Warby Parker’s Lesson

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Since entering the eyewear market in 2010, online retailer Warby Parker has earned a growing reputation among young, fashion- and budget-conscious consumers for selling stylish, inexpensive eyewear.

Warby Parker’s founders say they want to disrupt the optical industry, which they claim overcharges consumers. Positioned as an alternative to large, vertically integrated multi-national suppliers and retailers, the company keeps costs low by minimizing overhead, eliminating middlemen and licensing fees, thereby avoiding what they consider to be excessive markups.

Although many in our industry would dispute this assertion, it makes for good press, as witnessed by the copious amount of coverage Warby Parker has received from consumer media. Yet there’s no denying the company has hit on a winning formula that many of us can learn from. The company’s $95 retro eyewear, though unremarkable, is nice looking and appears to be solidly made. More importantly, it is priced right for young people on tight budgets. The company’s alternative stance also appeals to young consumers, as does its embrace of socially conscious marketing. (For every frame Warby Parker sells, it donates one to a non-profit group that distributes them to needy people). The company is also easy to do business with. It will ship online customers a kit of five frames to try on at home, thereby increasing the likelihood of customer satisfaction and purchase.

As far as Warby Parker’s price challenge to the industry is concerned, the answer is simple: you get what you pay for. When it comes to price sensitive customers, experienced eyecare professionals and retailers know they must explain that the cost of their eyewear depends on the quality of the materials, the designs of the frames and lenses, as well as the expert fitting they receive.

akarp@jobson.com