Ordering your prescription specs from an online store can drastically cut the amount you spend on new frames. We look at the main players and compare costs.
Millions of Brits rely on prescription glasses to improve their vision, but the cost of looking after your eyes soon adds up. From regular eye tests to replacing old frames, being short- or long-sighted can be extremely expensive, particularly if you buy your eyecare products on the high street.
However, shopping online can deliver substantial savings – but there are additional risks to bear in mind.
How glasses’ costs compare
There are so many different frames you can choose from, with dozens of different brands, that buying new prescription specs can be an overwhelming process. For the sake of this comparison, we will look at basic frames.
If you’re shopping for high street brands, basic frames for men and women start at £25 with Specsavers; at Boots, they will set you back at least £35; and frames start at £39 at Vision Express. You can also buy online from these brands.
Pick an online-only retailer and the cost of very similar frames drops to just a fraction of that outlay, as the table below reveals. While the price differences are significant with basic frames, they can become even more substantial if you prefer to splurge on designer frames.
Try before you buy
When you buy glasses from a high street optician, you can try on as many pairs as you like in the store until you find one that you like.
The process is obviously different with an online store, which is why some of them will send you a handful of frames to try on at home and see which best suits you.
With SpeckyFourEyes, you can select up to three pairs to try at home, which costs £4.99. This is then refunded if you purchase one of those frames, and you’ll need to return the glasses in the post within seven days. Alternatively, Glasses Direct and Mister Spex allow you to try four frames at home and it doesn’t cost a penny.
Glasses Direct and Mister Spex have ‘virtual try on’ features, service, which can potentially help you select the right frames. With the use of a webcam, you can get an idea of how the frame will look on your face – though it’s not available on all glasses.
It’s also important to check the returns policy for an online retailer before you order. With Glasses Direct, for example, you need to notify the firm that you want to return the glasses within seven days of them being dispatched, while Visions Direct offers a 100-day guarantee on all products.
Sight test costs
Some people qualify for free eye tests. In Scotland, they are free for everyone, while for those in England and Wales eye tests are free if you are under 16 (or under 19 and in full time education), over 60, or if you have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes. In Northern Ireland, you can get a free sight test if you’re over 60, have certain health conditions or quality for certain benefits.
If you’re working, it’s also worth checking whether your employer offers free eye tests as a perk of the job.
You need to have your prescription to hand if you plan to order glasses online. Opticians are obliged to give you a copy of your prescription if you ask for it, though it’s notable that the cost of getting your eyes checked by high street opticians can vary significantly.
Make money back when you buy
Whenever you shop online, it’s a great idea to use a cashback website. The idea is that you go to your cashback site of choice and search for the retailer you plan to shop with. If they have a relationship, then you’ll be able to head over to the retailer’s website via a tracked link. Any money you spend is then tracked, and you’ll get a portion back in cashback. Essentially, the cashback sites earn a referral fee and they pass all or most of that fee back to you.
What is more, there are a host of cashback deals on offer when you use Quidco or TopCashback, the UK’s top two cashback sites. At the time of writing, with TopCashback you can enjoy a return of 7.35% when you shop with Glasses Direct and cashback of 26.25% with Specs365, while Quidco is offering 11% cashback when you shop with David Clulow opticians.
Alternatively, check voucher code websites to see if you can secure a bigger discount. At the time of writing, VoucherCodes.co.uk has a code for £30 off first orders at Glasses Direct.
“It’s unrealistic for opticians to expect people to buy at full price”
Lifestyle blogger Lizi Legge (Glassesgirl.co.uk) has been buying frames online for a few years.
She says: “I will pay whatever I need to for the right frames as I wear them every day, so it’s definitely better for me to buy multiple pairs online as they’re far cheaper, especially with lesser known/unbranded frames.
“Glasses have become enough of a fashion accessory to shop without an incentive, so I think it’s unrealistic for high street opticians to expect people to buy a single pair at full price.”
Lizi has primarily used Glasses Direct, because of the firm’s offer of a free home trial allowing users to try on several pairs. She says this is an important feature for online stores, particularly if they have own-brand frames which aren’t available on the high street.
“If I were to buy a designer brand, I would simply try on in store and then order online from the cheapest retailer with the best offer or rewards,” she says.
“It took me a year or so of doing home trials when I wanted new frames to be able to choose the frames I’d want as it took me a while to get to grips with the sizing, but it means I’ve now got around eight pairs of prescription frames since my last eye check a year ago. Usually there is a free returns process, though some very budget retailers require you to pay for the postage for returns.”
I have a very particular prescription
Some of us have quirks with our prescriptions, such as an astigmatism.
You can still order glasses or contact lenses that match these prescriptions online, though it’s clearly very important that you take extra care when filling out the prescription for your order; getting it wrong can be a costly mistake.
Similarly, those of us with a strong prescription may opt to pay extra to have the lens ‘thinned’, and this is generally available from online retailers too, though as with high street opticians this may not be available with all frames.
What do the optometrists say?
The Association of Optometrists (AOP) believes that picking the right pair of glasses, with an appropriate prescription and which fits well and is comfortable, is generally more complicated than it may appear.
In its survey of more than 1,000 optometrists in the UK, more than 80% reported having seen patients in the last year who had experienced issues buying their lenses somewhere other than where the sight test was conducted.
Clinical and regulatory officer at the AOP, Henry Leonard, says: “Many patients understandably view their prescription as being either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but there are many factors involved in the prescribing and dispensing of tailored visual correction wear. The lenses and the fit of the glasses work together towards a good or bad result.
“Glasses are bespoke items, tailored to individuals’ needs, and not all frames or lens types are suitable for all people so it’s important that a patient gets a professional service which optimises their vision and lifestyle. When buying glasses, the things to consider are – purpose, vision correction, quality, fit, comfort and eye health. It is very often better, as well as easier, to have glasses dispensed where the sight test is conducted.”
If you do opt to buy online, it’s important to do your research about the retailer. That extends beyond checking reviews for its service, but also establishing just where the firm is based; non-UK firms are outside the jurisdiction of the General Optical Council, and may not need to comply with UK law. This may make it tougher to get your money back if there is something wrong with your purchase.
It’s not just glasses that can work out cheaper when ordering online - you can also find savings when picking up your contact lenses too.
As with glasses, the eventual cost will vary significantly depending on what brand you go for. Let’s take an example of 90 pairs of Acuvue Moist daily disposable contact lenses - at Vision Express this will cost you £99.
You may be able to find cheaper deals elsewhere though. For example, with Lenstore.co.uk you can pick up 90 pairs for £98.94, while at SmartBuyGlasses it will cost you £95.90 and at Vision Direct it will set you back £95.94.
As with anything, if you can afford to buy in bulk, you will tend to save even more. So if your prescription has not changed in years then you may feel comfortable enough to buy a year’s worth of lenses, delivering an even bigger saving.
“I pay Boots by monthly direct debits”
Journalist Sam Robson has needed glasses since the age of four, and had been paying monthly direct debits into Boots Opticians’ Vision Plan for a decade and a half, which meant that he received contact lenses through the post and received free eye tests and healthcare check-ups throughout.
He says: “It was more out of complacency that I hadn’t looked elsewhere in that time, but I first heard through a friend who was taking a sabbatical to travel for six months of a cheap online-only shop for daily contact lenses, if you bought in bulk. After a little investigation, I saw that with Daysoft I could save half the cost that I was paying for my Boots Vision Plan – so I did.”
Sam says he knew that he would lose free eye check-ups by going online, but his research had found that a host of high street opticians offer free one-off eye tests, while he could also make use of a money-back scheme offered by his employer for optical health checks.
He continues: “Boots’ Vision Plan also entitled me to half price on many glasses frames; however, due to my high prescription, the cost has always been at the higher end of the spectrum to get lenses down to an acceptable thinness, so I started scouting online for cheaper alternatives years ago. I settled on Glasses Direct, which also allowed me to trial different styles of frames for free with free postal returns until I selected a pair that suited me, as well as offering decent deals on lenses.
“Again, it was cheaper to follow this online process than it was to order new glasses even with Boots’ half-price discount, while I also had more choice in terms of style.”
John Fitzsimons is a freelance journalist who writes for Yahoo Finance, loveMONEY, Mirror.co.uk and Mortgage Solutions