/ Health, Shopping

Reading glasses for £3 – is this too good to be true?

Glasses on blue background

Have you ever bought a cheap pair of specs? They can save you plenty of pounds but how do they stand up against Which? tests – and could they be false economy…

A few years back on holiday in Spain, I remember visiting a supermarket to find the wine aisle absolutely mobbed by Brits. ‘It’s too cheap to ignore,’ said a man next to me as he over-filled his trolley.

I had the same thought when I recently came across a huge selection of cheap glasses in Primark. After forking out the best part of £200 on my last pair of reading glasses, the prices tempted me to buy a second back-up pair for just £3.

According to a recent Which? survey, I’m not alone. A third of Which? households have someone who uses ready-made specs, typically costing £5 or less.

Putting glasses under the microscope 

With so many high street retailers selling ready-readers, Which? has become more concerned about their quality. Three years ago, we carried out a small scale mystery shopping exercise, and our expert optometrist found half had problems.

We’ve just repeated this exercise and, again, our expert detected faults that could cause a range of symptoms in wearers, from headaches to double vision.

You might reasonably argue that ‘you get what you pay for’ but our snapshot check found no correlation connecting quality and price – we paid £27.50 in a top chain like Boots and got a faultier pair of glasses than a £4 pair we bought from Tiger.

Our checks also reveal a lack of consistency in quality between brands and retailers, indicating that quality assurance procedures may need to be stepped up.

Buying ready-made glasses

I’m not ruling out buying ready-made glasses again. We found the magnification (lens strength) was spot-on in all pairs we tested. And with some of pairs of specs,  there weren’t any other faults. As it turned out, both Primark glasses were OK.

We’re sending the glasses we bought with the most faults to Trading Standards and we’ll be sure to update you on their findings. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experience of buying reading glasses at your local supermarket or high street shop.


Many conversations ago I asked whether opticians were plucking figures out of the air and seeing how much they could charge and get away with. I don’t remember getting an answer and Which didn’t address the issue either in their subsequent report. It could be that the skill and expertise in crafting superb lenses is as costly to do as is claimed, but frames at £100 plus, I’m not so sure. Obviously the Primark glasses are made in batches, at set strengths, without any individual prescriptive input, but they still, according to this article, produce wearable glasses that do the job for £5. Perhaps Which can publish a chart in which they break down the opthalmic costs into overheads, eye tests, lenses, frames and profits. If this shows that Boots, Specsavers et al are earning an honest living, so be it, if not we have something to complain about.

Why not check prescription spectacles as well to see how they measure up. We as wearers have no way of checking if they have been ‘made up’ correctly but we pay a premium assuming they have been.

Bargains Galore! says:
29 October 2013

You do know you can get them in the 99p store don’t you?!

Mark Hagan says:
30 October 2013

Recently I spent over an hour at a well known high street opticians that advertises that ‘I Should have gone to……’ Only to end up with a pair of reading glasses that were too strong. What chance would I have of getting it right from ‘over the counter’ purchases. I demanded they were changed because I had paid good money. I fear that if you only pay small amounts many people will compromise and not bother changing incorrect glasses so readily. This is not a good thing.

Looking at the Specsavers website suggests that there should not be a problem. A polite request should be all that is needed:

“Specsavers promise is: “We want you to be completely happy with your purchase at Specsavers. If you have any concerns within three months of the date of purchase, we will put it right. No quibble, no fuss. So you should contact the store directly if you have any concerns regarding your glasses.”

Which? offers useful advice if you want to return goods: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/problem/i-want-to-return-my-goods-what-are-my-rights/

There are also the Distance Selling Regulations for goods purchased online or mail order: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/distance-selling-regulations/

Peter says:
8 November 2013

Specsavers did have a problem with quite an expensive pair of new varifocal glasses for me but their no quibble guarantee was honoured in full in exemplary fashion.

I have a Specsavers voucher for a free eyesight test and I plan to use it shortly. I will probably need replacement driving spectacles, plain and sunglasses. I also expect to need reading specs for the first time. Unfortunately, the 99p ones are no good for me as my vision is not the same in each eye. Varifocals are not suitable either. Do people still wear bifocals? I plan to shop around for the frames and hope to get a multibuy offer. At least the specs will not perish unlike the multibuy salad purchases.

I will be spending quite a sum and am thankful to Wavechange for the above information.

Unless you have been told that varifocals are not suitable, don’t rule them out – most people require different lenses for each eye.

I gather that the important point about varifocals is that the more you spend the better they perform. I bought cheap ones to use as reading glasses, so that I could look up from my book without everything going out of focus, but I hate them. I should have taken up Specsavers’ 30 day exchange offer on varifocals.

You are under no obligation to buy glasses from the company that does your sight test. You can take your prescription and shop around. It is worth checking your voucher to see if there is a charge if you don’t make a purchase. Many qualify for free eye tests anyway.


I don’t yet qualify for free eye tests so the voucher is welcome. I always obtain a prescription after the test and make it clear that I’m shopping around for the specs that suit me best and at the right price. Until now, I bought two pairs of the same design for driving, one clear for dull days and one for sunny days. My eyes are quite sensitive to light. I’m not posing if I wear sunglasses on a slightly sunny day, I’m just more comfortable wearing them.

I am unsuitable for varifocals as I have monocular vision. I do not use both eyes together so if I wore varifocals my field of vision (if that is the correct term) would be half of those who use both eyes together. For the same reason I can not see a 3D picture, which is fine as I can use my imagination. I discovered this on my last test when I was prepared to start wearing reading specs for the first time and varifocals came into the discussion. Luckily, my sight was still reasonable and did not need correction for reading.

If any opticians reading this Convo, perhaps they could tell me more about my vision defect and if bifocals with the dreaded midway horizontal line are likely to suit me. Also for those with vision in one eye only, are they able to wear varifocals successfully for reading, TV and driving.

Sorry to hear about your sight condition, Figgerty. I hope you find the information you want. When I was considering bifocals instead of varifocals I was told that you get accustomed to moving your head so as to avoid the line between the lenses, but I have no experience.

I am stupidly more concerned about how they will look to others when I’m wearing them. I equate them to milk bottle base type specs.

My sight defect means I have managed without reading specs much longer than the rest of my family so I should not complain. I am still able to read a book, newspaper and a restaurant menu without needing an arm extension. I do however have a magnifying glass for small print on things like cleaning products and of course the T’s & C’s of many offers.

Roders says:
25 March 2014

My distant sight is very good I only need glasses for reading or close work.
I have used ready readers for years, I used to buy Two pairs of glasses of different strengths, take them apart and rebuild using one lens of different strength for each eye, they are cheep enough to do this but I now can not get glasses that can be taken apart.
I occasionally break or loose glasses as I am forever taking the of and putting them on, when of I hang them on the front of my shirt then pick up a box in front of me and thats another pair broken or when I want them they have disappeared.
With cheep glasses I have a pair beside the bed, a pair on bench in garage,.pair beside bed, and prescription glasses on table and beside chair.
O yes another weaker pair beside computer as I sit further away from screen.

Jackie says:
24 December 2017

I have recently had cataract surgery on both eyes, one week apart, using single distance implanted lenses. I was warned I would probably still need reading glasses following the surgery (I do) and as opticians will only test eyes and prescribe glasses after a minimum wait of at least six week’s following surgery some temporary inexpensive reading glasses would be very helpful. Other people are likely to be in the same position. It would be very helpful if ‘Which’ could do a Best Buy exercise of available ‘off the shelf’ reading glasses for a reliable stop gap between surgery and the optician’s eye test and supply of prescription reading glasses.

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This comment was removed at the request of the user