/ Health, Shopping

Where do you buy your glasses from?

Buying glasses

Our latest snapshot undercover investigation found that two out of five of the opticians we visited weren’t up to scratch. The opticians we investigated fell down on key areas such as doing the right eye testing and issuing an accurate prescription (within acceptable limits).

So how do you know where to go to get your eyes tested and ultimately buy your glasses from?

High-street opticians

As a patient, it’s hard to judge the quality of the clinical part of the consultation. It’s far easier to rate tangible things such as whether your glasses improve your vision.

In our mystery-shop, one researcher had clearly visible age-related deposits called drusen in their eyes. Our experts said an optometrist should have noticed this and told the patient. They could have potentially given them advice regarding diet, UV protection and to stop smoking.

Shockingly, this researcher was only warned about it during one of the five appointments they attended, and this was at a small regional chain. Patients with drusen are at higher risk of developing macular degeneration, a sight-threatening condition, so it’s important to be given advice on how to stop them worsening – how could a patient possibly know about this omission?

Buying glasses online

But is the answer to ditch the high street and go online to buy your glasses? Granted you’ll be looking at cheaper glasses, but you still need your eyes testing, and you’re splitting this from the dispensing of glasses which can make it much harder to sort out subsequent problems (were they due to the testing or the dispensing?).

When we investigated buying online glasses in 2012 we also found that some should come with a serious health warning. Our experts failed 15 out of 36 pairs, with five pairs of varifocals deemed ‘very dangerous’ for the wearer.

Getting more from your optician

Part of the answer may be in us learning more about what we should expect with an eye test so we can ask our optician the right questions.

For example, get to know the different tests and what they’re for: ask when you don’t think you’ve had one of them, or want to understand the results. Tell the optometrist your eye history, even if they don’t ask or if you’ve already explained it to the assistant doing your initial tests or written it on a form.

We know there are great opticians out there – we’ve seen them and you’ve told us about them – but our snapshot investigation also gives us ground for real concern.

Do you have a preferred opticians? Have you bought glasses online before?


I’ve bought glasses online before, I only use them when I am using a computer a lot, but they seemed fine until the frames loosened. I asked a colleague to help, because she used to work in an opticians, but she said she can’t tighten the frame because the screws were broken 🙁

It’s worth having jewellers screwdrivers and spare screws if possible. I once had take a screw from an old pair of glasses to repair ones for a friend whose leg had fallen off (the glasses).

I got a pack in a Christmas Cracker. Don’t glasses have arms?

Only the dangerous ones. 🙂

I do have jewellers screwdrivers…thing is i could not see the screws cos the glasses that the screw needed tightening in were the only pair of glasses that i had ….should have gone to specsavers

I wear contact lenses and buy them from my local optician. I doubt they are the cheapest but my sight is more important than risking poor-quality care. I have regular sight and contact lens checks and no pressure to buy.

I keep a pair of spectacles on standby to my latest prescription (different from lenses because lenses change the shape of the cornea). The frames and lenses were not cheap, and originally were varifocals. At my last check my prescription was a little changed, but it was suggested for casual use I only needed ordinary lenses, and we’ll have them fitted to your existing frames.

However, to save money, one of my daughters bought here stand-by glasses online, but not from a cheapo seller. She has been very happy with them.

What I would find useful would be for Which? to review different makes of contact lenses and spectacle lenses, for their attributes and typical costs. Deciding what is value for money and what offer the best wearability would be useful to me.

Very true malcolm. I would rather spend more and know that they’re the best for my eyes. You might be interested in taking a look at our latest research into eye tests

I have my eyes tested regularly at a city centre branch of Specsavers. I do have reading glasses but very rarely use them, and there has never been any pressure to buy new ones.

I’m due for a checkup around Easter and having moved home I will look for a recommended optician in town.

Hello Alex, @awhittle, wrong link? Should it be http://www.which.co.uk/reviews/opticians-stores/article/best-and-worst-opticians-stores/best-places-to-have-an-eye-test. ?

I can’t see a date on these sort of reports. It would be useful to know how up-to-date they might be. 🙂 There is much useful information there.

My optician sells different manufacturers’ products – spectacle and contact lenses. I have no idea how to choose – the choice is left to them. It would be handy to review their differences to help make a more informed choice, together with typical prices.

Sorry malcolm, I’ve deleted the link in my original post. I was actually meant to be linking you to this report – https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/10/two-out-of-five-eye-tests-not-up-to-scratch-according-to-which-probe/ which is from today.

No sorry required Alex. It is all very well for deficient groups to say “They said that they are committed to high standards and the best service for all patients. Optical Express said it was surprised at our feedback and did not feel it reflected its daily high-quality service. Asda felt our review didn’t reflect the standards maintained across its total optical offering. While Vision Express deeply regretted if its usual high standards had fallen short and said it would take further steps to investigate.

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/10/two-out-of-five-eye-tests-not-up-to-scratch-according-to-which-probe/ – Which?”

This is the sort of standard response we hear from anyone who is criticised who would like to fob critics off. What is then needed is a follow-up on the chains criticised to see whether their standards have actually improved. Will Which? be doing this?

Meantime wavechange, you know who to avoid 🙂

Hi malcolm, sorry for the delay. We share our article with the opticians who feature in our investigations and the General Optical Council. Opticians that do not perform well do have the opportunity to further engage with us to better understand the areas that they didn’t perform well in. In addition, we have a large survey of optician customers which we run every one to two years.

Thanks Alex.

The General Optical Council is the relevant regulator and has useful information for the public on its website: https://www.optical.org Before heading for an eye test I read up on what to expect and what questions I could usefully ask.

Hopefully Which? will contact the GOC so that their findings can be investigated to establish whether problems are due to individual optometrists failing to perform their duties or down to shoddy practice in companies or branches.

It is six years since Which? last looked at optometrists and reported that all was not well: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2011/08/opticians-fail-the-which-eye-test-263296/

It seems that the usual approach of Which? is to contact the relevant organisations to discuss its findings, and there is every indication that this is done well. Unfortunately, this does not mean that progress will be made.

I’m fairly confident that if Which? did undercover investigations of car servicing, MOTs, boiler servicing and how retailers handle claims under the Consumer Rights Act it would find a mixture of good and bad, as it has before. Maybe the regulators should be called to account for the problems and asked to report their findings to government and to Which?

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It was learning about the dangers of high intraocular pressure that encouraged me to have my eyes tested in my 50s – the first time since I was at school. 🙁 I was lucky and the pressure was normal.

I had assumed that pressure tests were a routine part of eye tests simply because I have had them. Fingers crossed you will be OK now that you are aware of the problem and having treatment.

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I had one well-known high street opticians inform me that I needed two pairs of glasses: one for reading, the other for driving. I wasn’t happy with the advice, so went to an independent. I was quite surprised when I compared the prescriptions, because they were completely different. I went with the independent’s prescription and now just have glasses for reading and working on the computer. I definitely don’t need another pair for driving!

It would be good to have an optometrist explain how it is possible how it is possible for two tests to produce different results – unless of course you were given a prescription intended for someone else.

Perhaps I was given someone else’s prescription @wavechange. The tests in the two opticians were also different. Very odd!

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Or get me to part with money I didn’t need to part with, Duncan. Think one of their tests was looking out for cataracts, actually…

A small independent has more to lose from ‘getting it wrong’ but, whilst in no way condoning poor service, our eyes can and do change from one day to another – even different parts of the same day. I can guarantee that having an eye test whilst tired will result in my being prescribed glasses I cannot see out of for the better part of my day. It has happened.

I have only bought glasses online for the last 5 1/2 years. I bought my first varifocals online and have my 2nd pair recently. I usually get an eye test every 18months or so.
Personally I have had no issues with the online supplier, glassesdirect, and recommend them to others.
I did use another online supplier to change my ordinary sunglasses to prescription lenses, but they took a lot of contact. The end result was ok though.
My wife tried Glassesdirect but could not get on with their varifocal pattern. They gave her a full refund with no questions. She recently got some more varifocals and sunglasses from Boots. It’s been a nightmare on both types, with both being sent back 2-3 times to be fixed.
So there are good and bad examples of all channels. Personally I prefer online for the choice and price, but would happily go to a local optician if they knew what they sold, had a better range, and were price similar to online.

Most of us have left or right eye dominance but few optometrists take account of this when prescribing glasses, instead focusing both lenses at the same distance (the excuse being that our brains adapt so it isn’t a problem). I have a life-long processing disorder which means my brain does not adapt.
In all the years I have been buying glasses I have come across just two individual opticians who actually listened to and took account of my personal needs. I have lost count of the pairs of glasses I have bought and been unable to wear, except for very short periods of time, because of this. A most disheartening and unsatisfactory affair. The first worked for a small local chain but had left by the time I went back. The second I discovered 2 prescriptions ago as owner/manager of a local store in a large national franchise. Given his youth and status with the firm I look forward to a long and beneficial relationship.
I have to say that my previous experience with the franchise was at a different store and was of nowhere near the same calibre, or outcome, and I never returned. A situation that nearly led to my missing the one person I now know will listen.

I have gone to the same branch of Specsavers for a wee while now and I’m happy with the service I get from everybody. I don’t have glaucoma, but my mother does and my sister has the start of it, so I go and get tested once a year instead of once every two years, as requested by my GP. In Scotland this is free. I am no expert, but the tests I get for everything seem to be OK.

I decided to go for varifocals this year because I was fed up with having my reading glasses at the end of my nose, looking like a(n old school) school teacher, and tripping over things, or having my glasses on one of those cord thingies hanging round my neck (I hate that look too, and I got irritated by them), or misleading them. Nobody suggested I should go for varifocals, it was my own choice. They were more expensive than reading glasses, but they have transformed my life, so they were well worth the money. Later I also bought varifocal sunglasses (fed up with taking off normal sunglasses, putting specs on, then sunglasses back on again, etc) with a 50% discount, and they are great too.

Staff at my branch of Specsavers are great, very patient with me and knowledgeable when it came to choosing something that would both fit and suit me, no hard sell. I ended up by buying Kylie Minogue sunglasses, without noticing! Very unusual for me to have anything with an “expensive” label on it. And they are fab, not too dear.

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Thanks, Duncan.

I went to the opticians about 6 weeks ago because I was getting blurriness in my left eye and I was told I had 20/20 vision – no glasses needed, but she did refer me as an URGENT to the oncologist about a (benign) tumour on my eye. I’ve had it since 2012 and never seen an oncologist, it’s always been dealt with by the Osteoplasty team. Luckily my GP saw the referral and confirmed I didn’t need to see an oncologist – and sent it to the correct dept. Still waiting for my appointment and getting headaches and occasional blurriness – may get retested.

Simon Wilkins says:
21 October 2017

I have been buying glasses on-line for the last seven years, my latest two pairs came from Spex4less and I can’t recommend then highly enough. My eye tests have always been happily carried out at Boots but they are very expensive compared to online. At Spex4less there was a huge selection of rimless suitable for vari-focals and a tryout pair marked up for photographing to get the correct pupilliary distance arrived by return post. The finished pair arrived just eight days from placing my order and fitted perfectly. An excellent company to deal with.

My ex daughter in law is a dispensing optician and told me just how cheap the lenses and frames are for them to buy in! Designer frames (made in the same place as cheaper ones) under £20, single vision lenses £1 a pair!

It would be interesting to hear what the Optician ‘Industry’ would have to say in defence of their pricing. The price I was quoted (earlier this month) for a standard frame + one varifocal, plus a ‘balance’ lens both with various coatings, was £500. A Nikon camera zoom lens with 15 elements (lenses) in 11 groups (=22 coatings?), 7 diaphragm blades, complicated electronic zoom & auto focussing, as well as finely engineered camera mounting can be had from Jessops for just under £220. !?!?!?

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Gill Regan says:
22 October 2017

I have used Specsavers for many years now and have been 100% happy with them. Even when I had an emergency problem with my eyes they gave me an immediate appointment and a thorough examination. Couldn’t recommend highly enough.