/ Health, Shopping

Buying glasses online – are we blinded by bargains?

Optician conducting an eye examination

In recent years, many have turned to purchasing glasses online to save money. For £10 who wouldn’t be tempted? But is this move short-sighted when it comes to our eye health?

When buying glasses, is there such a thing as a bargain, or do you get what you pay for? Prescription glasses are available online from as little as a tenner so it’s tempting to bag a bargain and avoid the regular check-up with your optician.

Which? members have told us that they’ve had positive experiences buying glasses online. We were happy to hear this but keen to discover if purchasing spectacles online was as accurate as seeing an optometrist in person.

Optical illusion

In a recent Which? Investigation, our researchers purchased 36 pairs of glasses online. We sent the glasses off to an expert optometrist to be analysed.

The results were worrying. Ten out of 36 pairs used lenses that did not meet the British standard. We also discovered varifocals made, by some online companies, without vital measurements needed to ensure safety.

Our researcher who was shopping for a more simple prescription (under +/-5) fared better, with eight of her nine pairs passed by our two expert optometrists.

Spotlight on special offers

Many high-street opticians offer special offers galore in the spectacle department. Some basic specs are available for £15 (although be sure to check the small print as this is unlikely to include lens coatings) so what is tempting us to move from the high street  to online?

It costs opticians at least £30 to £40 to carry out an eye test. With the NHS in England paying opticians £20.70 per eye test, it’s a loss leader for many. Should opticians be offering knock-down prices on our glasses to tempt us through the doors or should we be paying the true value of the product and service?

We’re used to hitting the internet to buy what we need and we’re savvy shoppers – increasingly looking to get the best deal. Do you buy your glasses or contact lenses online and have you ever worried about the accuracy of what arrives in the post?

Useful links

Which? members can read our glasses investigation (PDF)


2 and a half year thread
Simple synopsis, trust you local eyecare professional , they don’t drive around in ferraris they just want to earn a decent living giving you the best eyecare you deserve, value is a personal decision. Just dont expect professional results from amateurs.

Towel in.

Pavithran says:
13 February 2015

Well, actually, I do agree that it will spoil the eyesight of the buyer. But, most buyers buy only the frames online. Tge frames have no effects on our eyes. They will buy the lense or glass (Some say) from the optician.

This report is pretty useless – just a series of platitudes. Where are the detailed results of the so-called WHICH investigation into online purchases of varifocal glasses for example? Where are the further references?
As a long term subscriber I expect better value for my money, but unfortunately it’s in line with the trend of WHICH reports to become ever more superficial over the years.

Hello Grandad1900, thanks for your feedback. This is a conversation where we post a short opinion piece, reveal some of the research and start a debate with consumers on the issue. This particular one was published in 2012. It’s not helpful that the piece doesn’t link on to any of the full investigation information, so I’d like to share that with you now as a Which? member:

Here’s a link to the report from 2012 (for logged in Which? members): http://www.which.co.uk/documents/pdf/p26-28_buyingglasseslenses-286334.pdf
Here are 10 tips on buying glasses online: http://www.which.co.uk/news/2012/05/10-things-to-watch-when-buying-glasses-online-286294/
And our reviews of opticians: http://www.which.co.uk/home-and-garden/shopping-grooming-and-wellbeing/reviews-ns/best-and-worst-opticians-stores/

I hope that helps. I’m also going to update the piece with these links following your feedback.

We also have some consumer rights advice on buying glasses: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/action/how-to-protect-yourself-when-buying-glasses

Does Grandad1900 still drive? If so if he is over ‘that certain age’ when contacted by the DVLA for info about your sight and your ability to continue to drive? My optician always provides me with written evidence following an eye test to confirm that my eyesight is ‘fit for purpose’. The DVLA have so far never requested this, except for informing me I have previously declared that I have cataracts, which was completely false since I do not have cataracts and have the opticians confirmation to verify this.

The only time I have been asked for an eyesight declaration was when i renewed my licence to include minibus and 7.5 tonners. The test was done as part of a comprehensive medical by my doctor. Since good eyesight for anyone, whatever their age, is crucial for safe driving it seems strange that drivers should not have regular eye tests as a condition of continued driving. It may well be that your insurance is void if you have an accident and are shown to have defective vision.

A relative has been driving and, at night, found oncoming headlights on unlit roads to be much more glaring – a bright veil across the scene. Only on a recent visit to the opticians did she find the beginnings of cataracts. She now does not drive in the dark until they are sorted.

Properly prescribed and dispensed spectacles or contact lenses are surely something worth paying for – even if they are just basic frames and lenses. Eyesight is such a valuable sense. Why risk an online purchase for something so crucial?

Stephen Tromans FBDO(hons). Retired says:
5 January 2016

I am a retired Dispensing Optician. It saddens me that some people are putting money before quality and service. I spent years learning my profession, taking and passing exams, learning the practice and art of spectacle dispensing from my peers. I never made a fortune, just a living.
Opticians generally offer a great service. Advice, repairs, adjustments etc. Online retailers are only interested in profit. They cannot and do not offer the same as the professionals. Just watch tv and see the often appalling fit of spectacles worn by the public today. Frames that are too shallow, sides that are too short and shapes that do not flatter the wearer.
Spectacles are probably the only item that is worn day in day out often for years. More is spent on clothes, shoes and entertainment than a decent good quality pair of spectacles. It has always amazed me that people will pay £200 for a pair of mass produced sunglasses without a thought, but an Optician charging a similar amount for a bespoke pair of prescription spectacles and the service that goes with them, is often accused of profiteering.
I rest my case.

I have had some interesting encounters with opticians in the last few years. When I first moved to Bungay around 15 years ago I consulted an optician in the town and they tested my eyes and I bought two pairs of glasses from them. After a while I became aware that glasses were available online at much better prices (at the time about half the High Street prices). Upon making enquiries online I discovered that I needed more information than was shown on my prescription, I needed my pupillary distance. By chance I was with my Mother-in-Law when she had her eyes tested in another part of the country and I jokingly asked the optician if she would measure my pupillary distance. To my surprise she did because I was not local and on condition I told no one. She didn’t even charge me for it. I did then order a pair of glasses from Glasses Direct. When I had my eyes tested in Bungay again I was not offered my prescription and so I had to ask for it. “What do you need that for?” I was asked. My reply was “I am entitled to it and I may want to buy glasses elsewhere”. “Are you buying glasses online?” was the next question. When I admitted that I had the optician became very animated and said that all the cheap and nasty glasses sold online were poor quality and will soon break (they don’t) and how can he be expected to make a living just doing eye tests and anyway I didn’t know my pupillary distance so the glasses won’t work properly. When I told him I did know my pupillary distance that was the last straw and he ejected me from the shop saying don’t ever come back in here again we don’t need people like you.

The next time I needed an eye test I went to an optician in Beccles the next town to get them done. There was no change so no glasses were needed. After a couple more years I returned to the same optician for a further test and as there was a change in my eyesight I was asked to wait to see someone about glasses. I said I wasn’t going to buy glasses today so I left. I bought more glasses online this time from Glasses2You.

After a couple more years I phoned the same optician to make an appointment for another eye test. After a long pause I was asked to phone back later because the optician needed to speak to me. On phoning again on following days I was told on three occasions that the optician was not available. I got the message. I wonder why it could have been.

After a longer break between eye tests than is recommended I visited another optician in Beccles and had the test done there. This time I thought I ought to buy glasses there because I didn’t want to run out of places to get eye tests done. The prices had definitely come down since the competition from online sellers and my new glasses only about £60 more expensive that the online equivalent.

I am in two minds about who will supply my next pair.

When it comes to glasses I agree, buying online is not quite the same as getting quality advice from a local optician. When it comes to contact lenses though, once you have received (and paid) for your prescription, you are often simply ordering a commoditised product which does not require any adjustments. Online retailers can do that as well and often cheaper than local stores. I have bought mine (Focus Dailies) from sites like http://www.visiondirect.co.uk and http://www.feelgoodcontacts.com. Sometimes I also compare prices, e.g. http://www.visioncompare.co.uk, to see if there’s a cheaper alternative. In my view, if you are a responsible adult, online is the way to go for contact lenses.

Well, actually, I do agree! Buying glasses online is not quite the same. It depends on the quality, the website from where you buy the glasses, what kind of technologies they use, etc. My advice is that if you are planning to buy first check the company reviews.