In his session at eTail East 2013, Tim Riley, Director of Online Experience at Warby Parker, explained how the incredibly successful online eyeglass boutique was born and continues to rapidly expand. The room was packed to the gills, standing room only, as everyone wanted to hear about this sensation of a brand that paved the way for pure-play retailers to take their brands into brick an mortar territory.
It started around three and a half years ago when four close friends realized there was no reason why well-designed, high-fashion, affordable eyeglasses weren’t being sold online. There was also no reason why a pair of glasses should cost $700, they thought. They also noticed that consumers liked to buy things that also contributed to charitable causes. With these ideas in mind, the foursome decided to enter the relatively nonexistent market of selling moderately priced eyeglasses via the web. They also decided to provide eyeglasses to those in need through every purchase made by a customer.
The initial press about the brand came pouring onto the pages and websites of magazines like GQ and Vogue, whose fashion departments were stunned by not only the look of the product that Warby Parker was creating, but the social mission as well. The company also hosted a guerrilla fashion showcase at the New York Public Library Reading Room the day before NYC Fashion Week, inviting 30 fashion editors to watch models read books with the names of the frames they were wearing printed on the covers. With initial press like this, the brand grew an immediate following in the circles of fashion’s elite. But of course, the fashion elite wasn’t the primary market for the brand’s product, so the bulk of the focus had to shift to bolster online content and innovation.
In order to bring in the brand’s target market, the team had to make the user experience of the online site a main priority. So, the team added an annual report to its homepage that included company infographics as well as fun facts about Warby Parker in order to engage customers with the brand.
The company also collaborated with other well known websites, like the indie music website, Ghostly, in attempts to widen its fan base with customers who were more likely to engage with the brand.
Lastly, Warby Parker decided to answer everyone who Tweeted at the company, answering questions like “What do your blue frame eyeglasses look like?” with videos of company members wearing them, which created longer lasting content for customers to share with friends and family.
While the online shop was doing incredibly well, Warby Parker also had customers asking if they could come and try on glasses in person. At the time, the company only had a small office with a studio space in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. Ushering upwards of 1,000 people into the small loft space on a Saturday afternoon quickly became untenable, especially since the city infamously enforces its zoning rules (alas, this studio was not an official “retail” location and so another solution had to be found.)
The company decided to start selling its glasses through other unconventional means, including via bike in Miami, and via the Warby Parker school bus, which is still on a cross-country tour. As the name spread by word of mouth, the company realized it was ready to open some permanent locations such as two stores in its hometown of NYC. The brand has kept a keen focus on the in-store experience, ensuring that customer expectations are exceeded through features like mobile POS systems and handwritten gift card notes.
While older, more established and labyrinthine brands might find it hard to match the innovation that has come from Warby Parker, they can certainly be inspired to push the envelope and start taking the risks their customers are craving.