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Warby Parker Prescription Eyeglasses Online Retailer Profiled

Mar 27 2014, 5:13am CDT | by

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Warby Parker Prescription Eyeglasses Online Retailer Profiled

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Warby Parker Prescription Eyeglasses Online Retailer Profiled

Warby Parker sells prescription eyeglasses online. And they’re widely considered a successful startup. But why, exactly?

What’s the secret to Warby Parker’s positive public image and rapid growth?

Despite a general feeling that they’re an innovative company, their products don’t seem to embody invention. And despite a public sense that they’re a design-oriented company, most of their product designs are based on classic styles.

Warby Parker’s secret is that they’re very good at something that most companies—probably yours—should try harder to master: Removing barriers to purchase.

Sometimes the key to driving sales and growth isn’t inventing a better mousetrap. It’s figuring out why some people don’t buy your mousetrap and removing those barriers.

How Warby Parker Removes Barriers
Here’s how to drive sales—the Warby Parker way.

Barrier: Getting glasses is a hassle.

Sell glasses over the Internet. Create an online store with plenty of options—but not an overwhelming selection—and let people order them as conveniently as ordering a book on Amazon. (Although online glasses sales is something of a novelty in the United States, companies such as Glasses Direct have been doing it in the UK for a decade.)

Barrier: You can’t try on glasses over the Internet.

Let people pick five pairs to try on, then ship them free. At home, customers can try them on, then ship them all back—again, with free shipping. If they like a pair, they simply select them on the Web site.

Barrier: Glasses require a prescription.

Have the customer get an eye exam at a local optometrist’s office, then scan the prescription. If customers don’t have a scanner, they can hand-enter the information. If they don’t want to do that, they can provide the name of the optometrist and Warby Parker will contact them.

Barrier: Prescriptions can be incomplete.

Build online ways to get around the problem. For example, if an optometrist office forgets to include pupillary distance, the company sends email linking to this page, which lets customers use a webcam to take the measurement themselves, using a standard-size credit card for scale. (This happened to me when I ordered glasses from Warby Parker.)

Barrier: Designer glasses are too expensive. The main reason is a shocking lack of competition in the space. A single company owns nearly all major glasses companies in the United States, from manufacturing to distribution to retail. These include Lenscrafters, Pearle Vision, Oliver Peoples, and Sunglass Hut. It owns Ray Bans and Oakley. And it manufactures glasses for many major luxury brands, including Burbury, Chanel, Prada, Prada, Ralph Lauren, and Tiffany.

Sell glasses at very low cost by competing with Luxottica at every level—manufacturing, distribution and retail—then pass the savings on to customers.

Barrier: Glasses aren’t given as gifts.

Offer gift cards that equal the price of a pair of glasses.

Barrier: Designer glasses are seen as an extravagant luxury item.

Give away one pair to a needy person for each pair purchases by a customer.

Barrier: Online stores lack an urban brick-and-mortar retail presence.

Open brick-and-mortar stores in select locations.

Barrier: The glasses business is highly complex, characterized by hundreds of designs and sometimes highly complex prescriptions.

Keep it simple, with only a few dozen designs. Make them cool, and don’t offer the most complex prescriptions. Try to satisfy most customers, but keep it simple by not trying to satisfy everyone.

The Bottom Line
Ultimately, the company tries to simplify every action that’s hard—requires a lot of time, work, thought or effort by prospective customers.

The point is that you don’t need to invent a better mousetrap in order to innovate in the mousetrap business. It’s more important to figure out why people don’t buy mousetraps, then remove the barriers that prevent them from doing so.

At least, it works for Warby Parker. And it will work for just about any company.

Do you see? Weigh in with a comment below, and follow Mike Elgan (Google+) @MikeElgan (Twitter).


Full disclosure: As well as writing for Forbes NetAppVoice and other publications, I also host the daily Tech News Today show on the TWiT Network. Warby Parker is an advertiser on some TWiT shows, but I was not compensated monetarily or in kind for writing this article by WP or TWiT.

Image credit: Warby Parker

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