know you are there for them next time. Charging for PDs and adjustments will not pay the bills and only makes you look like you are nickel-and-diming the customer.


Fort Mitchell, KY

I used to give the PD and Rx. I’ve changed my views within the past six months of not giving the PD because I don’t want to be liable for how the specs are made elsewhere. I think practices will need to start charging for adjustments etc.because certain services need to be respected and the online market completely undercuts this understanding with reduced margins, but ECPs can’t. At the end of the day, kill ’em with kindness, but there is a time when enough is enough.


Scottsdale, AZ

I would check the glasses and professionally let them know that I cannot adjust this quality of frames due to them breaking. I would educate them that quality matters if they want a good frame fit. I show them my plastic frames, and they see the difference right away.


Spring Valley, CA

We have patients sign a waiver. I have never charged for adjustments, minor repairs or screws, no matter what the situation may be. We explain to patients that the personal service we give will exceed whatever service they may receive by buying online and we can’t guarantee that their lenses will be made right by someone else. I let them know that even if they take their Rx somewhere else to always ask questions about warranties and re-do policies, and I explain what all our warranties will give them. On PDs, we let patients know that the PD measurement is not taken by the doctor during the exam. That is something the optician will do in the dispensing area, and if they’d like to have this done, it is a $25 charge when taking a Rx elsewhere.


Charlotte, NC

If we had charged for the adjustment and the frame broke, we would probably make a pair of glasses out of our value line eyewear to replace the broken ones. We do charge for the PD measurement in our office, but we don’t get that request often. I think it is appropriate to charge for this as it is not part of the prescription and should be taken by someone with training in fitting glasses.


Lawrenceburg, IN

We do not adjust or repair glasses purchased elsewhere. I inform people of the statistics of online glasses and quality control. I urge them to return for us to do a basic lensometry since 50 percent of glasses purchased online are incorrect. Then I don’t give them a hard time. I can’t pretend to know their budget or circumstances. I do not charge for PDs or adjustments. No judgment on those who do. I like to live by the rule of what would I want/expect if I were the patient. Works well for us.