Last Friday I had an experience many of you may share: wandering around the optical shop after an eye exam, eyes blurry and cartoonishly dilated, looking at potential glasses for the first time. Though I could barely see, I saw something was extremely off: the prices of the glasses themselves. A basic level pair was going to run me $300! I wisely decided to wait until vision cleared enough to go search online for glasses and ask for recommendations on Twitter.
Many suggestions came, but one stood out. Warby Parker. Why? Whereas most others make a point to crow about their massive selection, designer brands, and low prices that fluctuate widely depending on style and options included, Warby Parker takes an entirely different approach: it has a relatively small selection of glasses all at one price, $95, all including the three elements typically priced separately: frame, lens, and anti glare/scratch coating.
We have developed a stakeholder-centric business model that accounts for our customers, our employees, the environment, and our larger community. We try to consider these stakeholders in every decision that we make.
This is no mere happy talk. The most visible example of this is its Buy A Pair, Give A Pair program, that like TOMS Shoes, gives a pair of glasses to people in need, per each pair purchased. But, while the actual benefit and potential detriment of bringing loads of shoes into the fragile economic ecosystem of developing countries is being questioned, Warby Parker’s program goes much deeper. Together with it’s local non-profit partners, they train local entrepreneurs to start their own business selling glasses. This in turn provides a low cost local option for people who would otherwise go without glasses and forgo opportunities to learn and work.
Warby Parker makes it clear that access to eyeglasses is not a superficial issue. Approximately one billion people don’t have access to affordable glasses. Glasses can increase one’s income by 20%, enable students to see a blackboard and offer dignity to those with poor eyesight.
85,000 have been distributed so far to those in need.
Beyond this side benefit, Warby Parker’s customer experience is something other companies would do well to take a cue from. When a friend on Twitter mentioned Warby Parker, and in a separate tweet told me of an important, often skipped measurement that’s needed to order glasses, a rep saw this and tweeted me an ingenious online tool for doing it yourself, saving another trip to a store or clumsily attempting to do it on myself.
Warby Parker takes the guesswork out of choosing the right pair of glasses by offering to send you 5 pairs of your choosing to try out for 5 days, with free shipping both ways. This doesn’t just match the brick-and-mortar store experience, it exceeds it. A quick test drive lap around a store can’t tell you as much as days spent with the glasses, along with feedback from friends and family.
Employees are part of the benefit-oriented equation here, this sentence expressing a sense of mutual responsibility you don’t often hear:
…We are each responsible for one another’s professional and personal growth.
Tying it all together, Warby Parker tracks all of it’s greenhouse gas emissions, offsetting them all, making it one of the few carbon neutral companies in this category.
While it’s not clear how all this effort effects its bottom line, the additional time, effort and expense is likely offset by additional business from people who appreciate both the value and values being offered here. In a way, Warby Parker’s business model is more durable than others in its category, since it’s not having to compete on quantity of styles and keeping up with the latest brands. It merely offers a well designed, well priced, customer-and-others beneficial product.
The only weak point as I can see is their lack of bifocal and progressive lens offerings. To me this shows its confidence in its offering and a desire to simplify the shopping experience.
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, global trend tracker, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.