Selling Glasses Online – Warby Parker

Source: NYTimes, Jan 2011

Warby Parker, a New York start-up, thinks it can persuade people to shop online for glasses, with a combination of fashion, low prices, technology and old-fashioned customer service. It seems to be working. In its first year of business, the company sold about 20,000 pairs of glasses; however, it would not disclose financial information.

The company designs its own glasses, which largely stick to a stylish chunky look, and generally sell them for $95, including prescription lenses made of polycarbonate plastic. By contrast, designer prescription glasses typically cost several hundred dollars. The company keeps prices low by ordering from manufacturers and selling directly to consumers, avoiding expenses like brand licensing fees and retail markups along the way. It does not offer bifocals, and it charges extra for thinner lenses for strong prescriptions.

Warby Parker orders the acetate for the frames directly from a supplier in Italy and has them made in the same Chinese factories the big companies use. The lenses are inserted in New York.

Mr. Gilboa and Mr. Blumenthal, who run the company, declined to say what percentage of frames was returned but they said it was lower than the 20 percent they had expected.

The founders recently hired an eyeglass designer, but they designed the first collection, using ideas from magazines, vintage stores and their grandparents’ homes. They sell a monocle — “the perfect accessory for budding robber barons, post-colonial tyrants and super villains,” the site says — based on one owned by Mr. Hunt’s grandfather.

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