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12 October 2020

Best places to buy glasses

We reveal which high street and online optician stores offer the best prices, value for money and special offers when you're buying glasses. Plus where to buy contact lenses.
Woman wearing glasses and reading paper 448541
AS
Anna Studman


Our opticians customer survey reveals the best places to buy your glasses. We've surveyed those who bought both in-store and online to find the best and worst options. We've also surveyed members on the best places to buy contact lenses.

Best places to buy glasses on the high street

Brands were rated on the price and value of their glasses range, as well as customer service and after sales service.

We have included scores for store environment scores though this may be impacted at the moment by coronavirus measures.

  • Independent opticians do well on all measures, but are slightly less favoured for price and value for money.
  • Only two stores received five stars for price and value for money.

Below we reveal the best and worst-rated brands for buying glasses, based on price, accuracy of prescription, after sales service, staff professionalism and value for money.

Brand Price Store environment After sales care Customer service Value for money Accuracy of prescription Customer score
High street glasses brands compared
Asda
Boots
Costco
Leightons
Local/independent opticians
Scrivens
Specsavers
Vision Express

Table last updated July 2020. Notes:

Based on a survey of 5,006 Which? members in April/May 2020/.

Customer score based on satisfaction with the store on last visit and likelihood of recommending to a friend.

Discover thetop-rated brands for eye tests

Many people preferred to buy glasses where they had their eyes tested, which makes sense in terms of getting personalised advice from someone who is familiar with your prescription. But our results suggest it might be a good idea to shop around.

Online retailers may also be an attractive option for the convenience and price, but make sure you read our advice below on what to do before buying glasses online.

While using different brands for buying glasses and getting your eyes tested enables you to shop around for your favourite frames, it can lead to problems if there's a dispute over an issue with glasses and who is responsible. Ask staff at your optician store how this would work.

Buying glasses - expert tips

Our expert opticians recommend the following when you're deciding where to buy your specs, and what you can afford:

1. Check if there are conditions attached to a ‘free’ eye test For example, will you have to pay for it if you don’t make a purchase?

2. Be up-front about your budget and ask for a quote Most opticians make a loss on your eye test (they get £20.90 from the NHS per patient), so it’s likely that they’ll want to try and keep your custom – including finding you affordable glasses.

3. Choose quality where you can  The mark-up on cheaper frames tends to be higher – you’ll get better value from frames if you can spend a bit more. Check for a smooth finish and sprung sides. Make sure they fit your face and are comfortable. Also, check they don’t fall off if you tip your head forward, and that the sides are the right length for your head.

4. Check if you're eligible for help from your employer Across the UK, if you use a display screen at work, you can claim the full cost of a standard test from your employer, and - if you need glasses specifically for display work - your employer should pay for a basic pair of single-vision glasses. 

5. Check whether a special offer gives you what you need Look closely at the terms and conditions: does it include only single-vision lenses, or a limited number of frames? Will you have to pay a premium for basic coatings or high-index lenses? Customers in our survey gave Tesco, Asda and Specsavers good scores for their in-store offers. 

Best places to buy glasses online

We surveyed people about their experiences of shopping for prescription glasses online, and asked opticians for their advice on how to ensure you get the best from buying glasses on the web.

Just over half (46%) of those who bought online bought from Glasses Direct. The highest rated brand received 87%, with the lowest brand at 67%.

Online optician stores rated
Brand Ordering process Ease of using the website Delivery process Price Customer score
Direct Sight
Frames Direct
Glasses Direct
Goggles4U
SelectSpecs
Spex4Less

Table last updated July 2020. Notes:

Based on a Which? survey of 796 people in April/May 2020. 

Customer score is based on satisfaction with the store on last visit and likelihood of recommending to a friend.

Buying glasses online - what you need to know

People tended to buy online for reasons of cost and convenience, and we've found that this is often a good option for people with simpler prescriptions. 

73% of people shopping for glasses online bought single vision lenses, rather than varifocals. In the past, we’ve found that if you’ve got a relatively simple prescription, you shouldn’t run into too much trouble buying online.

More caution is needed if you have a complex prescription (for example, higher strength lenses or varifocals), where getting really specific measurements to make sure the frames fit and lenses are positioned correctly in front of your eyes is of paramount importance.

We’ve also found that you are less likely to get personalised information about lens thickness, frames and coatings or tints when you order online.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking about ordering glasses online:

Ensure you have the right measurements to hand

Opticians aren't required to put all the measurements needed to dispense glasses on your prescription, as some are taken when your glasses are dispensed rather than when your eyes are tested. This means that by buying online you may be missing details such as your such as your PD (pupillary distance).

The PD helps position your pupils accurately in the centre of the lenses. It’s crucial for higher prescriptions and varifocals to have your exact PD, because a measurement more than a couple of millimetres out could make the glasses unusable.

Best practice is for stores to request an exact PD from the customer – which unfortunately might not always be included on your prescription. But some stores have ways you can do this at home. Others simply let you use an average measurement, which may result in poorly fitted glasses.

Look for websites that send you a selection of frames to try at home. Also look for websites that have a ‘best fit finder’ and frame fitting advice, and that give full frame measurements. And if you need to take measurements yourself, make sure they’re accurate.

Getting the right lenses

Getting the right lenses if you’ve got a high prescription you should opt for high index (thinner) lenses when buying online as they’re more likely to work with a range of frames.  

As a rule of thumb, if your prescription is stronger than +/- 3 but less than +/- 5, consider thinner lenses (around 1.67 index). If your prescription is stronger than +/- 5, you may want to go even thinner (around 1.74 index).

Getting the right frames

Getting the right frames it’s not necessarily easy when shopping online to know which frames will suit your prescription (as above), or fit properly.

Some sites offer a free try-at-home service. This could be a good way to make up for the lack of in-person fitting advice, and you can take some time to decide what fit works for you.

Take care when buying bifocals or varifocals online

Varifocals are the cause of many complaints to the Optical Consumer Complaints Service.

The ideal varifocal lens design provides sharp vision in the far distance, middle and close up for reading, is comfortable to swap between each zone, is easy to get used to, and has few distortions at the edges.

Varifocal design has become very sophisticated over the past 10 years, but there are big differences in quality and variability of lenses. Use our guide to choosing varifocals to make sure you know what level you need and what quality you’re buying.

Precise fitting measurements – such as the pupillary distance (PD) and the vertical pupil position - are crucial to how well any lens will perform.

Our experts also strongly discourage shoppers from buying bifocals or varifocals from websites that don’t ask – at the very least – for additional information that would help them gain the necessary measurements, such as a photo of the customer wearing their chosen frames.

Know your rights

If goods you buy are faulty and don’t do what they're supposed to, or don’t match the description given, you have the same rights under the Consumer Rights Act as you have when buying face-to-face.

Any terms and conditions that say you must cover the cost of returning an item don't apply where the goods being returned are faulty.

When you buy goods online, you have additional rights to return them. This is because your decision may be based on a brief description or a photograph – so what you receive isn't always quite what you’d expected.

The Consumer Contracts Regulations give you 14 calendar days from the day after you receive your goods to cancel. See our Consumer Rights section for more information. 

Where to buy contact lenses

We asked more than 1,000 people who wear contact lenses about their experience buying them - both in-store and online - including quality of lenses, value for money, price and customer service.

  • As with buying glasses and eye testing, local and independent opticians got the highest customer score for buying contact lenses in store. 
  • Online, the highest-rated brand received a customer score of 83% and received five star ratings across the board.  

Brand Quality Value for money Price Customer service Customer score
Contact lenses - in store
Boots
Local/independents
Specsavers
Vision Express

Table last updated July 2020. Notes:

Based on a survey of 661 people in April/May 2020.

Customer score based on satisfaction with the store on last visit and likelihood of recommending to a friend.

Brand Quality Value for money Price Customer service Customer score
Contact lenses - online
Day Soft
Feel Good Contacts
Lenstore
Specsavers
Vision Direct
Vision Express

Table last updated July 2020. Notes:

Based on a survey of 661 members in April/May 2020.

Customer score based on satisfaction with the store on last visit and likelihood of recommending to a friend.

Before you buy contact lenses online

In the UK, contact lenses can only be fitted by, or under the supervision of, a registered optometrist, qualified dispensing optician or medical practitioner. 

Once fitting is completed, your practitioner will issue you with a contact lens specification. You can then buy contact lenses from a shop or go online, provided the sale is under the ‘general direction’ of a registered practitioner. 

The law says that online sellers must confirm that a buyer has a valid contact lens prescription by seeing it, or checking with the optician who supplied it. Eyes change over time, and an optician can pick up on complications and worrying practices, such as inadequate cleaning, that threaten eyesight. 

If you do shop for lenses online, don’t assume that prices are always lower; factor in shipping, handling and insurance costs that can bump up prices.