In today’s polarized political climate, the middle ground has been abandoned to ideological interest groups that promote their own rigid agendas to the total exclusion of anyone else’s. This toxic environment has produced gridlock in Washington and a widespread sense of frustration among voters who are desperate for progress.

The optical industry, in keeping with the times, has its own form of gridlock. It’s based on rigid, simplistic ways of thinking, and it is causing frustration among “voters” who cast their ballots with dollars when deciding whom they will buy their eyeglasses from.

I’m referring to the battle between brick-and-mortar retailers and those who sell eyewear online. The fight has been going on for years, with each side pushing out its own propaganda. For example, a major online retailer advertises “reasons to buy glasses online.” But these “reasons” are sometimes based on half-truths that create false impressions. Here’s an example: “Online sites don’t try to ‘force’ a sale on you. Retail store salesmen do.”

Really? Most salespeople and dispensers I know are ethical professionals who evaluate every patient’s vision needs and recommend products to fit their budget, regardless of the commissions they might receive.

The same ad also asserts, “Leading online retailers offer a high quality product with a risk-free shopping experience.” Risk-free? What about that study conducted by the AOA and The Vision Council a few years ago that found nearly half of the eyeglasses purchased online had incorrect prescriptions or safety issues?

In fairness, claims made by some brick-and-mortar retailers are just as deceptive, leading consumers to think that all eyeglasses bought online are cheaply made and fit poorly.

The truth is more complex. Yes, some brick-and-mortar retailers do a poor job of servicing customers. And some online sellers provide quality products and have accurate online measuring systems that satisfy the fitting requirements of most customers.

It’s time for both sides to ratchet down the propaganda. Our industry is changing. Many brick-and-mortar stores have branched into online sales, and at least one major online seller, Warby Parker, is moving aggressively into brick-and-mortar. The old battle lines are blurring. Rather than confuse consumers with misinformation, all players need to unite around the idea of offering the best vision choices for the best values.

Andrew Karp
Group Editor, Lenses and Technology
akarp@jobson.com