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Planning Retirement Online

Getting Glasses

                              October 2006

The High Street is awash with opticians. How to choose a good one. 

Sarah Frankel investigates


The Eye Care Revolution: Prevent and Reverse Common Vision Problems

Presbyopia is a condition that affects our ability to focus on objects close-up. It is part of the natural aging process. The problem usually starts when we get into our late forties or early fifties. We notice a loss of close-up vision. That’s when we need to get an eye test and we need one every two years. Not having an eye test every two years might mean that eye disease goes undetected.

Tests are free every two years under the NHS for over 60s, and every year if you are over 70 or have glaucoma or diabetes. Some people on benefits also qualify for NHS vouchers to offset the cost of the frames, but there will always be a price to pay.

The High Street is awash with opticians. I set out to find who to go to and how to choose one. Stephen Isaacs, Managing Director of the 2020 Optical Store, says

“Profit is on not on the tests, it’s on the frames and lenses.” An ophthalmic surgeon recently told me that he estimates up to a 400% mark-up on the price of frames. Stephen Isaacs smiles, adding that Presbyopia is God’s gift to opticians. With very few exceptions, everybody over 50 needs sight correction.

One-third of the business in the UK is carried out by the large chains. Stephen Isaacs says that customer service, professional experience and equipment are the things to look for.

The Discounts

Specsavers, who claim to be the largest opticians in the UK and the second largest independent retailer in the world, say they sell a pair of glasses every six seconds and sold 6.5 million pairs during 2005. They are currently offering 30% off glasses from ?75 range or above with the free NHS eye test “if you're over 60 Monday to Friday”.

Dollond and Aitchison also offer regular discounts. They run a ‘discarded glasses’ scheme for the charity Help the Aged World Sight Project. And they do Nectar points!

2020 has an interest-free payment plan over nine months after a minimum deposit of 25%.

Vision Express has a price promise on all its products and will guarantee that you don’t have to pay any extra costs that may arise.

In addition to price promises and payment plans, I’d suggest you make your purchase during a special offer and use your bargaining skills for all you’re worth. Go for a deal particularly if you need both glasses and sunglasses.

Customer Services

Opticians seem to be falling over each other to provide the best customer service. 2020 Optical Store ask everyone to complete a questionnaire which includes a question on how they can improve their service. The Managing Director resolves all complaints personally. They also provide a head and neck massage service in case you find browsing and trying on frames tiring!

Vision Express has a 7-step total satisfaction guarantee. If you find a frame cheaper elsewhere they’ll refund the difference, and if you’re not happy with how your glasses look or feel, they’ll refund or exchange them within 30 days. Specsavers say that if you have any concerns within six months of the date of purchase, they will put it right.

All three offer a one-hour service for most glasses, although 2020 don’t recommend it and suggest you allow more time, as haste might compromise technical precision. Vision Express and Specsavers say they have a qualified optometrist in each store who does the eye test; while 2020 say they have four or five on hand.

2020 give an Optomap retinal imaging exam, as do Dollond and Aitchison, providing their opticians with a more comprehensive view of the retina. This keeps the image in its memory so that at your next eye test the optician can compare the health of your eyes. Check with your optician to see you get this extra test.

Choosing frames

Every Specsavers branch has a frame stylist on hand to give specific advice. In general, they recommend lighter coloured frames for people with grey or light coloured hair and eyes.

Vision Express also gives eye make-up advice: light-coloured shadows with a shimmer shadow under the brows attracts light and a highlighter underneath the arch of the eyebrow brighten and lifts the eyes for the short-sighted. If you are far-sighted (you have trouble seeing things close to you, for example, reading a book) your lenses may magnify your eyes. Play this down with darker shadows, lining your eyes with a black kohl pencil and avoiding shimmering eye shadows on the eyelid. There didn’t seem to be any advice for multifocal wearers!

2020 Optical Stores find that although men pay more attention to lenses and quality, people choose glasses that they want and not what suits the shape or colouring of their face. “Frames are the cheapest item of designer wear and the most noticeable,” Stephen Isaacs adds. As for sunglasses, he says that Gucci is the best-selling make.

Independent opticians

Independent opticians may well offer a more personalised service, and over the years you will probably develop a relationship with your optician, as one would with a doctor or dentist. The independents may not have the most up-to-date equipment for testing or the same huge selection of frames, but sometimes it is easier to choose one out of ten than one out of a hundred.

Wherever you go, as with all professionals, check that the person giving you the eye test is qualified before trusting them with your vision

To find out more or for contact details of your nearest store see:



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