/ Health, Shopping

Do endless options at the opticians leave you feeling confused?

Retro optician equipment

Choosing a new pair of glasses often unleashes a mountain of options leaving many stumped when it comes to making a decision…

I’ve started wearing glasses in recent years, and a whole new consumer market of endless and confusing choice threatens to blindside me.

I could pay from £50 to £500 for my varifocals: the dispensing optician at my posh local independent place shows me a series of diagrams that seemingly demonstrate that I won’t have any peripheral vision at all if I rein in my spending, but there’s a high street budget 2-for-1 special offer that seems tempting… and that’s before the premium coating and the thinner lenses…

So to help cut through the confusion we recently teamed up with an expert optician to make sense of what’s out there.

Choose your optician wisely

The first big decision is picking an optician from the range of choice on the high street.

When we recently surveyed nearly 8,500 Which? members independent local opticians topped the ratings table with a customer satisfaction score of 87%. We also found that the wholesale retailer Costco came second place, getting an impressive 82%.

Now for those of you thinking about getting your eyes tested in one place and your glasses in another, you may be interested to know that the ratings can be quite different.

For example, one supermarket ranked second out of nine by people who bought glasses. It’s been awarded a five-star ratings for price, value for money and offers. But then when it came to eye tests it ranked eighth out of 12.

And customers of another major retailer rated its eye-testing better than for buying glasses, with all but one of its glasses-buying scores being average – including value for money and range of products.

Don’t fall for special offers

Now the second big decision is choosing your glasses.

Don’t just fall for the first special offer you see. It won’t be a bargain if you have to add on extra costs, such as pricey high-index lenses or the all-singing, all-dancing lens coating you want so that you’re not constantly peering through smudges and water droplets.

We recommend using our step-by-step approach that systemically works through the right lens, lens material, type of varifocal, coatings and tints, and frames.

Choosing well can save you money: for example there’s little scientific evidence to prove that most people would see more clearly or comfortably using the priciest varifocals, so many people can avoid trading up. And choosing your frame wisely in regards to the style and suitability for your eye measurements can help you avoid pricey higher index (thinner) lenses.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to resist the lure of the pricier specs, but I feel a bit better informed when it comes to making my choices at the opticians. And being informed gives us shoppers a little bit more power and a lot more confidence.

So have you had a particularly good or bad experience at the opticians?


A matter that has seriously needed covering.

There is some interesting information to be had here but I do really think these Advice sections should be dated and even up-dated to confirm that the information has been checked for validity x years on.

I am a little dismayed to find that the Advice section on glasses is undated and given a reference to Dollond and Aitchison being taken over in 2009 by Boots very probably old.This link does not work.
Your search – which.co.uk/media/popup/table-popup-laser-eye-surgery-375902.html – did not match any documents.

The four sections on laser eye surgery seem a little bland on the problems people have faced following surgery. Given the Conversations on the subject I feel that this points to a mismatch between Guide and Conversation both hosted by Which?. I am very happy to believe that percentages of success are to a degree trustworthy but in the interests of understanding what can go wrong and the effects it can have on your life then surely real life experience is helpful to people considering it.

On the spectacles side I understand that until recently that the anti-reflection coating was nowhere near as tough as glass and the cleaning could result in this being visibly damaged as a sort of film spreethed across the lense. I understand a new super-hard version is now being touted. Can you ask your tame optician if the coatings are liable to damage by sub-optimal use of handkerchiefs, tissues etc.

Needs a good eye over the whole thing. Focus – that’s what’s important.

This is a difficult topic to research yourself. Eyesight is precious and getting a good result, whether with spectacles or contact lenses, is my prime concern, I use a local optician for a comprehensive annual check, and I buy the contact lenses they recommend. These are varifocals. I expect I pay more than I need to, but testing the other options from other suppliers is really impossible. How do you judge value, other than acceptable vision and comfort? If I have a problem the dispensing optician is responsible for sorting it out – and mine does . My optician gives me good results, I change my lenses about every 4 years or so, and the cost of such a vital aid is secondary. About ÂŁ1.40 a week.

I also use reading glasses in low light – cheap off-the-shelf ones are quite adequate.

Curiously, and I forgot to mention it in my longer post, I was thinking about the amount of light required increasing as one gets older.

I posted a link here in the past couple of years of a very useful chart showing the various ability of eyes to resolve print etc from age 21 upwards and the corresponding recommended light required. I thought to myself that Which? really should be providing a place for this sort of advice – most likely in features on lighting or eyesight.

And up the subject pops with nary a mention of lighting being a consideration. Seems that the silo approach to products means the overall subject is neglected.

Lighting is important – as we age the lens yellows so reducing the amount of light reaching the retina – hence higher light levels needed for the elderly. Must also be careful with the light position, as glare causes the light to diffuse when entering the eye due to slight cloudiness, and puts a “veil” or “fog” over the image. This can be particularly difficult when facing oncoming headlights at night. It is a pity we leave cataract operations until they are quite advanced, giving people unnecessarily poor eyesight for far too long. Perhaps some of the NHS’s fringe activities and life-style-choice remedies could be sacrificed to help those with such debilitating problems.

You will be pleased to note a BBC programme “Trust me I’m a Doctor” actually covers this degeneration and what foodstuffs can help!.

You can watch it tonight at 8 pm on BBC 2

Indeed diesel, there is authoritative published information on the relationship between visual acuity and illuminance (amount of light) with age. Most lighting is designed for the mid-age group. For domestic situations general lighting may be fine for general ambience and easy tasks but I use local lights (reading lamps, table lamps etc,) that you can get closer to – increasing the illuminance – to improve your ability to read smaller print and study detail. Magnifying (reading) glasses also help.

I would really like to see a breakdown of the actual cost of producing a lens and a frame. When one can easily part with the best part of four hundred pounds for something it would be good to know where that money is going, and to whom. Which consistently refuses to address this issue and this is probably the fifth time I’ve typed this message over the last few years. Ditto ink cartridges.

I’d also like to know the best “brands” for spectacle and contact lenses. Opticians have a choice of what they offer – how do we decide? Ditto frames – which are most robust for example.

Somebody out their ought to be able to supply the “wholesale cost” of frames, lenses and contacts so we could see just how much margin is being made.

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Following a recent eye-test at Specsavers the optician agreed with me that I should reuse my old frames and simply replace the lenses in them to adjust for my new prescription.
When it came to choosing my lenses, the counter staff told me it was not Specsavers policy to reuse frames that the company did not normally stock.
Not too sure that I will be going back there again in hurry the next time I need an eye test.

Although there’s a small incremental cost in using new frames, I’d recommend that, as in my experience by the ime I need to change the lenses the frames have also had a fair bit of wear, having been bent slightly through use, the screws are starting the become loose, etc. Worth the extra to be sure of a continued good fit and lenses not falling out when the screw loosens unexpectedly.

about oints:
1. It’s almost impossible to compare the features and benefits of lenses from different manufacturers. Which could have varifocal spectacles made for one person using (say) Freeform, Essilor, Zeiss and Nikon and then compare them in a laboratory.

2. As a varifocal wearer for many years I quickly learned that the larger the frame the more comfortable the lens, presumably because any “artifacts” usually appear at the edge of the lens. As a result of this I’ve now moved from ‘small/cool’ looking frames to Aviator styles for general day to day use but retaining a more stylish pair for special occasions.

I did not understand Which’s comment about frames being the same size as the pupil distance.

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Duncan, I understand what you’re saying but the lenses *should* be cut taking into account the shape/size of the frame and the distance between pupils so the size of the frame shouldn’t make any difference.

I remember when varifocal lenses appeared on the market and at that time shallow frames were not recommended because if you have a shallow frame the intermediate section becomes compressed so the transition from distance to read more resembles a bi-focal. A deep frame allows for a larger intermediate area and therefore a smoother and longer transition.

I have used Zeiss and Freeform lenses (both ends of the price band) and the expensive lenses do provide better peripheral vision but is it worth the price. This is where Which could do more in testing and evaluating varifocal performance verses price.

You miss a point about varifocals, that for those interested in art, they allow you to see various levels of detail while standing the permitted distance from a painting.
With bi-focals, to see details you have to use the lower portion of the lens fairly close up to the painting which will give problems to the gallery security staff.
Varifocals also allow you to more easily read the notice to one side of each picture more easily.
John A C Beattie

David Archer says:
3 September 2016

What’s going on with D&A?
For many years I was a very happy customer of Dolland & Aitchison then, when I went in to my local branch in Sutton, I was informed they are closing and would now be in Boots across the road.
Of course, I then discovered that Boots had taken over D&A. Unfortunately, after trying the Boots version of D&A, I found the service was absolutely awful. I’ve been using Specsavers ever since; not brilliant, but a lot better than Boots.
AND THEN……I read the recent Which? Best & Worst Optician Shops report and find they have listed Boots and D&A opticians as separate entities!
Great, I thought, back to D&A for me. However, the problem is that I could not find any independent D&A stores or, indeed, a website. So, Which?, where are they?

You will discover that Which is not as good as it pretends to be. They make mistakes, frequently, and they’re very poor at communication. I’ve become so disappointed with their performance that after several years I’m considering cancelling my membership.

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David Archer says:
3 September 2016

The history is very interesting, Duncan however, it does NOT answer my question.
If there are no longer any D&A opticians because they were absorbed by Boots, how has Which? managed to publish performance figures for both of them separately, D&A 78% and Boots 72% customer score? How can that happen if D&A are no longer trading in their own right? Unless, of course, all 149 customer views for D&A were BEFORE 2009, in which case, not really relevant!
Tell me where these Dollond & Aitchison branches are so I can start using them again.

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Hello @mikehenson, I’m sorry to learn of your disappointment here. If there’s something I can help you with specifically then please let me know. You can do this either by reply to me here on Which? Conversation or emailing us at conversation.comment@which.co.uk

David Archer says:
8 September 2016

Many thanks for all the replies, especially yours, Joanna. Despite the report giving me the impression there were still D&A opticians out there trading independently from Boots, that’s obviously not the case and I can stop looking. A real shame because I found Boots absolutely awful!

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MS. Pearl. I have always thought your research for Which? some of the best.

This highlights something which I have mentioned several times here, in the Member Community forum, and quite possibly to the Trustees. The survey is undated, as is the article. My best guess is that the survey dates from around seven years ago and the article slightly later. Perhaps you could confirm that.

It is possible that the rebranding/closure date for the last D&A was in 2012 so to be quoting the D&A score in 2016 seems slightly odd.

It may be perverse but D&A does live in on as a sort of zombie sub-brand of Boots probably because of its joint venture nature and placing it in bigger Boots stores.

However given it is majority owned by Boots since 2009 I think most people would consider the sub-branding a cosmetic distraction from the actuality.

It is referenced on-line by the NHS and also those misleading guides Cyclex and the Big Red Book. Whether the shops exist is not their problem.

One dislikes crediting the DM too much but this article is actually very good. You will note the date and she used D&A amongst other opticians.

It also discusses why you can have different prescriptions on the same day even. Very interesting.


Hello everyone, if you’re a Which? member and you’d like to pick the brains of an expert optician we’re running an optician services and eye-care phone-in tomorrow (Thursday 15 September) between 10am and 4pm.

These expert opticians join us from The College of Optometrists and Optical Consumer Complaints Service to offer independent advice on all optical questions. Further details (including phone number to call_ can be found here http://www.which.co.uk/reviews/opticians-stores/article/best-and-worst-opticians-stores/five-steps-to-the-right-prescription-glasses

The recent report on opticians and choosing lenses seemed to concentrate entirely on plastic lenses. For 50+ years I have only ever had glass lenses and, in contrast to my wife’s plastic lenses which are markedly scratched within two years, my last pair were 6+ years old and without a mark on them. I pay for the thinnest lenses possible to make them acceptably light weight which is a little more expensive, but, overall, the saving I make through not having to replace them very often makes up for the extra cost. This is only of use if, as in my case, the prescription does not change over a period of a few years.