Glasses Direct

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Glasses Direct (part of MyOptique Group Ltd.)
Private company
Industry Spectacles, online retail
Founded 2004
Headquarters London, United Kingdom
Key people
Kevin Cornils (CEO), Howard Bryant (CFO)
Revenue Increase £30m (2013)
Number of employees

Glasses Direct is an online retailer based in the United Kingdom that sells spectacles direct to consumers.

It was founded by James Murray Wells in 2004 joining the small existing sector of online retailers. In 2009 it received investment from two major venture capital firms.[1]

It is also notable for the legal and regulatory attempts to close it down by several major bricks and mortar competitors.


In the UK a customer can go to an opticians (shop) on the high street and purchase a fixed price eye examination, from which the optician will issue a written prescription. This can then be used at any opticians to have spectacles made, including online.

A common complaint is that the prices UK opticians charge for spectacles are too high.[2] Such claims about UK prices are common in many areas of retail and services in the UK according to Rip-Off Britain.

Despite both these factors, the online prescription eyewear market is relatively under developed. For example, the UK optical market is valued at over £3 billion. While over 12 per cent of Britain's retail spending is now online, only 1-2 per cent of people currently buy their glasses online. Glasses Direct aims to change this, selling glasses below high street prices (because it does not have high rents associated with retail outlets and because it doesn't charge high mark ups).

There have been concerns by many leading professionals, including the GOC, about the effects of supplying ophthalmic glasses over the Internet. However, every Glasses Direct order is checked by a qualified optometrist and the company was recognised as providing medical care in its services in a ruling by the HMRC in 2013 and on that basis granted it VAT exemption (previously only enjoyed by high street opticians).

Glasses Direct will not fulfil strong prescriptions in the following ranges- If the combined SPH and CYL is greater than +/-8.00. If the CYL is over +/-4.00. If there is more than 5.00D difference between each eye. If the prism correction is over 4.00 in any direction.[3]

Glasses Direct is part of the MyOptique Group, which also includes Sunglasses-shop, LensOn and MyOptique.


2004 Studying for his final exams at university Jamie Murray Wells found out he needed to wear glasses. Visiting his local optician he was staggered by the £150 price tag and decided to find out how it actually cost to make a pair of glasses. Shocked by the huge mark up he quickly saw an opportunity to offer a both great product and service at a fraction of the price. Glasses Direct, the first online prescription glasses retailer, was born - in Jamie’s parents’ Wiltshire home.

2005 In July GD opened its first warehouse and by the end of its first year had turned over more than £1 million. And saved the British public £2 million. Jamie and the team pick up a host of awards, including Nat West Startups Awards Business of the Year and Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

2006 Chancellor Gordon Brown refers to Glasses Direct in his keynote speech at Enterprise Week and Jamie becomes an Ambassador for UK Entreprise.

2007 In February a Ms Montgomery orders a pair of glasses and by doing so places GD’s 100,000 order. Glasses Direct is named a Brand to Watch by the Superbrands Council. GD enters a new phase when it secures multi million pound investment from Index Ventures and Highland Capital Partners. It moves its hq to new London offices and opens a warehouse in Swindon.

2008 Kevin Cornils, former md of European, comes on board as CEO to grow the company.

2009 Home trial makes its debut. Customers can select four pairs of glasses to try on at home for free to help them choose the right frame – to see how they look on and seek advice of friends and partners. Today half of GD’s first time customers use this service.

2010 In its commitment to providing value, GD launches its two for one offer, including designer frames. GD builds its own lab so it doesn’t have to send orders out but can look after them internally and ensure both top quality standards and a quick turnaround for customers.

2011 Howard Bryant joins as CFO from Glasses Direct moves into the designer sunglasses market with the acquisition of Sunglasses Shop which boasts a store on the Essex coast and an international online business. From Prada and Celine to Ray-ban and Oakley, Sunglasses Shop claims to have the widest range of brands and styles in Europe. Glasses Direct launches the designer eyewear line London Retro and features in many leading media titles including Red to Shortlist to Sunday Times Style.

2012 Mark Patterson joins as COO from The company acquires LensOn AB, the leading online contact lenses retailer in Northern Europe.

2013 Former Marks & Spencer board director Maurice Helfgott joins as chairman and the company is selected for the Future Fifty, the Government initiative for high growth companies. It also raises another £8 million; from existing investors Highland Capital Partners and Index Ventures, joined by Acton Capital Partners, Cipio Partners and GP Bullhound. With prescription glasses, contact lenses and sunglasses all now part of the offer, the company rebrands to MyOptique Group to reflect the new full service nature of the business.

2014 MyOptique Group serves its millionth customer and raises £16 million in funding from new investors Korys and Beringea, with additional funding from existing investor Cipio Partners and Silicon Valley Bank. Over the previous five years the company has averaged annual revenue growth of over 50 per cent.


Current methods of marketing for the company include use of Google's AdWords service on its UK portal and pay-per-click internet affiliate marketing.[4] Glasses Direct has also gained newspaper and television coverage through a public relations campaign. Its London Retro own brand has featured extensively in style magazines, including Red, Shortlist and Sunday Times Style.


In 2005, rival businesses including Boots, Specsavers attempted to use legal action and an unsuccessful complaint to the General Optical Council (GOC) to close the company down.[5]

In 2006, Glasses Direct's founder James Murray Wells sought election to the GOC, claiming that a representative from the internet was needed. He withdrew after Specsavers managing director Doug Perkins objected to his candidacy and Murray Wells accused Perkins of rigging the election. Perkins maintained that he was concerned that Murray Wells is not a qualified optometrist although this is not a requirement for membership.

It is important to reiterate that the concerns raised by their rivals where also partially shared by the GOC(General Optical Council). I quote "Also in 2006 Wells sought election to the General Optical Council, arguing that internet retailers and their customers needed representation. In response the Managing Director of Specsavers, Doug Perkins, wrote to Specsavers branches asking the company's opticians to rally round one of their own candidates"..candidates with the interests of hands-on, professional practitioners at heart"[citation needed]. The General Optical Council had previously stated that it believed internet sales of glasses could pose a risk to "public safety" and its priority was maintaining high standards of eye care for the public, and not members' commercial interests. Murray Wells withdrew from the election after it became clear he would not win a ballot.


  1. ^ "Growing Business". Growing Business. Retrieved 2011-11-29. 
  2. ^ "Cheap glasses online - High street opticians are a rip off". Retrieved 2011-03-02. 
  3. ^ "Glasses Direct prescription limits". Retrieved 2014-02-05. 
  4. ^ "Join The Leading Glasses Affiliate Programme from". Glasses Direct. Retrieved 2011-03-02. 
  5. ^ Sarah Ryle (2005-03-27). "The man who found specs appeal on the web | Business | The Observer". London: Retrieved 2011-03-02. 

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