Who would have thought that you could create an iconic lifestyle brand by selling prescription glasses online?
Defying all odds, Warby Parker, famously known as “Netflix of Eyewear,” has disrupted the traditional eyewear industry in its 11 years of existence. From creating an iconic lifestyle brand by selling prescription glasses to achieving a net revenue of $393.7 million in 2021, and now filing for an IPO, their success story is an inspiration for DTC brands worldwide.
Like all of you, we were curious to know how they did it? What worked for them? Can we find some useful insights for DTC brands in the Warby Parker story? So we stretched our research arm, dug deeper, and curated learnings from their journey for you. But before that, here is a quick look at how the idea of Warby Parker came into being.
The Story: A Discussion, Brainstorming, and the Eureka Moment
Warby Parker was conceptualised when Dave Gilboa, Neil Blumenthal, Andy Hunt, and Jeff Raider – four friends at Wharton Business School – started discussing why glasses are so expensive to purchase?
Before joining Wharton, Dave lost his $700 Prada glasses during a trip and was looking to purchase new pairs. Andy, who also wears prescription glasses, was also thinking of changing his own. They realized how buying a pair of glasses was costing them more than purchasing a brand new iPhone, which was $200 at the time.
One day, at the lab, all four ended up discussing why prescription eyeglasses were so expensive and how to make them affordable for people. Blumenthal, who had worked with VisionSpring (an NGO providing affordable eyeglasses in underdeveloped countries) before joining Wharton knew that manufacturing eyeglasses wasn’t that expensive. He kept on thinking about the idea and in the middle of the night, he emailed the other three friends proposing to start an online eyewear company that will control the end-to-end manufacturing and distribution of prescription glasses without compromising on quality or pricing.
Goes without saying, all of them were ecstatic! With the motto of providing quality, affordable eyewear to people, they raised an initial grant of $2500 from the Venture Initiation Program at Wharton School of Business and started their spectacular journey!
What can D2C Brands learn from Warby Parker?
As with all success stories, innovative approach, meticulous planning, and flawless execution have been key to Warby Parker’s success. While there is so much that we can learn from them, here are the key eight lessons we think are the most important for D2C businesses. Read on!
Lesson 1: Have a Unique Value Proposition
In 2010, the eyewear market was monopolized by an Italian company – Luxottica, owning 80% of the market and selling eyeglasses at an average price of $400-500.
To differentiate, Warby Parker came up with two clear value propositions – affordable prescription glasses and ease of purchase. They started selling eyeglasses at $95 per pair on their website. Also, to let people try out glasses before purchasing, they started their “Home Tryon Service,” where customers could order five pairs of glasses to try at their home before making any purchase.
Lesson 2: Focus on PR Early On
According to Dave Gilboa, co-founder of Warby Parker, they spent money on only three things – purchasing their inventory, paying outside developers to build their website, and hiring a PR firm during their initial days.
Warby Parker is one of the few brands to leverage PR beautifully. Early on, they focused on PR as a marketing channel. They synchronized their website launch date with their article in GQ that debuted them as “Netflix of eyewear”. This made them a hit. Within 48 hours of their launch, they were sold out and had another 20,000 customers on their waitlist. This is just one example. There are many instances where they leveraged PR for business growth.
Lesson 3: Offer a Personalized Buying Experience
About 75% of Warby Parker’s retail customers visited the stores only after browsing their website. Warby Parker knew how important it is to understand customer choices, likes and dislikes, to be able to offer them a personalized buying experience. So, they connected their online and offline customer data to get insights on their preferences.
As Dave, their Co-Founder said in an interview “When the same customer visits the stores, the sales representative already knows their preferences which help them close the deal faster,”.
Lesson 4: Provide Exceptional Customer Service
Warby Parker is known for providing exceptional customer service to its clients both online and offline. The tradition of serving customers is deep-rooted in their company culture.
Here is an interesting story on how their team thinks customer-first and proactively tries to create a good experience. Once the Warby Parker team was facing challenges in answering customer queries on Twitter within a limit of 140 characters. They felt it was cumbersome for customers to read through the threads and make sense of the answer. To fix this, the team came up with an innovative idea. They started creating video answers, uploaded them on Youtube, and shared the link on Twitter. It is this customer obsession that has earned them a loyal customer base.
Lesson 5: Think Viral Marketing Campaigns
Warby Parker’s co-founders believed that customer delight and creating a buzz around their brand was much required as they competed with powerful giants. So they focussed heavily on viral marketing tactics.
During the New York Fashion Week, they conducted a photo shoot at the New York Public Library. Models wore Warby Parker glasses while reading books titled by their frame’s style (who would have thought this!). Result: They were in every fashion magazine after that.
Another such example of great marketing was their Warby Barker campaign, an April Fool’s Day prank. During this campaign, they featured stunning pictures of professional dog models with WP glasses for two weeks. Result: their website traffic increased by 250 times.
Warby Parker made wearing prescription glasses cool, hip, and fashionable. Never have they shied away from creating the buzz in the industry or delighting their customers. They often run surprise-and delight campaigns for their customers where they send surprise gifts with every purchase. Need ideas? They sent out custom chocolate gifts with every purchase during the 50th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Lesson 6: Champion the Social Cause of Your Brand
During their initial days, the founders started the “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program with a mission to do good for society. Since then, they have donated more than 5 million glasses across the world. Their “Do Good” mission helped them engage socially conscious customers. It also helped them attract talent, generate media coverage, and become a leading example of how companies can create social impact.
Having a social cause for your brand can have a direct business impact. Studies show that two-thirds of the consumers worldwide buy or boycott a brand based on the company’s position on the social or political issue.
Lesson 7: Approach Offline Retail Smartly
Very few brands have successfully transitioned from online to offline space. Warby Parker is one among those. Their approach to offline retail was backed by strong data and ground research.
To better understand retail opportunities, they designed a marketing and sales campaign, “Warby Parker Class Trip,”. They transformed an old school bus into an on-wheel store, which drove across 15 different cities for 18 months. Apart from generating sales, they collected data on which cities are more receptive to retail stores.
From opening their first store in SoHo to now having 159 stored across the USA and Canada, they did multiple things right:
- Relied on their already accumulated website data to pinpoint the retail locations
- Opted for independent, smaller retail spaces, keeping their operational costs low
- Signed shorter leases of 18 months to five-year rather than typical 10-15 years
Warby Parker’s business growth team collaborated with the sales, marketing, and data science team to make offline retail successful.
Lesson 8: Lastly, Evolve With Your Customers’ Needs
Warby Parker started with selling prescription glasses online but kept on adding offerings as they grew. From building a “virtual try-on” feature for their customers to offering an online vision test – Warby Parker today covers the whole gamut of eye care.
Like them, all DTC businesses need to understand the changing consumer demands and modify their offerings accordingly.
That was all from us this time! If you enjoyed reading the story as much as we did writing this for you, do let us know in the comments below 🙂
Being India’s largest revenue-based financier, Velocity provides founder-friendly revenue-based financing to growing DTC businesses. If you are a D2C brand looking for funding to manage your inventory and marketing needs, apply here, and get funded within 7 days. To know more about revenue-based finance, check out this comprehensive blog on RBF.