Watch out ... How those bargain £50 glasses can easily set you back £500




dmg media (UK)


SPECTACLE wearers are being warned not to trust their eyes when looking at special deals, as they can end up paying ten times the price of cheap glasses. Once you step through the front door of a high street optician – often lured in by headline-grabbing offers in the shop window – it is hard to get back outside without being accosted by a sales assistant. You may also have been reeled in by a cheap sight test. You are then led to the shelves of discounted frames before moving on to more expensive designer options. If shopping elsewhere, you must have your prescription. At this time of year, the sales pitch ramps up another gear to include discounted shades. This trick is designed to play on your emotions and get you dreaming of a summer holiday, making it easier to sell. ‘Free’ lenses are often included to butter you up. But once you are seated at a table, a raft of unexpected extras are mysteriously added – thinner glasses, special coatings and expensive options for those who are both shortand long-sighted. Once you tot up the bill, those £50 bargain prescription glasses can end up costing £500. Andrew Tallis, marketing manager of optician consultancy SightCare, says: ‘Larger chains often lure in customers with special offers such as two-for-one deals. ‘But it is important to ensure you get what is required for your specific needs rather than allowing yourself to be targeted. This is why, if possible, it is better seeking out an independent optician who is keen to develop a long-term relationship and offer tailored care rather than make a quick sale after you step through the door. ‘It is not in their interest to leave you feeling ripped off by a service.’ There are about 6,000 optician stores in Britain, with independents making up a quarter of the market share. The biggest chain is Specsavers with about 880 outlets. Initially, you will usually pay more for an eye test with an independent – about £50 as opposed to the £25 deal at a chain. The bigname brands can market these at a discounted rate as a marketing tool. Once a customer is inside, they are passed on to a sales assistant as soon as the test is completed. But when choosing glasses, it is wise to have a sight test beforehand. Those who wear glasses should take a full examination of their vision every two years. Mr Tallis says: ‘You are not just having an eye test, but also a vital health screening if you opt for full, professional service with an independent, which can spot problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and even brain tumours. They should cover lifestyle details, such as what you do for work and leisure, to make sure you get the right glasses.’ Opticians have a legal duty to hand over your prescription after a sight test, but high street chains often keep hold of this information unless you specifically ask for it. Martyn James, a consumer rights expert, says: ‘We are not talking about the Crown Jewels or some top-secret document. There is no justification for not handing over a prescription at the time of the test – and with no charge.’ If an optician does not provide the information after the test when asked, you can report the outfit to the General Optical Council-funded Optical Consumer Complaints Service. It can be contacted on 0344 800 5071. The best way to deal with a hard sell is to go armed with a plan. Ideally, you should use the same place as where the test was performed to get the glasses – especially if it is a complex prescription – as this helps if there are later problems. But that does not mean you have to buy immediately, you can always return. Conor Heaney, of Manchesterbased independent optician Jones and Co, says: ‘The chains seem to have clones in every town that offer nothing but a one-night stand and quick sale. We survive on developing a relationship so you will come back to us year after year.’ Unfortunately, even with an independent, you often spend more than initially anticipated. But if you know what your specific requirements are this can soften the financial blow. It is vital to invest in the right pair of specs rather than a couple of ‘bargains’ that are not ideally suited to your needs. So think about how much you might use them for driving, computer work, reading and pastimes. Frames can be purchased online for less than half the price you pay on the high street. This offers great value, but unless you have a straightforward prescription, a personal service is best. Perhaps buy online for that emergency second pair, and if satisfied, consider using the same shop for additional specs – the lenses tend to be among the cheapest. Online suppliers to consider include Glasses Direct, Mister Spex and SmartBuyGlasses. Glasses Direct and Mister Spex let you try up to four frames at a time at home (to be returned within seven and ten days respectively, post-free). SmartBuyGlasses has a ‘virtual try-on’ computer service. Paying more than you initially expected for lenses is not a rip-off if you are aware and willing to pay for those previously hidden extras. Varifocals can make a lot of sense for both long- and short-sighted people, doing away with the need for two separate pairs of glasses. While if you have particularly poor eyesight (plus or minus 4.50 or worse), ultra-thin lenses look better and are easier to wear than standard lenses. A salesperson can be keen to promote the most expensive coating options, but do not be bullied into extras that might be a duplication of what you get automatically. For example, anti-scratch surfaces often come as standard with lenses. A pair of subscription sunglasses need not be any more expensive than standard specs, and can cost less than some coatings. For example, Specsavers offers a sun tint and an important ultraviolet (UV) blocking screen from £30 – keeping out harmful rays that can cause cancer. This is less than the £35 it demands for an ‘ultraclear SuperClean’ coating that claims to combats water, dust and grease. Wherever you go for your eye test or glasses, do not feel pressured into buying there and then. Ask for the details and prices to be itemised and written down. Go home and mull over the options before making a decision.