Warby Parker Opens First Store: The New Trend for Internet Retailers?

Warby Parker, known for its trendy and affordable eyewear, opened its first retail store in Lower Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood. Before the opening, Warby Parker eyewear was sold mainly through online transactions, in their New York City office showroom or in showrooms in trendy boutiques they partnered with.

In keeping with the brand’s classy, but offbeat personality, the store is inspired by classic libraries. The 20-foot-wide store features high shelves full of frames, rolling ladders, an in-store optometrist providing $50 eye exams and a photo booth to test out frames in print. Store visitors have the ability to actually interact with their products easily and quickly.

Are there limits to e-commerce?

Can an internet retailer adequately compete with offline competitors without a physical presence? At the time Warby Parker was founded, less than one percent of eyewear was sold online. If Warby Parker is any indication, there are limits to what internet-only retailers can accomplish.

A Forrester retail analyst says 90% of business still takes place in-store and not online. A physical store location provides a more immersive customer experience. Simply, there are some products the average customer is hesitant to purchase without touching. Online customers can try on five Warby Parker frames for free at a time by having them to be shipped to your home. Warby Parker is less likely to attract the casual, impulsive customer online. Every customer is different and by offering shopping options across different channels, they can offer a unique experience that fits different customers’ needs.

The demands of a unique product

The in-store experience is critical for retailers marketing unique products. If you’re making waves and offering a product completely different than what others have experienced, they might have to touch it to believe it. Warby Parker offers eyewear and lenses that start at $95. Some people might assume the product is inferior because that price point is much lower than Warby’s offline competitors. This is one customer fear that can be dispelled by a physical location and the ability to view all the product options offline.

Benefiting from in-store analytics

The online retailer’s advantage over offline competition often lies in analytics. While customers are shopping online, it’s easy to understand how people shop and their personal preferences. Offline retailers shouldn’t concede this victory anymore. It’s no longer necessary. Warby Parker plans to use Wi-Fi, sensors, etc. to bring smart data collection offline. They want to capture information they aren’t getting in online transactions and combine it with their online insights.

Is online-to-offline the new trend?

This is somewhat uncharted territory. In 2012, rumors swirled that Amazon planned to open retail stores of its own. No stores surfaces, but the internet giant announced they’d test a “Lockers” program. Through this program, customers in participating areas can elect to have their deliveries sent to nearby physical lockers. Amazon felt this solved problems for customers that worried about packages being left unsupervised on their doorstep. Amazon’s been prohibited from opening a physical store by their wide product range. If they had a store, it could most likely only showcase a segment of their large catalog. So, the challenge becomes determining what product segment suffers, revenue-wise, because the customer can’t view it in person.

The Soho location shouldn’t be the only Warby Parker retail location for long. They hope to open stores across the United States, and if they do they could create a new successful business model for online retailers. Create a strong, trendy brand online, generate brand recognition and revenue, get a foothold on the market and then move offline.

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Image credit: Collin Hughes

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