BBC Rip-Off Britain: Jamie Murray Wells

Should you buy your glasses on the high street or online? That’s what was being asked in today’s Rip-Off Britain when Jennie Bond, Angela Rippon and Gloria Hunniford are on the prowl to find out whether consumers are being “ripped off” when it comes to buying prescription glasses.

Our founder Jamie Murray Wells talks about why he started Glasses Direct and the importance of shopping around to find the right glasses at the right price to suit you, whether it’s online or on the high street. He emphasises how customers should never feel pressured to buy their glasses from the same place they had the eye test. Research suggests that customers still aren’t shopping around enough, mainly because they don’t realise that they can.

What do you think? 


Add yours
  1. Leanne

    Having watched your Mr Murray-Wells on the programme I would like to ask the last time he provided his services free of charge to aid a competitor. The pupillary distance is part of the dispensing process of spectacles and not the eye examination. If you are not employing the services of the dispensing optician I cannot understand why you think this should be provided for you. Let’s remember that we are all working in business and qualified dispensing staff are not a charity case. I look forward to your response

  2. Brian

    I agree with Leanne, I would be interested to hear your response also. Pupillary distance is part of the dispensing procedure. Without the high street optician’s providing prescriptions online reatilers would be lost. So if the pupillary distance which is not compulsary during an eye examination, and not compulsary during any part of a visit except dispense, why should we give it to the patient when we are not physically dispensing them? Online reatilers should cover the cost for a D.O. to come out and measure PD’s if we are being completely honest.

  3. Adam

    As well as pupilary distance, the length of the arm of the glasses is important. The glasses ordered needed to have the arms shortened, had I ordered from you they would have been standard length and too long. I’m just not sure how you compete as your prices were actually more expensive for the pair of Jeff Banks glasses I ordered, and in the optician the glasses were made to fit perfectly.

  4. rob murphy

    Brian agrees with Leanne? Never! Nice to hear the opinions of two opticians… now to a real customer. £315-£595 lenses ONLY! That’s what I was quoted today in the high street. -6 plus a new bit of presbyopia and I’m an opticians dream! That’s for varifocals which of course I ‘must have’. Overpaid opticians love to kid us that they’re doctors and scare us with worries about glaucoma and diabetes. They don’t run ‘businesses’ either they have ‘practices’. Remember for THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEEN POUNDS, I’d only get basic the coke bottle specs. The ones anyone would wear? £600!!!!!!!!!!!! Well done GD an order is on the way soon. I’ll pop in a pair of my old specs for the PD too, no worries!

  5. Glasses Direct

    Most of our customers don’t require any adjustment to their glasses, but for the few that do, they can send us an old pair of glasses which we can use to ensure their new glasses are a perfect fit. Alternatively our opticians can talk you through how to do this yourself using everyday household appliances like a hair dryer to mold the arms on acetate frames. In fact, Adam you’ve given us a great idea – we will add our tips on ‘how to adjust your glasses at home’ to our Help & FAQ section on the website, so keep an eye out (yes pun intended)! You will find that our frames and lens prices are competitive and unlike many companies, all of our frames include single vision lenses in the price that you see online.

  6. Madmag

    My last pair of specs I bought 18.months ago. Because my prescription is extremely strong I need the lenses thinned down considerably. I also have to have coatings. varifocals, and reactions lenses. The glasses cost was £600+. i was not legible for the “Free” Pair. When I said I could not afford them, {i am a senior} A “Staff” discount voucher was produced, which i was told I could use as the member staff did not require it. The specs actually cost me £480.This was the biggest High street optician, and the biggest ripoff ii have experienced. Now I. need a new pair Where do I go? I do not receive any benefits.

  7. Arni

    Not surprised that the products sold online are cheaper than in shops. Thats the whole point of the internet.

    You buy cheap products from less experienced people if you know what you want to buy.
    If I needed advice, an opinion, or to be told what is good for my eyes, I would visit a real person. Of course I would expect to pay for that too – just as Id expect you to pay for my services if you came to see me.

  8. Zac

    “Alternatively our opticians can talk you through how to do this yourself using everyday household appliances like a hair dryer to mold the arms on acetate frames.”

    Your having a laugh right?

  9. J

    Jamie Murray Wells is a very clever man. There is no doubt his entrepeneurial skills have enabled him to create a successful online service which will appeal to many, after all most people including myself have an eye for a bargain. Considering the current economic climate, companies offering discounted products will be major players in the optical market in years to come.

    However, how can we decipher whether the price we pay for spectacles are a “rip off”. Does the general public really understand the processes that go into correcting ones vision?

    Spectacle correction is in most cases the end product, but how much time, effort and money is invested into creating this?
    lets take an example – I go into my high street opticians (cost of renting property / bills) and talk to an advisor to make an apointment to see an optician (cost of employing an advisor – cost of having a computer booking system?). The eye examination takes place where an optometrist carries out a health check and also tests my vision to see if I have a prescription that needs correcting (profesional staff costs / essential expensive machinery used / cost of support staff). After this I choose a pair of spectacles to correct my vision, with the help of a dispenser who takes my measurements and is able to give conrtuctive advice and has the advantage of talking to the health professional who actually tested my eyes (cost of employing a dispenser). Then my spectacles are manufactured – (cost of materials / delivery / techinicians). When my spectacles arrive I have a dispenser tailor the spectacles to fit me as best as possible (cost of employing again..)

    As you can see to produce the final product of spectacles there has been a lot invested by the provider…. so does this really mean that I have been ripped off???

    Some may argue that the eye test fee should cover the processes mentioned above – but does it really? Online companies who are not directly testing the patient themselves have the advantage of passing on discounts on spectacles because they dont have to bother with most of the intial processes stated above, which is probably the most expensive part of the service.

    It is also true that online companies may have other expenses that a high street opticain may not have, but in my “opinion” i believe high street opticians cannot afford to give massive discounts beacuse it would just be a non profitable excercise. If I had a shop that gave 10 pound notes for 9 pound coins I would probably one of the busiest in town, but it wouldnt really be profitable would it??

    So are spectacles really a rip off? Is online a better service than the high street?

    I think everyone will have their own opinions, but I think it is important people understand what they are actually receiving for their money…

  10. anomaly

    spectacles are cheaper online, fair enough, If you feel that you are paying excess on a high street optician, well a very personal opinion. The online option seems very attractive at this point, but what if a problem occurs? what then? If a pair of spectacles is ordered from a high street opticians, you will be guaranteed a professional advise to rectify whatever issues that occured. Your optician can cover for that. But what happens if you purchased a pair of spectacles online and you have ongoing issues with them. I’d doubt these online companies will jump out of their ways to solve these problems, at least it is not physically possible when all is in front of you is a computer. Where as adjusting your spectacles using a hairdryer, say if you broke the spectacles who will be insured for that? Probably best to buy a new pair altogether. If you add all the cost together you probably ending up paying twice as much as you are quoted on the high street. There is a reason why we use the word qualified opticians, if anybody can actually do the job, why do opticians need to do such extensive training to practice.

  11. Graeme

    I have to admit I was conned into the whole online saving, but regretted it after experiencing things going double and extreme headaches. My contact lens prescription is -4, so not exactly milk bottles but getting there. The order was totally messed up and got no help.Staying to the high street thanks after they sorted it out.

  12. mike rowan

    justify 25p lenses being sold for 400+
    Opticians have being creaming the customers for years ad now they have been found out.

    yes they go to university – big deal – I have seen how much a locum charges for HALF a days work 300.
    That right 300 quid for 4 hours – usually Tax free.

    don’t come on here bleating about being found out.

    Extorsion is a crime and you have been busted

  13. Jamie

    Right, firstly, lenses DO NOT cost 25p. The raw materials cost 25p, but that does not include moulding the lens to the correct prescription, cutting the lenses to the right shape etc etc. This is also just for single vision CR39 Standard uncoated lenses mass produced in the middle east. If the lenses need to be thinned down, coated, surfaced etc the cost is SIGNIFICANTLY more. I have also read the question “why can the pound shop sell glasses for a £1?” this is because they are off the shelf reading spex which suit about 1% of the population. No measurements will have been taken, the lenses will be of a poor quality and the frame will probably break if held in a strong wind. It is angering to read the opinions of people who have not got the slightest clue about spectacles or the process involved in producing them. Secondly Mike, what Locums have you been talking too that earn £300 for half a days work????? That is the usual amount for a full days work, and if, whilst doing this days work they happen to find a life threatening disease (an unfortunately regular occurance in my practice) is this fee not justified??? On a final note to spectacles direct, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE publish information on how to adjust your own spectacles at home, if its anything like how to take your own pupillary distance than I imagine you will be getting a lot of breakages. Why would a dispensing optician go to university for 3 years if it was something anyone could do at home??? I suppose you will be adding extra sections for asian/african bridge fitting, cutting down sides, adjusting dihedral angles and pantoscopic tilts, fitting supra cords, refitting rimless spex etc into this guide too??? I have personally been to the headquarters (swindon) branch of spectacles direct for a job interview, and whilst being shown how the company works I was disgusted at the attitude of the people working there and their relaxed attitude to conforming to standards (in half an hour I witnessed 3 refunds from people who could not get on with their spex).

  14. TJ

    O shut up mike rowan. Justify paying so much for private dental care, for private medical care well this is private optical care. Be aware we charge on average £20 for a sight test where we SEVERELY undercharge for our services! Its patients like you that make me think why we all bothered getting into healthcare you dont want to pay for our services, do you really think I went through all that training to look after YOUR eyecare for FREE, NOOOOOO!!! You are severely mistaken!!! I look after the eyecare of my patients and give each patient my all. We dont just supply glasses we look after the health of your eyes. We are severely undervalued by the general public in my opinion. We vastly undercharge and you still want something for nothing. Your paying for our ability and skills as well!!


  15. jj

    The reality is that the cost of the high street service is too high. Not justified and heavily influenced by old fashioned protectionism. However, we want trained opticians, regulated to a standard and committed to their work. So we need competition and a fair wage to reflect a fair service. Regrettably £500 / day is not acceptable and neither is the farce of 400/600 lenses. Solicitors and others try to maintain a similar farce in a country where average wage is £12000 . High street opticians please adjust to a reasonable income. Not least cos the UK is now a different land of New Labour debt.The old ways are gone.

  16. Louis Barfe

    I would love to get my glasses from a local supplier, but in recent years, I’ve found the selection of frames on the high street to be severely limited. If you don’t want small, oblong spectacles or the rimless variety, you’re in trouble. I remember when I started wearing glasses 20 years ago, high street opticians offered a real choice of frames. Now, the only places I see offering such a choice are the online retailers. When I had my eyes tested a couple of months ago, I surveyed the options in the shop and didn’t like any of them. When I requested my prescription, it came with a rather high-handed standard letter, lecturing on the evils of getting your glasses from anyone other than the practice that did the eye test. I can see the logic of this. However, the bit that annoyed me was the clear implication that if I could not find a set of frames to satisfy me from the ‘extensive range’ on offer, I was clearly some kind of dangerous subversive. I am, but that’s irrelevant. So, once again, I’ve gone to Glasses Direct, ordering frames exactly like the pair I’ve been wearing since 2008 with the new prescription.

  17. PVM

    Could not agree more with jj, I am all for supporting local business but at their prices (and I earn a little more than the average wage)I cannot justify paying these amounts. I feel very sorry for the elderly and less well off who do not have or have limited access to the internet and therefore cannot shop around.

    I think Glasses Direct should get opticians in all areas (put them on their website) to give eye tests at a fair price, specifically for the purpose of being supplied by on-line suppliers.

  18. jj

    This message is to jj
    What planet are u living on?
    Firstly your figures are totaly unreliable for a days wage for an optician. And even if it was that high, it is fully deserved. Opticians go through years of extensive training to reach a level of competence that is necessary to provide essential healthcare services for both private and public patients. Such commitment and dedication deserves to be rewarded both in financial terms and I can’t help but wonder if there is a hint of underlying jealousy from your comments. In addition, you say that we have to adjust to a pay scale that is fair and also mentioned the subject of national debt, however I feel opticians on higher wages than the average wage contribute more to reducing the national debt as we pay considerably more through taxation. I think you would benefit from actually getting a real experience in an opticians, see the work they do, see how the businesses are run and try and make a living for yourself by running one yourself and then maybe you will really understand the business model rather than coming on this site and making ridiculous comments based on snippets pc information that you have heard from somewhere else.

  19. Gareth

    i didn’t really want to have to pay £100s of pounds for glasses I really don’t want to wear but as my eyes are not so good these days I went and had my eyes tested. I found Glasses direct through my work intranet. Then I saw the Rip off Britain show. I thought I’m going to try these people and got 2 pairs for a great price and they came within a week. They fit great and I would buy from here again. Stop being so negative and start charging a reasonable price for trendy glasses and customers will stay on the high street, or go online or a deal. Thats why Britain is great – we have the choice!

  20. Nik

    I measured my PD myself. It is not rocket science and there are plenty of places online to find out how to do it. Eye examinations are important for health – but extortionate prices of spectacles should not be used to fund eye exams. It is natural for high street optoms to post to protect their own interests but the Rip off Britain doc was for the consumer, not the optician, and they did a great job of showing us the cost benefits of the online option while highlighting the drawbacks of shopping online for specs.

  21. Andy Harper

    I would be happy to pay up to £45 for an eye test as long as that included the pupiliary distance information

    For me it is choosing from a wide range of glasses including the internet, a good price comes second once I have found my preferred frame/frames

  22. Gary

    It’s easy enough to measure your own fitting if you already wear specs. Just take your current pair, sit in front of a mirror at a suitable distance, look straight ahead and mark the front of each lens with a non-permanent felt tip pen. Then remove your specs and measure the marks you made on your lenses.

  23. Terry

    Gary, are you being serious?? Are you aware that to take a pd measurement, the eyes should be diverging taken at arms length and without spex on? doing it the way you are suggesting, firstly would mean that your eyes were converging, secondly you would almost certainly not be sitting straight, so if you had an unequal pd, this would be exagerated. Oh and to everyone else on this website, just think about this, if everyone bought there spectacles online, there would be no opticians in the country to provide you with a prescription!

  24. Mathew

    ““Alternatively our opticians can talk you through how to do this yourself using everyday household appliances like a hair dryer to mold the arms on acetate frames.”
    Your having a laugh right?”

    That’s all they do in opticians – a shop assistant (I can’t believe they are “qualified dispensers” as it is usually done with little care or finess – not their glasses why should they care as long as they get paid) holds the frames under hot air then bends the arms by hand.

    My matching sunglasses from Specsavers were never fitted right as they couldn’t bend both pairs to be the same – lack of skill.

    You can put them down on a table and see the difference between the pairs. I have never been properly advised about which size specs to buy in all of my years buying glasses.

    “After this I choose a pair of spectacles to correct my vision, with the help of a dispenser who takes my measurements and is able to give conrtuctive advice and has the advantage of talking to the health professional who actually tested my eyes (cost of employing a dispenser).”

    Yea, right!! Doesn’t sound like any optician that I’ve ever been in to.

    Usually you are expected to try as many pairs on as possible from what’s on display, choose the best fitting/looking pair, have them made and then fine adjustment by a shop assistant. I have never seen any skillful advise/adjustment that is talked about hear – shortening the arms, adjusting the bridge etc.

    Glasses Direct seems allot better to me. I got my trial frames and could really whittle down what to get by using the dimensions on their site – I chose 12 pairs with similar dimensions to my current glasses and trialed them.

    I wasn’t to bothered about shop assistant adjustment or other so called advantages of buying from a shop and wasn’t aware until I read the comments hear that some places actually make glasses really bespoke by doing things like shortening arms.

    By getting a number of trial glasses you can choose perfect fit ones that need no adjustment before you order. Or choose some that need a minor adjusment. I’d rather do it this way than have them bent this way and that with little care by a shop assistant – they are expensive and I want them perfect (not like before with sunglasses bent all over the place). Quality is poor on the high street because the assistants aren’t fussy and most customers aren’t. With a trial from glasses direct you also get to try them for a much longer period of time and don’t feel under pressure to buy. It’s so much better trying them on in your own home rather than in a shop; men DO NOT like shops!

    I had a good experience with Tesco for the eye test. Free and she measured my PD. Also allot less sitting around than at an opticians as I was the only customer – the whole visit only took 15 minutes.

    Looking forward to receiving my new glasses from Glasses Direct which I ordered yesterday.

  25. mand

    My feeling is that the lenses ought to be on the NHS. They’re a medical necessity, not a luxury. Frames, fair enough, anything beyond the most basic is a matter of taste and vanity so we should pay as we do for clothes, haircut etc. (A wider choice would be welcome though, including more colours in the same styles at the lowest end of the price range.)

    Perhaps thinning, though I’d argue that beyond a certain level of myopia that’s necessary too, and perhaps anti-reflection coating, but again that’s arguable. The actual lenses are *un*arguably a need, rather than a want or a would-like!

    Of course this is cloud cuckoo land, no chance of getting prescription specs at the same price as any other kind of prescription…

  26. Karen

    I’ve just recieved my first pair of glasses from Glasses Direct, having recently had a prescription change. I usually use Specsavers, who do my eye tests, but this time I couldn’t see anything that I liked other than a very cheap pair of metal unisex frames, or in the extremely expensive range, which I can’t afford. By contrast I found lots of lovely frames in my sizing with Glasses Direct. The home trial gave me a great opportunity to see if the frames really suited me, and if they were comfortable.

    I’ve been wearing my first Glasses Direct pair for the last 3 hours, and they are a perfect fit – just a minor adjustment to the nose pads. In contrast, the glasses I bought from Specsavers had to go back four times for frame adjustments to make them comfortable. They were so tight after the first fitting that they were giving me headaches, and the constant adjustments have now left the frames with a slight blemish.

    Not only are these glasses a great fit, they also arrived really quickly – less than 24 hours after placing the order. I’m also waiting for a pair of prescription sunglasses, and am hoping that they will be just as great as the first pair.

    It could be that I’m just lucky that my eyes are less than -3 and presumably average in PD etc, but I’ll definitely consider buying online in the future.

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