In 2010, Warby Parker was at the forefront of online eyewear. This sparked many opinions from eyewear industry professionals, particularly individuals in private practice and small business. How is this going to affect my livelihood and the industry?
At the time, I worked at Garrett Leight California Optical’s brick and mortar in Venice Beach, CA. Not too long after, a Warby Parker store opened up across the street and we were asking that question ourselves, accompanied with sentiments such as, “they’re cheapening the industry, the eyewear is terribly made, their opticians are just sales people” and so on.
We seemed to fare just fine due to a loyal customer base, but in the back of my mind, I did like the idea of taking my craft out of brick and mortar and into the online space - but, on my own terms.
About a year later, David Kind found me; it is the perfect marriage between brick and mortar and eCommerce. We are an online family-run optical boutique that carries its namesake brand and measures accurately. Yes, we measure pupillary distance and OC/SEG height by using a photo of the individual in their frame of choice. We have a 3% remake return/rate compared to the national average of around 11%, which includes in person.
Some Industry Perspective
But enough about David Kind. I’ve been quietly observing my fellow opticians, managers and past employers. In general, I noticed a lot of anger, frustration and annoyance towards the online eyewear industry as a whole.
There became an “Us vs Them” mentality - we do it right and online doesn’t, which isn’t entirely wrong. In response, many ODs and optical shops started to implement a fee to check poorly made prescription eyewear, offer more discounts and were forced to think of creative ways to keep the customer in-store. The difference between us and them is obviously only a matter of perspective. What will you do while "they" adopt technology that improves customer communication, improves the patient experience, increases revenue and does so at an affordable price? How can we make "us" stronger" without giving in to "them"?
It's true that some practices found success and others started to drown in the changes of the optical world, and there are lessons to be learned from each instance.
Perspective Shifts and Technology
Once the pandemic hit, there was definitely a shift in thinking about the online space - well, there wasn’t really a choice, it was a must. It was make or break time, or a push to move with the changing tides. How do we survive? How do we retain our customers and become more dynamic? How do we get online?
It does feel like a lot of the industry is still dragging their feet, or many don’t know where to start or they’re just stuck - caught between insurance, competition and the past. But, there are many exciting opportunities available that are unique to us if we can see them for what they are.
Think about the combination of the traditional way of thinking: excellent customer service, great product and strong optical knowledge/expertise, with the new: convenience, efficiency, and technology. This is an extremely powerful duo and I’m excited to see what’s next for all of us; in light of that I'm excited to continue the work I've been doing with David Kind for over 7 years now.