Warby Parker is a giant in the ophthalmic industry. They dominate ophthalmic e-commerce and are developing a brick and mortar presence as they have opened storefronts in various cities across the country.
As an optometrist in private practice, sure, you could argue that I have a vested interest in highlighting the shortcomings of this ophthalmic juggernaut; however, Warby Parker can teach all of us some valuable lessons in marketing and sales.
This article is not meant to deter consumers from purchasing spectacles from Warby Parker, in fact, I believe that for particular patients, spectacles from Warby Parker can be valuable and sufficient for their needs.
It will be interesting to see how Warby Parker handles the competition from Shinola, who will be adding prescription eyewear to their portfolio soon.
There are some specific types of patients, and spectacle lens wearers, that Warby Parker just cannot accommodate, at least not yet.
Their brick and mortar stores can combat some of the issues I will highlight; however, speaking for strictly online consumers, one may want to consider the following issues before purchasing spectacles.
1. Complicated Prescriptions
Warby Parker allows individuals an option to select “High Index” lenses if they have a “strong prescription” for a small additional fee. Individuals with truly “high prescriptions” should receive further education on the benefits of high index lenses, and what the purpose of a higher index lens is for. There are varying levels of high index lenses, and Warby Parker does offer an index of 1.67 for their upgrade fee. However, patients with high prescriptions, or those who are borderline, could be better served by some kind of optical consultant presence advising them on lens choices, not simply allowing them to check a box.
For those high prescriptions who do not believe they need high index, who receive no recommendation or instruction, surely they will be disappointed once they receive a -10.00D lens in polycarbonate. Warby Parker will not accommodate you if your prescription is very high, which is probably a wise decision as these particular patients generally require expert recommendations in careful frame selections and ophthalmic lens materials. Of course, we all know, all high index lenses are NOT created equal.
We have all had that patient with meticulous visual needs and preferences. How many times have you had a patient who purchases new glasses with the same Rx, to discover he or she cannot tolerate the new spectacles. Meticulous frame adjustments and matching base curves can be paramount for these patients. Without having the ability or resources to do this, these patients may find themselves unsatisfied and eternally frustrated with Warby Parker’s cookie cutter approach.
2. Progressive Lenses (PAL)
Warby Parker offers progressive lens options to consumers. Anyone who has purchased progressive lenses (and especially those who have fit patients for PALs) knows there is a preciseness to the fitting process. Where you mark the beginnings of that progressive corridor can majorly impact the visual outcome. Some patients need the progressive corridors marked a little higher than “standard” or a little lower.
How is the progressive corridor being measured for consumers purchasing PALs online? From my research, this does not appear to be measured at all when purchasing this lens option.
3. Frame Adjustments
Most people are not perfectly symmetrical. An ear is higher than another, an eyebrow lower than the other, a nose that is a little too wide or too narrow. People are not perfect.
It is extremely common that most people need some sort of frame adjustment when picking up their spectacles, to provide a better fit and a better visual experience. If ordering online, who provides that service? If you happen to be near a brick and mortar store, perhaps this may not be a huge issue, but for a majority of consumers, they are left stranded. What happens if the arms, bridge, or nose pads fall out of alignment from normal daily wear that so often happens. Where do you go for adjustments?
Warby Parker graciously offers to reimburse you once (up to $50.00) for the cost of getting an adjustment from an optical shop or eye care center. However, you may be hard pressed to find someone willing to adjust your spectacles purchased from somewhere else, even for a fee, as liability for damaging or breaking a frame from somewhere or someone else is always an issue (despite making patients sign liability agreements).
4. One Size Does Not Fit All
Glasses are an extension of your body. They should fit and flatter the contours of your face. The Virtual Try-On Tool while really cool, does not provide a true fitting experience. Warby Parker’s glasses are only available in one size (for now), and as most people know, one size does not fit all. Changing the style of the frames will not make a difference if the temples are too short among other common issues that arise when picking out appropriate fitting frames.
5. Supporting Your Local Business
What better way to support and show thanks to the people that service you and tend to your visual needs?
The doctor that comes in on a Saturday night to look at the angry red eye that surfaced during the day, or the doctor that skipped lunch to squeeze your emergency in despite a packed schedule. This is the doctor that needs your help, and these are the people that you depend on for service and eye care. Why not support these people, and allow them to continue serving you?
While it is true, glasses can be extremely expensive, it is also true, that glasses can be very affordable. There are frames and lens materials of equal quality and style to that of Warby Parker, that can be purchased at comparable costs, especially when utilizing vision insurance. There is a common misconception that private offices charge consumers more than online entities. It is true, that the costs of various products in private offices can be much more than online; however, it is often because those products are of superior quality.
Warby Paker is a fantastic company (the awards they have earned prove that), and there are many things they do very well.
We can all learn from their marketing and sales. They appeal to the millennial, offering a product that is “cool” and convenient. The Warby Parker model showcases convenience that many of us crave with the ability to order glasses online and try various frames for free. Their customer service, return policies, and overall accessibility is truly incredible.
In fact, I had a patient tell me that she preferred to purchase her glasses from Warby Parker because, “They have a great business model, and it is all for a good cause.” My only question is, can I hire their marketing team!?
For the non complicated glasses wearer, Warby Parker can be a great resource. While the quality of their frames and lenses cannot be compared to that of a private lab or frame manufacturer, it does not have to be.
For a lot of consumers, the frames and lenses provided by Warby Parker are more than sufficient, without the higher price tags. From a consumer stand point, we have all purchased “generic” items because the lower price tag is appealing, and the product works “good enough.”
At the end of the day, you can dress a Ford up as a BMW, but it is still a Ford. The same can be said for Warby Parker and how they market their spectacles. However, a Ford, is still a pretty good car, and does what most people need it to do.