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Warby Parker (or, Finding Broken Systems That Are Full of Money) (thinkhard-ly.com)
78 points by yoshizar on July 6, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 72 comments

Reads a bit too much like ad copy for my tastes. Or rather I read it with the intent to understand more about the content in the parentheses, not Warby Parker. :)

That being said they are situated in a vertical that has efficiency players (Zenni Optical, Coastal Contacts) but haven't mastered the design/marketing/CS game yet. Going Zappos-style is their entrenchment mechanism, as well as the in-house designers.

I agree. One thing that isn't mentioned is that all of Warbly Parker's frames are plastic, as opposed to the titanium (and other) alloys that you find in the brick and mortar stores. Moreover I just don't see enough variety of styles at Warbly Parker.

The article just feels like submarine PR that's disconnected from reality. There are better online glasses stores.

They don't sell a single pair of wire frames, just the thick plastic 'hipster' style that's currently in fashion. No wonder they're only $95...

Absolutely. The notion that Amazon "subscribe and save" reference disrupted toilet paper in particular caught my attention.

Subscribe and save is interesting, but paying 40% more for toilet paper doesn't sound very disruptive to me. It's cool for offices and people with more money than time, but not disruptive.

Yikes, yeah, maybe I was being too bold there for the sake of humor. But Subscribe & Save is actually very cost competitive, as long as you have Amazon Prime. I just took a few minutes to look up Charmin Ultra Strong Bath Tissue on Amazon vs. the Wegmans in Princeton, NJ and Amazon is $0.84/roll vs. Wegman's $0.83/roll. It's not really disruptive by itself, but more an example of a disruptive business model (Amazon) increasing selection, which was the point I think I meant to make.

The same toilet paper was $15 at ShopRite and my wife had a 3 dollar coupon. Sales matter!

That's a fair criticism. I came this article it from a strategy perspective, and would actually like to know more about their operations.

I agree about Zenni Optical and Coastal Contacts --- they are basically pure price plays, while WP is aiming at a very specific customer segment and brand image/personality that's backed up by every interaction you have with them.

I'm fine with the strategy perspective, but curiously omitting the presence of their competitors in the same vertical (but different niches) makes the article a bit too gushing and the picture just a tad biased.

To be fair I think the brand play is a much better game to play than the price game -- if you know how to play it -- since it inherently leaves more money on the table.

If you go to the last sentence of the post, you can probably tell I meant to write a follow-up post about the competitive landscape and do some sort of SWOT analysis. I ended up just moving on to another topic, but that would have been a good sequel to this post.

I've been using Zenni Optical, which I guess is disrupting the broken system of Warby Parker by undercutting their prices by yet another factor of 5, just like Warby Parker did to brick and mortar stores.

I think Zenni and other discount etailers have been around much longer than WB has. I was browsing their sites in '06 or so, and the prices were low as mentioned. I guess WB took the game to a new level with much more intense marketing and branding, aided by the use of snazzy design and curated (ugh) glasses styles.

Nowadays lots of people know about WB but not about Zenni and the other mass-market retailers, which speaks to the success of WB's marketing efforts.

Long ago, I ordered from Zenni or one of their competitors, and they shipped the package directly from Pakistan, wrapped in paper and string with foreign writing all over it. That was interesting to find on my doorstep.

Nowadays I think they do bulk shipping to a US outpost, then ship on from there using USPS to save costs.

How is the product quality? Those are pretty low prices.

I'm not sure it's a great comparison as WP is delivering on several other levels beyond price. The Zenni buying experience is decidedly inferior.

Zenni is pretty cheap. I've broken several pairs, but at $8 you can kind of afford to throw them away. The frames are usually midgrade plastic. I usually order 3 or 4 pairs at a time, assuming I'm going to lose or break at least 2 pairs.

But despite the quality, theres some pretty stylish options that are perfect for people with no optical insurance :D

Also worth noting, the shipping time on Zenni takes forever. Forever being at least a couple weeks in my experience, but in fairness I haven't ordered recently.

Product quality for Zenni, Goggles4U, and similar have all been excellent for me. I have titanium-flex half-rim glasses that look an awful lot like a pair one of my salescritters wears. Mine cost under $40. His... didn't.

If you have a normal range of eye correction and your face isn't too oddly shaped, I highly recommend these stores.

I've been wearing mine for ~3 years. No complaints.

I've bought three pairs of glasses from Zenni. The arm snapped off of my last pair. After that I bought two pair. At $30 each shipped, it's still worth it. The current pair I wear are comfortable and fairly strong (they withstand the beating my twin daughters give them).

The issue with Zenni (and others where the lenses are produced outside the country) is they don't have the stringent quality control standards for lenses you find in the US, Canada and Europe.

If you have a fairly common and simple prescription, go for it. If you need progressives or bifocals, you should probably avoid buying online.

I agree, and I generally get a couple of pairs from Zenni whenever I order for that reason (my toddler and my cat both like to knock the glasses off my face for a laugh). I haven't noticed that the quality of Zenni's lenses is worse than, say, Lenscrafters or any of the other "1-hour" shops here in the US. I like the try before you buy idea of WP, but they really don't have a lot of options (dig the monocle, though).

Is $95 for non-prescription polarized sunglasses really a deal?

The cost to produce a pair of $25 and a pair of $100 sunglasses really can't be that different. Charging $100 signals the product should be good...but would anyone be able to guess that price when handed a pair with the name obscured?

Maybe it's different for their prescription versions.

The glasses are great, last a long time, and at their prices I can afford to buy a backup pair for when I inevitably step on mine.

The UI could use some work, true, but the savings on the frames is well worth the minimal inconvenience.

Huh that's funny. I just ordered 5 pairs from them to try on, they came yesterday. (http://imgur.com/a/ZRTKi if you're interested in offering an opinion)

I'm really impressed with the build of them. They feel a lot better than my zenni optical pair (which were only 30 dollars, not 95). Hopefully the lens quality is better too (mostly anti-glare I'm concerned about), but I'll have to wait and see.

Also, if you missed their april fools site, it is extremely adorable and well done: http://www.warbybarker.com/

Every pair of glasses has a dog modeling it, ie: http://www.warbybarker.com/sunwear/aldous/

I dont work for WP.

I bought a pair of WP glasses and my wife purchased a pair of sunglasses. Great glasses, price and service. Very satisfied. They even have a one year return policy if they get scratched. They fit well and are stylish. The lenses have scratch protection and UV protection. For $95 I might even buy a new pair though I dont need them. They are high quality frames and lenses like designer level. Given we were about to pay 300-500 for new glasses we feel like we won the lottery.

I highly recommend WP it is a steal.

My assumption is the optics are essentially the same in the Zenni ones, so most of that price difference is going into better frames (and advertising and such). So that makes sense that it feels better.

I say B. You look great. I never actually bought a pair of WP glasses; I did the home try-on and didn't find a pair that really worked for me.

Same situation for me. Not to be "that guy" but I really do think their glasses are a bit too hipster for some. Nonetheless, I bought a pair hoping that they would grow on me but unfortunately they never did.

With that said though, the customer experience was fantastic. Very helpful and charming staff. I'd love to take a look at WP again if they ever added a few new styles of specs.

D without a doubt.

Second this, D's compliment the shape of your face very well. Try and stay away from B, the square sides accentuate your nose a bit too much (even though you do have a lovely nose!)

C and E are very nice choices as well!

I like D as well, or maybe C.

B or E

Somewhat unrelated, but I love Warby Parker's 2011 "Annual Report".

Clean, engaging, and aesthetically pleasing.


Agreed. It is well-designed.

I wonder if this is one of those rare instances where the US plays catch up with an established money making idea (another being text messaging)? Glasses Direct have been doing the same thing in the UK since 2004 and having similarly major blow out success. Usually it's the other way around.. the UK copies the US model ;-)

This is a little weird for me. I've got a couple optometrists in the family who own their own practice. A lot of this article rings completely false. Kind of makes me wonder, when reading about other "disruptors" what information is exaggerated or missing.

Still, not a bad idea, especially for people without insurance.

> A lot of this article rings completely false.

Such as?

At an optical store, designer frames with nice lenses will run you over $500 a pair.

This is false. Designer frames (Gucci, Nike, Kate Spade, Prodesign) retail around $120-$240. (I think? I'm going from memory here...) Lens pricing varies based on your prescription and options (transitions, AR, scratch coat, etc). Single vision wearers can easily get designer glasses w/ integrated anti-reflective for under $300 retail. At my optician that includes a 2 year warranty. Also my insurance knocks that down quite a bit. Since Warby only does single vision lenses, $300 would have been a more appropriate ballpark than $500. Lens price can jump up quite a bit if your prescription requires certain materials (e.g. high-index lenses) and it jumps up a lot when you get into progressives, etc.

Also, I can't remember ever purchasing glasses and not having them adjusted to my face when they arrive. I guess you can take your Warby glasses into your regular optometrist and have them adjusted but that feels a little like taking your Burger King cup to get free refills at McDonalds.

you're going to be choosing from the same frames as any person who lives in your area.

This is so much of a non issue that it is kind of weird to even mention it.

This is a market where sales channels are fragmented and undifferentiated. The product being sold is either the equivalent of the "CVS store brand" or has the prices inflated two-fold.

I assume he's talking about optical chains here? (Lens Crafters, etc.) Anyone want to guess what Warby's materials markup is? Cost x 2 seems like a reasonable guess.

Brick-and-mortar stores are expensive to maintain, inevitably adding a lot to the price of every product, but bring little value to the customer, except the ability to try on glasses.

I guess he's referring to optical centers that only sell glasses? I don't recommend going to those places, either.

Anyways... Warby looks good for people with simple prescriptions who don't have insurance. Really, it is just cheaper designer knock-off frames and low to medium grade lenses with really good customer service. A good business model, yes. Earth-shattering value and disruption? No. Most people will continue to buy at their doc's office.

huh. the biggest problem I have with buying glasses online is the lenses. The PD (I believe is what it's called; the distance between your pupil and the bridge of your nose) is super important for the glasses to work very well at all.

Yeah, you can fuck around with a mirror and a ruler, or once at wallmart the kid at the counter just looked at me real hard and drew spots on the plastic filler lens... as far as I can tell, the actual machine to do that measurement? makes a pretty big difference.

I think the optometrists know this, too; the optometrist is happy to give me my prescription, but they won't give me the PD numbers. "you usually have it measured when you get the frames" they say. (I should look if it changes.)

And that's the thing, the difference between pretty good glasses and perfect glasses is huge for me. Enough that I'm happy to pay five hundred bucks for a product I can get for fifty online.

That said, my local Cosco has those machines, and as far as I can tell, the lenses they grind are just fine, and if not 1/10th the cost, at least 1/5th the cost of the optometrist.

But yeah, until they solve that measurement problem? I don't really see how this is any different from any of the millions of other online frame/lens retailers, save for the vertical integration (which is kinda interesting.)

Does that change as time passes? Can't it be done with a picture of you (and a scale like a quarter that you could hold between your eyes) ? Anyway, I don't know why that won't go on the prescription, bothered me too.

As some have mentioned, not a great option if you have insurance. Mine covers a new pair every two years (plus the appointment you need to get a current prescription). They may want to make an effort to cater to that segment more, if it's possible. But it is an innovative approach to a market ripe for the picking. On that note ... Insurance and medicine – Talk about a broken system full of money.

I actually wear both contacts and glasses, and my insurance is enough to cover the contacts or the glasses, but not both; I end up paying for the glasses out of pocket. I wrote this post after being really frustrated with the experience I had at the local optician.

How come not many people are talking about this article in the context of entrepreneurship? Pretty astute advice for people doing startups.

"1) it fits the classic definition of a disruptive company and 2) is an innovative company playing in a large market with unsophisticated competitors."

Of course, everybody who does a startup has to go through the cloning phase. It's just part of learning how to build a business...


I always get my glasses from Korea (I'm not Korean). I think a large number of Koreans wear glasses, so I always find a lot of variety.

I bought my current glasses for ~$150 almost 3 years ago and they still look new. If you are visiting/vacationing, I highly recommend checking them out (I think the store that I bought them from was 1001 optical or something like that)

There are plenty of brick & mortar stores at the $95 price point in my area. Warby Parker won my business because they had many more styles, better-looking glasses (IMO), and a really strong guarantee (most other stores had a no refunds policy).

I had never heard of Zenni Optical until reading this HN thread, which goes to show you how successful WP's marketing is.

They did mention that glasses in physical shops come in two varieties: cheap and boring, or stylish and expensive.

And I, too, am surprised at the lack of marketing done by Zenni; I swear by them now, since I always order the most minimalistic glasses possible - just a nickel's worth of metal to attach lenses to my face.

Assuming that they have similar manufacturing costs, WP has tons of money for marketing while Zenni probably has almost none.

Interesting all of the people who keep saying they've heard of WP but not Zenni. I'm actually the opposite. I've gotten several pairs from Zenni for < $10 and have always been very happy with them. This is the first time I've heard of WP and for me the price is too high for me to consider that disruptive.

I heard about Warby Parker about two weeks ago and decided to give them a try. Whenever I would get frames at a local shop it always felt rushed and I was never happy with the results in the long run. I really like the idea of the home try-on and did find a pair I'm very happy with.

When I have more time, I'd like to look into just how WB grew so fast. What's really impressive is the logistical and operations side (the marketing and publicity are awesome too, but less impressive than coming out of nowhere to ship so much physical product)

Acetate frames are "in" right now, and Warby Parker's look nice and are reasonably priced. Places like Zenni Optical are cheaper but you have to wade through many ugly frames, and they're usually pretty flimsy. WP also offers antiglare coating standard. There's a lot of decision fatigue in sifting through the bargain bin that is Zenni Optical, but WP cuts through that by only offering midrange-premium choices without the sticker shock of an optician's office, and by focusing on the fashionable niche of acetate frames.

Been using framesdirect for a few years now. Very happy. How is this different?

They have fewer and better selected frames, IMO. Their website has pretty good design compared to these, enough that they managed to disconnect from the "cheap chinese glasses" feeling that the other websites give me - although in the end it might be the same product.

Who does the eye tests in the US? In UK eye tests are often done through local opticians.

Disclaimer: not using specs at present but probably will be soon, I'm having to hold the books with small print further and further away...

You can go directly to an optometrist's own office, and they'll usually have a selection of frames they can sell you, or you can just get the prescription and take it to another store. Chain stores like Lenscrafters have office space for an optometrist in the back of each building which they lease to one or more doctors; they don't work directly for the store, but they work at the store and the store books appointments with them for its customers.

Note that some optometrist shops really hate giving away the prescription, since they want you to buy the lenses and frames from them. I'm not sure about the legality of this, but I've had some tell me over the phone that they wouldn't release my prescription to me. (I didn't bother fighting them, I just moved on to the next one.)

That is illegal in the US; the FTC entitles you to a copy of your prescription [1]. This doesn't include your pupillary distance, but shops will tell you whether or not they'll give PD as well. Some places I called offered to measure mine for free as a walk-in, it's pretty quick.

[1] http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt143.shtm

PD seems like something that you could measure at home with a pretty high degree of confidence.

Many people do. I'd still rather trust an optician using a PD meter though.

I've found that, oddly enough, both the high-end and the low-end tend not to hassle you much, and instead it's sort of the middle-range optometry shops that are trying to make a bunch of money on in-house lens/frames sales.

Just about the cheapest place to get an eye exam is in the Wal-Mart vision department, and they're happy to hand over the prescription. Of course, they run the vision dept in part to try to sell you lenses/frames (or contacts), but it's a very corporate/streamlined place, and the actual employee working there doesn't mind if you want the prescription to take elsewhere.

On the other end of the scale, places that look more like a doctor's office than a frames showroom tend to be pretty professional about it. Since I have very strong myopia with some risk of retinal problems as a result, I've been going to a place that's a partnership between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist (M.D.) who do a more thorough eye-health exam, and there it's basically expected that I'll want to take the prescription with me.

In my experience, the actual optometrist at Walmart is basically running his own business, he just happens to be renting the space from the chain, and doesn't really interact with them all that much.

It's like auto repair. A big chunk of the profit in a repair shop is the markup on parts. If you bring in your own parts, they don't make as much money doing exactly the same work.

The optometrist's exam prices are probably lower than they would otherwise be because he makes some amount of profit on the sale of frames and lenses. If the model becomes: get a script and buy the frames online, then the prices for exams are going to eventually go up.

That seems a bit childish as of course people move on to another optician.

I'm about to find out what happens in UK!

I love WP. I've bought three pairs from them. They have free try-on with free return shipping. And you get glasses anti-reflective, polycarbonate lenses for less than a frame alone if you bought them retail.

Does anyone know how big they are in terms of sales?

I considered interviewing them for Mixergy because I hear they're doing well, but the only metric I see for their success is valuation.

Gigaom estimates sales at $10m for 2011, based on their annual report claim of distributing 100,000 frames.



distributed 100,000 frames. So the clicks metric comes to real life?

off topic but: Is there a similar service for lens?

Selling lenses completely breaks their business model and competitive advantage. If Apple is so good at selling computers, why don't they sell motherboards? Not to mention the addressable market...

Anyone know any UK based equivalents ?

Glasses Direct seems quite popular.

Though from what I have read, it looks like the UK opticians market has already been disrupted more than the US one has - in the last decade or two, war between retailers made it possible to get cheap spectacles on the high street. But prices have crept up and the time could be ripe for more disruption.

in France we have Jimmy Fairly which is a 100% Copy/paste of Warby Parker. Even the Branding & naming is similar.


Holy shit ... pricing is even 95 euros.

Any background on this - are they part of a group that specializes in copying success in other markets (e.g., Rocket Internet), or is it an independent startup?

Seems not: http://www.rudebaguette.com/2012/02/16/jimmy/ They asked via an email, got no response, so they build it.

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