Can you trust 70 specs from the supermarket As Asda and Tesco take on the opticians, an eye expert examines if cut-price glasses are a prescription for trouble

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UPDATED:

23:15 GMT, 23 April 2012

Twenty years ago, it was pretty much impossible to buy a pair of prescription glasses for less than a few hundred pounds.

Since then, the competition among opticians has changed the market — and the prices charged — beyond recognition.

First came the chain opticians such as SpecSavers, Vision Express and Boots Opticians (which swallowed up Dollond & Aitchison three years ago).

More recently, the competition hotted up further, with opticians at Tesco and Asda.

Specs appeal: Vince Graff compared Glasses from various stores with a budget of just 70

Specs appeal: Vince Graff compared Glasses from various stores with a budget of just 70

It’s a big market — 68 per cent of
adults need glasses or contact lenses and, last year, according to the
industry’s trade body, the Optical Confederation, UK opticians performed
21 million eye tests.

A typical consumer also spends 150, according to research. But some supermarkets offer even cheaper deals. At Asda, for instance, customers can get designer glasses for just 70.

Are these kinds of offers too good to be true Good Health decided to put five of the biggest players to the test — so I went to see what kind of prescription reading glasses I could get for 70 from supermarkets and High Street chains.

I am long-sighted, with a fairly high prescription — my reading glasses are around +6. My quest was simple: once I’d paid for my eye test (some opticians charged nothing, others varied, up to 22), what would be the glasses I could buy

Huge market: Designer glasses can now be purchased for as little as 70 from some high street retailers

Huge market: Designer glasses can now be purchased for as little as 70 from some high street retailers

In addition, how good would the frames be, and how thin the lenses Lens thickness does matter, because the higher the prescription, the thicker they tend to be (unless you pay extra for thinner high-index refractive lenses), which is not very attractive. Crucially, is 70 enough to buy a pair of decent specs

For an informed and impartial judgment, I asked Dr Sneh Khemka, medical director of Bupa International (and previously an eye surgeon at Moorfields hospital in London). Dr Khemka himself wears a pair of 500 glasses.

He was asked to grade the quality of
the frames and lenses — and to measure how well the final lenses
corresponded to the prescription given by the ophthalmologist, who
carries out sight tests.

Worryingly,
not one single pair of glasses he tested was a perfect match for the
prescription drawn up by the shop’s in-house ophthalmologist.

While
the discrepancies were not large enough to greatly affect my vision, if
the lens veers too far from your prescription, you’ll end up with a
headache.

Then, taking into account other factors such as the cosmetic look of the lenses and the quality of my vision, we asked Dr Khemka to come up with an overall score for each pair of glasses. The results were surprising . . .

SPECSAVERS

Own-brand ‘Marcus’ wire frame, with 1.6 index lenses, anti-reflective and anti-scratch coating, 69.

When I arrived I was ignored for five minutes, then told to sit down behind a pillar and ignored for five more. On finally being seen, everyone was friendly and efficient (though they didn’t apologise for the wait). The eye test costs 5.

The 69 range of frames comes with free, thinner (1.6 index) lenses. The ‘index’ tells you how much the lens is able to bend (‘refract’) light rays; the higher the index, the more effectively the lens bends the rays, so the thinner the lens can be.

Specsavers: The own-brand 'Marcus' wire frame, with 1.6 index lenses, anti-reflective and anti-scratch coating, costing 69, scored 6.5/10

Specsavers: The own-brand 'Marcus' wire frame, with 1.6 index lenses, anti-reflective and anti-scratch coating, costing 69, scored 6.5/10

The standard lens index is 1.5 but for someone like me, with a high prescription, a higher index of 1.6 is important, otherwise I’d end up with heavier lenses that would make me look bug-eyed.

But, if I want 1.6 lenses, I cannot afford the black plastic frames I want — so I end up buying a metal frame. They feel comfortable but I’m not sure they suit me.

DR KHEMKA’S VERDICT: Frame —Good construction material, light and fits the shape of your face (i.e. the lenses are at the correct angle to your eyes and the glasses aren’t likely to slip). 7/10

Lenses — Even using ‘thin’ 1.6-index plastic, the lenses look a little thick which, aside from not looking attractive, can lead to them feeling heavy and slipping down the nose. The anti-reflective coating does not seem the best. The lenses almost correspond to Vince’s prescription — but not quite, though the quality of vision is still good. 7/10

Overall rating — The lens and frame don’t really fit together well, which makes them less cosmetically pleasing. 6.5/10

VISION EXPRESS

Own-brand black plastic frames, 1.5 index lenses, with anti-reflective/anti-scratch coating, 54.

Unlike everywhere else, the lab was on view in the middle of the shop. After my eye test, which cost 22, I was given the hard sell — the saleswoman wanted me to spend 200 or more. Only when I mentioned my budget did she reluctantly take me to a small corner of the store where an ‘all-in’ price was on offer.

There was a choice of around 20 frames — I opted for a 29 frame which included free ‘standard’ (i.e. thick) lenses — I couldn’t afford thinner lenses; I paid 25 extra for anti-reflective coating. As I left, the assistant tried to sell me pointless-sounding insurance against the cost of glasses repair. After all of this the glasses feel too loose.

Vision Express: Own-brand black plastic frames, 1.5 index lenses, with anti-reflective/anti-scratch coating, at 54, scored 5/10

Vision Express: Own-brand black plastic frames, 1.5 index lenses, with anti-reflective/anti-scratch coating, at 54, scored 5/10

VERDICT: Frame — at 8mm, the lenses are so thick and heavy that the slight difference in Vince’s eye prescription (one eye is slightly worse than the other) has led to the frames being lopsided. 5/10

Lenses — I am not happy with the eye test. The prescription is out of line with the others. Vince’s right eye has been measured at +5.5, whereas nearly everyone else has put it at 6.25. He might end up with headaches. 5.5/10

Overall rating — these give you the worst vision of all. The lenses are so thick they don’t sit comfortably in these frames. 5/10

ASDA

Jeff Banks frames, 1.67 index lenses, anti-reflective, anti-scratch coating, 70.

The shop, at the back of the supermarket, looked a mess, with boxes of customers’ glasses piled up in front of the displays. The shop assistants exuded an air of indifference and confusion. But how will the glasses fare

My eye test, which cost 15, was carried out by a friendly, professional ophthalmologist — and the pricing looks tempting. For 70, Asda will sell me a pair of designer glasses (Jeff Banks, Nike, Conran and others) with thin lenses and all the coatings.

ASDA: Jeff Banks frames, 1.67 index lenses, anti-reflective, anti-scratch coating, costing 70, scored 8.5/10

ASDA: Jeff Banks frames, 1.67 index lenses, anti-reflective, anti-scratch coating, costing 70, scored 8.5/10

There is a choice of 200 frames. Additionally, because my prescription is so high, I was upgraded to a 1.67-index lens (the thinnest of any of the opticians) for free. And these are my favourite: stylish and comfortable.

VERDICT: Frames — excellent, sturdy frame made from a good-quality material. Good anti-reflective coating. 8.5/10

Lenses — these sit well within the frame, though they could be even thinner. Well-constructed spectacles. 7.5/10

Overall rating — a good pair of spectacles, giving you the best vision of those tested. 8.5/10

TESCO

Own-brand Brink Mohawk metal and plastic frames, 1.5 index lenses — plus free second pair, 65.

The sight test was free and took place around the corner from the shampoo aisle. Tesco’s crazy pricing structure means I cannot afford thinner lenses yet I am given a ‘free’ pair of glasses I didn’t want. Daft.

When I said I was on a budget, the assistant still steered me away from the 15 range — ‘they won’t last long, they’re quite delicate’ — and I settled on a 65 frame with ‘free’ 1.5-index lenses but no anti-reflective coating. The glasses feel comfortable, but it’s not a style I’d have chosen with a higher budget.

Tesco: The own-brand Brink Mohawk metal and plastic frames, 1.5 index lenses  plus free second pair, 65, scored 7/10

Tesco: The own-brand Brink Mohawk metal and plastic frames, 1.5 index lenses plus free second pair, 65, scored 7/10

VERDICT: Frame — well-made, with sturdy, hyper-flexible hinges. I could easily have thought they were 300 frames. 9/10

Lenses — the most accurately-made lenses, with the best prescription. But thick lenses make your eyes look huge. 6/10

Overall rating — with a thinner lens [40 extra], this would be an extremely good pair of glasses. 7/10

BOOTS

Own-brand tortoiseshell ‘elder’ frames, with 1.5-index lenses, no anti-reflective coating, 49.

Boots are more expensive than some of their High-Street rivals. I was advised to opt for thinner lenses — but couldn’t as this would take me over budget, even if I select the 25 frames (which are ghastly).

So I opted for a 49 frame with 1.5 index — i.e. thick — lenses and no anti-reflective coating. And there are only 12 frames at this price. The eye test costs 10, using a money-off voucher on the Boots website. The glasses They’re clunky and leave me looking like Syd Little.

Boots: Own-brand tortoiseshell elder frames, with 1.5-index lenses, no anti-reflective coating, 49, scored 7/10

Boots: Own-brand tortoiseshell elder frames, with 1.5-index lenses, no anti-reflective coating, 49, scored 7/10

VERDICT: Frame — good quality lightweight frame, with sturdy hinges. But the design of the nasal bridge may mean they slip down your nose. 7/10

Lenses — although they have no anti-reflective coating and the lenses are not thin, they don’t look as thick as they might. And the vision is good. 7/10

Overall rating — not bad for the money. 7/10

CONCLUSION

‘I’m pleasantly surprised at the good quality of some of the frames,’ says Dr Khemka. ‘The Tesco and Asda frames stand out as excellent, and most of the other ones are fine. Spectacle frames are very often a complete rip-off. You can buy them for 30 or 40, but they’d sell for 300 if they had a designer label.

‘For someone with a high prescription, spending a bit more for a thinner lens is a good idea. But what this experiment has shown is that the vast majority of glasses-wearers can get a very good pair of spectacles for 70, and there’s no point in spending much more.’