/ 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)

Comments

I want to know why coatings on glasses are so bad. Even with a lot of care they crack and scratch making the glasses unwearable and unsuitable to keep as a spare pair in case of emergencies.

Why can’t coatings which are put on also be taken off? Surely this is something like designing for recyclability – it ought to be designed in. It seems to me at the moment that it is a bit like the chip on the printer which stops you from using another brand of ink.

Lenses for glasses cost hundreds of pounds and the coatings just don’t cut the mustard.

Andy says:
19 June 2012

Modern coatings such as Crizal Forte (essilor) and Seecoat (nikon) are superb and they come with a warrantee, just make sure you ask for these and you will be very happy. It’s the cheaper old coatings that craze and seperate so you just need to ask for a coating by name.
Some of the old coating Laboratories have been purchased so that very cheap lenses can be put on the market but you need to be aware that these coatings are from a 80’s design made on machines that are 30 years old.
Sripping coatings used to be possible but the chemicals were found to be very carcinogenic, it could be done but the protection for the operatives would make it unfeasable to do it at a reasonable cost.

Ian says:
14 July 2012

I have had varifocals for shortsight for many years and have always had the “best” lenses on offer from the various High Street shops.
My problem is how to compare the “best” from the different suppliers. An independent was insistant that he could supply better lenses tha say Specsavers or Boots, and Boots tell me that they now have access to better lenses than they did in their days as Dolland & Aitchison. As lens prices tend to range between £400 and £800 it would be useful to know whose best is best!

Phillip says:
14 July 2012

Hi,

I would have serious doubts that an independent optician is guaranteed to have better lenses than Boots, Specsavers or Vision Express. Specsavers is a franchise so they are encouraged to use the company brand but still have access to any product. If you are buying a lens from Essilor or Zeiss then it’s going to be a good product, however, with Varifocals you really do get what you pay for (even within those brands) and modern lenses can be designed specifically for you and your prescription.
My recommendation for varifocals would be a) what lenses did you have before, if it worked well then you should be fine to get the same one again b) Don’t go for the cheapest, varifocals really do vary in quality, the more expensive lenses give better peripheral vision and are generally easier to ‘adapt’ to c) buy a branded lens, Zeiss, Essilor (Varilux), Nikon, Hoya.

andy says:
17 July 2012

Ian
All manufacturers have there best lenses and they all have them on their websites, For my money The top lenses would be Essilor (Varlilux) and Nikon, their thinnest lightest scratchproof lenses all reatail at about £495. I’m not saying it’s cheap but these exceptional lenses and less than £800.
The key here is to get the optician to write down what they are quoting for exactly. you want to know that it’s a Nikon Seemax 1.74 index with a Seecoat anti reflection or a Varilulux Physio 2 short corridor eyecode with Crizal UV. only then can you really get a true comparison of cost. What you will find interesting is that when you go to ‘cheaper’ shops you will invariably find them more expensive than the quality independents when it’s quality lenses
hope it helps.

andy says:
17 July 2012

My advice would be that you should always improve your lenses(budget allowing), lets be honest you wouldn’t go out and but a Television with a foot of tube poking out the back now would you? Products get better and better all the time. Take the early VM2 varifocal ok I’m going back a good few years now but it had a 30% rejection rate! modern varifocals are down to less than 1%

As for the question of better lenses. See if you can get a pair of Varilux Ipseo lenses anywhere other than a Varilux specialist (only independents) those guys paid over £7000 for a piece of equipment just so they can take the precise measurements required to fit this bespoke Varifocal lens.

I would stick to the physio2.0, whenever I have dispensed an Ipseo lens the wearer hasn’t appreciated the difference as much as the price of the lenses warrants. if they are a standard design vari wearer then the they are a massive improvement and I would reccommend them. But if they are already a free form vari wearer I find the physio 2.0 eyecode sufficient.

Judith says:
13 August 2012

Having had a bad experience with a big company, I would like to have my eyes tested by them, but have my old glasses reglazed by an online company. I was charged a fortune for reglazing glasses by said company and they damaged the frame.
Then my new second pair of glasses broke and they charged me £36 just to put the same lenses into an identical frame. This does not seem fair to me – there seems to be scarcely any work involved.
Is it feasible to order this online?
I would really like a professional opinion, not a commercial one.
Thank you.

andy says:
1 October 2012

It is interesting that you are attaching value to a professional opinion. If you want a professional opinion though why are you considering online retailers who have no professional qualification at all.
£36 could be reasonable it depends on the frame. A simple question would be could you do this yourself, if not then you are paying for a skill for which you need to pay. you always have a choice.

JUDITH WANLISS says:
1 October 2012

after several bad experiences with a well known high street optician, I am planning to have my eyes tested somewhere else on the High Street and get the prescription dispensed by an online retailer. Is that better or worse?
I object to paying £120 to have my old glasses reglazed.
A pair of expensive glasses lost an arm and they charged £45 for a new identical frame and £36 for glazing it, which took about 5 minutes. On the second frame the other arm has just broken off (Irreparable, apparently). I do not wish to pay £81 for another pair.

andy says:
3 October 2012

Online retailers will always be worse, however please dont take my word for it Which themselves reported this.
Pleae dont give up on the high street, seek out your local independently owned optician and go in and have a chat with them, feel free to be completely open about your experiences and see if they can make you feel comfortable about using their services.
Ok ive used this before but whenever I hear that something only takes a few minutes I do like to point out that the Space shuttle commander only does 8 minutes work getting his crew in orbit.

Best of luck

gareth says:
3 October 2012

Judith
I sell both online and offline in my store in Cardiff and I give all my customers the same care and attention.I don’t charge any fees for a reglaze just the charge for the new lenses. As I am my companies sole employee I am able to offer the same standard of products as a high street optician but at much lower prices.

andy says:
4 October 2012

Judith In addition I meant to say that when you talk to your local independent optician do check that they are quallified and therefore professionals.
It’s amazing how many ‘stores’ are now opening up without any qualified staff.

Buyer beware

JUDITH WANLISS says:
4 October 2012

Andy
Some time ago I went to an independent optician and they told me a c**k and bull story about my driving glasses having to be a certain shape or size. I don’t have any problem with those glasses and don’t have to change them often so I was annoyed when I found out it wasn’t true. They have since closed down.
Then I had adventures with Specsavers, Dollond & Aitchison and Boots. I had my old glasses reglazed in Northern Ireland for half the price D&A quoted me. So I don’t a have much confidence in any of them.
The last time I went to Boots, my eyesight had not changed enough to warrant new glasses, but they tested my peripheral vision twice just in case they could finds anything to warrant a new pair. This is blatant exploitation of clients.

Andy says:
5 October 2012

Judith, there will always be a great opticians not too far from you. Last weekend I was at the Industries annual conference, all the attendees had paid out of their own pockets to be there just to make sure that their standards of excellence are maintained. I find it surprising that youve had difficult times with pretty much every multiple and independent in your area….maybe I should open a practice there if everyone else is so bad.
You are completely protected from exploitation by the General Optical council, if you feel that there is a case of professional misconduct then you should report it.

Judith, I would suggest that if the opticians got you back for a repeat visual field test they were being extremely thorough and making sure that your eyes were healthy, rather than trying to sell you something.
Spectacles don’t really improve your peripheral vision- peripheral vision is very poor compared to straight ahead vision- if something attracts your attention to the side, you turn your eyes to look at it. The problem is that if you don’t see that something, it will not attract your attention, and you won’t be aware that you couldn’t see it.
I would suggest that you are being a bit unfair on Boots- they told you there wasn’t enough of a difference to warrant a change did they not? They also spent more time than some might have checking your eyes were OK. I would assume that the reason you needed a second peripheral test was that you didn’t do very well on the first one, which sometimes happens- some people require a bit of practice to get it right.
I do think it is a shame that you just assume that their checks were solely to attempt to sell you something you did not require.
I am an independent optician, so I have no flag to wave for the multiples, but generally patients who have a problem (?adventures) with an optician, and (hopefully) get things sorted out, will then not go back there. They may very well have a similar problem with the next opticians, who again may sort it out eventually, but then the patient is off somewhere else.
People who have multiple difficulties with multiple optician’s practices should pick ONE and stay there, because they probably know what the problem was (if there was one) and will know how to avoid repeating it.
Boots will have visual field results for your eyes and will know what to expect them to be like the next time, something no-one else can know. But I assume from your post you will be trying someone else the next time?!?

Judith says:
20 May 2013

Ian
Sorry I did not reply to your comments till now. I did go to Specsavers and they were not satisfactory so i went to Dollond & Aitchison who were then absorbed by Boots. All the independent opticians near me have closed down.
I was in Burma recently and next door to the hotel there was an optician where I could have had a new pair of glasses made in a day for a very small price, but I did not take advantage of this.
This week I went into Specsavers to have 2 pairs of glasses tightened. This was done very successfully. I asked the person who was serving me how much it would cost to have my my old glasses reglazed and he said £39, that was the price for the lenses and I would not be charged any more. I was so surprised that I queried this but he said that was the price.
So I am hoping that the next time I need new glasses I may be able to take advantage of this. Will it still be true then? Who knows?

I speak only as a consumer and have been buying glasses online for over 4 years now with no problems at all. I have a complicated prescription needing varifocals and prism correction for double-vision. The number of online glasses websites that can handle my prescription is limited, but I have used several (based in the UK and abroad) and all the glasses have been excellent. On average they cost between 1/3 and 1/2 of high street optician prices. When I go for eye tests I admit to buying my glasses online and when they check them they have not been able to fault the quality and are surprised by the low prices. I like being able to select frames and lens types at leisure without any pressure from sales assistants. I do have a scientific background and I guess this helps with the technical aspects. I do think it is important to have an accurate PD (pupilliary distance) measurement, particularly with high or complex prescriptions. I cannot imagine needing to buy glasses from High Street opticians again. I would be happy to pay £50 or more for an eye test to compensate the optician for lack of glasses sales.

Sorry mate but I’m an Optometrist and I find it rather hard to believe that several sites (not sure why you’ve needed several) have dispensed this type of lens to a frame youve never been measured wearing. I’m going to quote you here …I do think it is important to have an accurate PD (pupilliary distance) measurement, particularly with high or complex prescriptions.
If thats the case then why let someone guess?
Tolerences on a low prescription varifocal with prisms are measured in millimeters so to have several guess at yours and get it right is incredibly fantastic luck, could you do me a favour and pick me some numbers for this weekends lottery please.

I was also

Tej,

I can only speak as I find, and I have purchased 5 excellent pairs of glasses online. My PD was not “guessed” as you suggest but measured. This is not difficult.
At the time I bought my first pair online I used a Hong Kong website as this was the only one I could find that could handle my prescription. Now there are a number of U.S. and U.K. sites I can use. This why I have used “several” suppliers – to get a combination of frame and lens type I like at the best price, as you would when shopping for any product. All these pairs of glasses have fitted perfectly and given me excellent vision.
I have just had an eye test and (at age 65) could comfortably read the “20/20” distance line and the bottom line of the reading chart with glasses I had bought a year ago online (and worn constantly). A small change to the astigmatism part of my prescription was found to be needed and I am currently looking for a new pair. The staff at the website I plan to use this time are suggesting that I send them a photograph of myself wearing the frames to be used. This should give even more precision in the lens positioning and is surely as good as would be achieved face-to-face with an optician.

Not difficult? My qualified professional dispensing optician is mortified by that comment.
I do find the idea of a photo for measuring purposes interesting, do you have to hold up some kind of household object for scale or do you just tape a ruler to your forehead, how does that work then?

I’m sure that your happy with the results and that’s nice but there is no way it’s ever going to anything like as accurate as a face to face consultation.

Tej,
As you know the PD is the measurement between the eyes. I measured mine with a ruler and an assistant. I took a copy of my last glasses prescription used (including my measured PD) with me at my recent eye test and the optician verified that my measurement was “spot on”.
The photograph of me wearing the frames into which lenses are to be fitted is to get the exact fitting height for the lenses. The manufaturing company will have the same frame and the photo (and my measured PD) so they can easily scale the photo to get any additional measurements they need.
I am not saying that buying online glasses is risk free but I would estimate that the 5 pairs have glasses I have bought online have saved me well over £1000 (probably nearer £1500) and in my case has been a comlete success. If I can achieve this with a prescription that includes varifocals with prisms it must be a lot easier for somone with, say, just myopia or wanting reading glasses.

David
This whole article is actually based on the fact that Which went out there and bought glasses online. The report proves that Online companies cannot offer the same standard of quality and accuracy as I and the profession can. These findings aren’t mine they are those published by Which.

Their findings are absolutely contrary to your position and are also what I would expect based on 30 years in the business.
Taking your measurements for prism balanced varifocals isnt something that you can do with a ruler and an assistant, whatever you may protest it just isn’t!
Most comments on here in favour of online seem to be by people connected with the internet industry, I’m sure you will say otherwise but i have a sneaky suspicion that you may well be yourself. If not then my apologies, but if you aren’t then you truly are a most gifted amateur and I salute you.

Tej,

I can truly say that I have no connection whatsoever with any internet glasses company (or any other company selling products on the internet). I speak only as a user of online glasses websites. All my statements are absolutely true and I am sitting in front of my computer typing this wearing my current internet-bought glasses with good vision at all distances. (I selected lenses with a wider intermediate zone to assist with computer use.)
As I said earlier I have a scientific background and do understand the physics of glasses lenses. Without this I do not think I would have been so successful, especially considering my complex prescription. I research companies I plan to use carefully and I suppose the complex prescription helps in a way, because only companies with high technical ability can manufacture them. So the poor companies are automatically weeded out.
With nearly 60 years wearing (expensive) glasses I am just grateful to be able make some significant cost savings as I approach retirement.

BarkingMad says:
15 December 2012

Hi, not really on topic for the review, but there are lots of opticians contributing so I wanted to see whatthey though.

It looks like I need of varifocals – but it may be touch and go. The (Boots #1) opticians that tested my eyes said I was borderline and maybe vari’s would be OK (having trouble looking at the phone and the computer screen is not as clear as it used to be!). They also said that I could have a refund if vari’s didn’t suit me. Boots sell the Platinum and Essilor Physio but they are not cheap for the 1.67 model. Another optician mentioned Occupational Lenses (Boots #1 didn’t mention these) and said I might be able to ask my company to pay for them since I use a computer. Alas, my company scheme wouldn’t pay for Occ Lenses but will pay for “basic CR39 varis” (which probably wouldn’t be very good vari’s) or I could have a 15% discount on other lenses. Boots #2 opticians said Occ Lenses were probably not mentioned by Boots #1 because whilst OK for the office, they wouldn’t be good for driving (so need 2 pairs – I wear specs 5/7 days with contact lens at the w/end). Clulow has been pushing me towards the Nikon Seemax or Essilor Physio but very expensive at £490/460 resp. Boots #1 seems to be back tracking on the refund offer – now they would swap for two pairs of spec. Boots #2 says Boots Platinum Ultra Thin is the Nikon Seemax because the factory that makes the Boots PUT always makes the Nikon Seemax.

I’m generally confused with all the different information I have received. Does anyone have any advice they can offer, possibly in general and in relation the questios below?

1) Would it be better to use vari’s rather than Occ Lenses?
2) Is the Boots PUT = Nikon Seemax?
3) Is the Nikon Seemax better?
4) Where would the Essilor Physio fit into the picture.

My precription is R: -3, -0.75 Cyl, 45 Ax; L -3.75, -0.25 Cyl, 90 Ax with reading addition 1.5 and intermediate addition 1.0

Thanks in advance

Firstly your prescription is a classic go for the vari’s prescription. your probably around 46 and your going to love them….just not the price!

At the price points your talking about the description should read physio 2 eyecode stylus crizal forte UV. these are only available from independent opticians who will need a visioffice tower to measure your frame/face details…go to essilors website for a list of dealers.
seemax is a fantastic lens as well I just dont do as many.
As to the Intolerance guarantee, well first find a Nikon or a Varilux dealer then go in and talk to them. Personally I would offer a straight give them back for a full refund if you don’t like them warrantee. The reason for this is that I know that your going to love them.

2) Yeh right!
3) Both excellent, the dispenser is the important criteria here…do they do lots of these or are you the exception?
4) physio is sooo 2010, its now physio 2 EC crizal UV….if your lucky enough to be near one of the super exclusive practices you can get the new S series 4D which is an even bigger improvement….I’m one and my patients are genuinely blown away by it. in 1.67 index I charge £467 for this just as a benchmark and I’m in London.

happy to help….Us Dispensing professional love this stuff.

Gillian says:
16 December 2012

Try Rodenstock lenses. Superb!

Ah, but which Rodenstock? their premium lenses are great. but the older and substantailly cheaper lenses also have higher distortion levels.

A Ford Modeo and a Ford Sierra are both Fords, their just seperated by time and technological improvements and I know which I’d rather own.

Abigail Mae Prescott says:
20 May 2013

This is mainly the reason why you need to search for reliable optical stores be it online or a brick-and-mortar one. Do research on the background of the store or when you purchase, it is highly recommended that the store you choose should be experts

[This comment has been edited to remove the promotional link. Thanks, mods.]

If you value your glasses then don’t trust them to re-glaze my glasses! They have had my glasses for over 2 months and when I contact them all they can say is ” we have posted them to you they must have been lost in the post – Tuff not our problem@ and they then say that under the terms of the contract you can not claim compensation from them? lets see about that!

After getting a new prescription from my optician I ordered bifocal sunglasses from Perfect Glasses for £75.75.
They arrived a week later. I have no issue with the lenses which seem as good as any supplied by my optician. My issue is with the frames which are so inaccurately and asymmetrically assembled that they should not have left the factory, far less been fitted with lenses and sold to a customer.
It has taken three emails and a phone call to their 0845 number to get any response from Perfect Glasses.
So far they have asked me to return the glasses at my own expense. No freepost address offered.

Update on my position with “Perfect Glasses” – as at 23/04/14 I have had a further email on 14/04/14 in response to my request for a full refund on 08/04/14. This apologises for email problems and promises a response by phone or email within 48 hours following a report from their “laboratory”.
Needless to say, I have received nothing.

Charlie says:
23 June 2014

Well I’ve taken the plunge of buying online. After a bit of researching I’ve found nothing written about the best way for me now to approach an Optician on the high street to help adjust them.

Consumers how have you gone about this?

Opticians what is your take?

Andy says:
10 August 2014

Why would an optician want to adjust them?
My best advice is to go back online and get instructions on how to adjust them yourself I mean how hard can it be eh!
Answer, very, that’s why you need professionals.

Costumer Experience says:
10 August 2014

Hi,

Specsavers could not get my frames right in the past 6 years in a row.

Last week I went for a private eye test to Brain Craig Eyecare Ltd, cost 35 pounds and I am happy with the service, good old fashion eye test, lasted for about 25-30 minutes with all the proper care, so yeah its worth to pay for the private.

Now I am trying to figure it out how do I get the right frames online and take it to my optician or get it online.

My eyesight hasn’t changed for 25 years until I went to Specsavers. (?)

I went to the recently refurbished and upgraded Aldershot//Hampshire branch again, more employes nice and shiny etc,but I have not been approached by one sales person for about 10 minutes so I left.

Same day went to the Farnborough branch, good customer service, immediate response to my present, but i have 6 pair of Specsavers glasses all with short susta/stanghetta so i went to look at the frames.

I went through most of `em, (high street chains) trying to figure it out their deals, buy 1 get 1 free and then paying back on the coatings etc.

So I don’t know, I am very suspicious with all these Specsavers, asdas, Tescos etc.
it is just doesnt seems 2 be right, or maybe I am just old fashion, mind you I am in my 30`s.

So now i am looking for an online solution is well, but there are not many recommendations out there, and I would like to try the frames before buy, or at least have the same online to try `em on to what it looks like. 🙂

Independent practices top which consumer research survey.

So you want to have a professional check your prescription and the health of your Eyes. But if I’m reading this right you would like to go to an online retailer to purchase your spectacles. I am surprised you didn’t get on with SS as they are a pretty professional outfit.
I don’t think that the British public realise how much clinical excellence exists in your average optical practice.
Once your sight test is completed you are handed over to the dispensing team, the qualification for dispensing (FBDO) is a 2 year full time course as there is that much content to learn! If your online retailer is qualified then you are fine… However they won’t be, professionals are both awesome and expensive. What you will get online is a bunch of amateurs having a go and hoping that you will say “well it only cost £50 I suppose”
I know I’m going to get challenged on this and I defer to the optical consumer complaints service who have had a colossal increase in complaints in the past 3 years. It’s not from registered qualified opticians that’s from sure.
If you do want to go ahead online then Find the business name and ask for their GOC registration number, go to the GOC site and type it in. They will either be professionals = quality! or Amateurs having a go.

glasses says:
25 November 2014

No need for sarcasm or cynicism, but it part of your untrustworthy nature, take it as you wish 🙂
Thank you for the GOC advise, I will have to check that too in the future.
I am spending an average of 400 pounds on glasses/year because i am working in the construction industry and even the health and Safety glasses (200) can last for so long, therefore I am looking to save some money, is that really bad? What is it to do with the SS? lol little subconscious message there I guess. Btw I went Brain and Craigs, and Specsavers and Asdas to the my eyesight test, all within the past 5 weeks:

ALL THREE COME UP WITH DIFFERENT RESULTS

Brain/Aldershot: – 3.75 /22nd/Oct/2014
Specsaver/Reading: – 4.25 /2nd Nov/2014
Asdas/Farnborough: – 4 /23rd/Nov/2014

the only one fitted into the previous prescriptions were Brians eye test as it is the closest to my previous prescriptions in the past 15 years.

so where is the reliability in the system or why the regulations are ineffective?

But of a rant ‘ glasses’ get some facts in and let’s have an adult discussion.
Please read the thread, I’m not untrustworthy or cynical. The thread is called blinded by a bargain and is a factual independent report by which magazine. Happy to comment if you feel like putting any facts in your comment. Not really sure what your point is?
BTW safety specs online in the UK are categorically illegal, the title of the thread is blinded by a bargain, pleas don’t let this is prothetic.