Having had the same pair of glasses for several years (coincidentally also purchased in Beijing) I decided it was time for a change and popped along (with my bespectacled family members) to check out the Beijing Glasses City. Various websites online had mentioned it as THE place to get bargains on glasses, and praised the wide variety of choice available.
I would say the best value items we found in the glasses mall included titanium frames, sunglasses and standard reading glasses (not varifocals/ bifocals/ contact lenses). However, I would advice bringing along a current pair of glasses with the correct prescription lenses in (they can measure by laser the lens strength) rather than getting your eyes tested there – the best stores may not speak great English and after our experience trying to get new prescriptions it just wasn’t a good idea. Don’t just bring along the paper prescription – the numbers used in China to represent each strength of lens etc. are different so they won’t understand it.
Avoid the touts
I have to say, the Beijing Glasses City was certainly impressive, and it’s name is not an exaggeration – we spotted at least three huge shopping centres selling glasses in the area as well as numerous small shops. A bit of advice – once you leave the Panjiayuan metro station, immediately turn right out the exit and walk purposefully down the road towards the pedestrian bridge. Don’t be distracted by the touts around the metro trying to persuade you into other shops – they will drag you along to smaller shops where they get commission, and the prices will be correspondingly higher. The first time we visited this happened to us, and it was only with a great deal of arguing that we didn’t get conned into purchasing the worlds worst pair of glasses at a ridiculous price…
Finding the best store
Once you have crossed the pedestrian bridge, you should see almost immediately the main glasses mall – easily identified by the giant pair of glasses on the outside of the building. I would advice skipping the first few floors since these tend to be there to grab the tourists – in fact, we found the best store was one right at the very back of the top floor, identified by the many local Chinese customers inside and general lack of glitzy sale girls trying to pull you in. If you find salespeople constantly pestering you while you are trying to look at their glasses I would move on, they are trying to pressure you into making a quick decision.
Choosing your glasses
Take your time to try out the different frames and find a suitable pair. You can usually ask for the same frames in a different colour/ size or with different types of lenses (e.g. sunglasses or with certain coatings). Have a look at the quality – are the frames plastic or titanium? Are they likely to withstand sitting on them? Are the screws good? Are the lenses just popped in or held securely in place?
Having browsed through the glasses available it’s time to get the best price – and it is definitely expected in a lot of stores that you will negotiate the price down. Make sure you have in mind the price you are willing to pay and don’t be persuaded to pay above this. If you can’t get the price you want then just walk away, they will often call you back in and continue negotiating!
In the shop we found, which was aimed more at local people, there was less room to haggle since they were already offering very affordable prices – if you suspect this may be the case observe what other customers are doing to see if they are asking for discounts. We did manage to get a free pair of frames thrown in due to purchasing four pairs of prescription glasses though, with the total cost (~1200 RMB) still coming in at well under the price of a single decent pair in the UK.
Collecting your glasses
After you have chosen your glasses and paid, they will then send off the information to their factory to make the glasses. Depending on your order, this can usually be done in just a couple of hours or at most overnight, unless you have opted for something more complicated like bifocals (which as mentioned before, I wouldn’t recommend anyway). When you come to pick up your order, usually the salespeople will recognise you from before, but make sure you bring along your receipt anyway just in case.