Wobbly Parker

The high profile online eyewear entity Warby Parker has decided to test the brick-and-mortar scenario of dispensing with a flagship shop in Soho, NYC. So 20/20 decided to do some testing of our own with an unidentified secret shopping excursion. This blog entry was positioned as an ongoing editorial column encompassing two consecutive monthly issues of 20/20. The quest was indeed… wobbly at best.—James J. Spina, 20/20 Editor in Chief

Eye Love Shopping (Part One?)

Hello and… Good Buy. I’m product addicted, and even though I’m aware there’s a spot reserved for me and other oversatiated consumers in Dante’s inferno, nothing’s ever going to stop my pursuit of material goods. So with the opening of an actual Warby Parker optical shop in Soho within sight of 20/20, it was a destined venture.

If you’re going to start complaining about WP and their e-commerce, and online PDs and cheap product, and their marketing and PR… STOP right there. Eyewear is currently at a super high-profile level and more-than-some of it has to do with WP, and THAT’s a good thing for everyone in optical right now. Consider it a blessing your retailing doesn’t involve PCs or cupcakes (with both those markets tanking and mobile devices and doughnuts surging).

Strongly committed to the dispensing process that partners an eye exam to the acquisition of well-fitted glasses, I’d hesitated doing online “secret shopping” for frames but the opportunity of an actual store pushed my button.

Subsequent parts of this story will be further animated about the actual store (with its library setting, great music and consumer-friendly product displays) but the main issue here and now is the opportunity of an eye exam by an OD. When I initiated my interest in a purchase, the WP sales associate (NOT an optician) asked for my Rx. I declined. She then offered to actually call my doctor for it. I noted THAT was equally creepy and asked for an exam. Initially told the wait could be very long, I was put face-to-face with a receptionist who gave me a specifically timed appointment two days away with a qualified OD at a cost of $50.

I gave my name and e-mail address asking if I should pick out eyewear in advance of the exam.

Nope. That whole “pick ’n’ choose” process could follow the exam but I was invited to stay and browse, trying on any of the hundreds of frames (from a surprisingly limited number of styles) on the wall displays. The displays also held books, some for sale and some a bit too preciously color-coded, reinforcing the lounging theme. Prices were clearly marked at $95 for a completed single-vision frame with lenses.

So now I’m asking you to lounge with this 20/20 for the next month. I’ve had my exam. I’ve picked out my frame. Delivery is expected in two weeks. Full reports next month. Be assured, we’ll chat more about your new brick-and-mortal competition… next month.

Hopefully we are ALL in this with open minds, much to learn and cooperative teamwork as everyone takes time figuring out how to keep eyewear as a respected “need” and “want” product and experience.


Wobbly Parker

Last month’s column was devoted to the beginning of my experience purchasing eyewear from the new Warby Parker store in Soho just a few blocks from the 20/20 edit office. I also had an eye exam at the store, turning down their offer to fulfill a provided Rx from my own OD. The thorough and careful exam was $50 as detailed by a Dr. Esther Kim at the terrific exam room in the store. At that time I was also presented with my personal Rx for use anywhere I’d like in or beyond the WP store.

So far so good. I picked out frames with the help of an attentive sales associate, and my PD was taken by an eyecare professional who informed me my eyewear would be ready for pickup at the Warby Parker distribution center in the Puck Building a few blocks from the store in eight to 10 days, and that I would be notified by e-mail when the eyewear was ready for an in-person fitting. I called twice after the allotted time and was informed that because this was a progressive diagnosis, it was taking slightly longer. I already knew that the cost would be $225 as compared to the widely signaged price of $95 in the store. The lower price was explained as being for single-vision glasses.

It is now over a month since this experience started, and I just made the call to cancel noting that it was taking far too long. Very pleasantly I was told the order would be cancelled, and there would be a refund on the charge.

Somewhere down the road and in some other part of 20/20, the Warby Parker story will certainly continue but space on this experience in my editor’s column is at an end. From my experience it would seem that WP’s attempt at brick-and-mortar has become brick and mortally wounded. It’s looking like they might be custom-made for online ordering by younger single-vision hipsters but when it comes to (potential candidate for) hip-replacement baby boomers, the story radically changes. The customer service treatment when I did actually cancel was superb, although I’ll feel even better when the refund is noted on my credit card account.

I sure hope they haven’t written me off as over-the-hill and not worth stepping up to the challenge. I looked forward to asking some key questions about my new lenses. I was equally curious about the actual frame fitting and adjustments that might take place. But with a turnaround of over a month, nothing at this point can compensate for the breakdown of THIS particular experience.I want the world and I want it now. AND… I want to see that world perfectly in frames that fit my face with a custom-made look and feel. And since I’m devoted to the art of communicating and engagement, I await comments and feedback from the readers of 20/20 AND Warby Parker.


About James Spina
20/20 Editor-in-Chief

24 Responses to Wobbly Parker

  1. Hi James

    Great stuff. So you don’t actually pick up your glasses there at the store? Is that so they don’t have anyone saying “I can’t see with these”? Also if you got a progressive, who took your measurements? Great work as usual…..I never knew you were the super sleuth…


  2. James Spina says:

    I intended to question why I needed to go to a “dispatch” center and not the store when I eventually went to pick up the eyewear. Perhaps that is when they would do any final adjustments. Right after my eye exam and after I picked out the style another eyecare professional took all measurements particular to my eyes for the eyewear chosen.

  3. Jeff G says:

    How thorough was the exam? Also, I wished you had received the glasses so we can know what kind of progressives they use. Premium or low rated ones. Quality is everything especially when it comes to progressives.

    • James Spina says:

      Great exam from a patient/consumer pov. I intended to ask many questions about the actual lenses and the fitting of the progressive specific to my Rx once I got the completed eyewear. Disappointed as well that that never happened. This story obviously continues in that area at some point. I DO now have a completed Warby Parker Rx form specific to me, presented on a very concise Rx card in a slick Report Card like sleeve.

  4. Tracy G., ABOC says:

    Great posting! WP frustrates me, as I have co-owned a fairly popular, yet small, internet eyewear company since 1996. WP has used wonderful marketing and generated hype properly to position themselves at the forefront of the online buying experience, offering trendy, low cost optical consumables for the internet savvy shopper. They probably should quit while they’re ahead. I also manage multiple brick and mortar optical shops in a large Ophthalmology practice so, I feel like I can hit this ‘evil’ on-line eyeglass retailer thing from both angles. I think WP is scared, they want stability, longevity, respect– they are the flashy new step sibling to the traditional, long favored way of buying the ‘medical device’ we call eyeglasses. Look where they are ending up– in brick and mortar stores– even though they are raking in the dough on the virtual highway. They long to be just like the rest of us. Why? Because they know that they have reached a peak. Once the trends change, they’re done, unless they try to conform. Unfortunately, as much as we ALL want eyeglasses to be ‘fashion’ and ‘luxury’, they are still a medically necessary device used to help people see. WP can’t change that and until they realize it, I think their storefront idea is destined to fail.

  5. Peter Friedfeld says:

    James–great blog post and topic. WP is truly something unique in the space, as they have managed to build a real brand with a subset of consumers (young) as well as breakthrough the concept that eyewear cannot be sold online. And they spent plenty of money in doing so—Great PR is very expensive–and effective. The real fact is the traditional ECP can and do compete with the online e-tailiers like WP with the traditional 4 P’s –Product, Price , Promotion and Placement. And the online experience cannot compare to the hands on care and experience offered at an in office visit. WP has capitalized on a growing fashion trend that is making a real contribution to ‘eyewear as an accessory’ which helps expand the pie and keep our industry at the forefront of fashion. When young people want to wear glasses, and be seen in them, thats a great opportunity for all. Let’s hope this fashion trend continues—and all can find thier own way to navigate these waters.

    As to the brick and mortar experience, I went to the opening of the new WP ‘retail’ location in Boston. On opening day they had two college students handing out cupcakes at the door, explaining to sometimes confused passerbys that they were ‘an eyeglass store’. At least they could have said, ‘we are Warby Paker’.

  6. J R Grotten III says:

    This article prompted random thoughts from a guy whose mind is random:

    Do you think they recognized your 20/20 email address and were holding out to prevent the potential mainstream optical hit job? Why didn’t you ask about the progressives from the optician where you placed the order? Seems strange you would ask about what lens material they used after the sale has been made.

    Regarding WP, they took big money from American Express and the owner of J Crew. Now they have to put that money to work. You can only dump so much cash into a website. Stores are logical place to invest (burn?) cash. I am sure the J Crew CEO had an interest/input in the WP stores. Their stores might work as they will generate a ton of sales volume in NY and Boston. However, bricks and mortar are what makes glasses so expensive for the typical optical. You have rent, sales associates, frame inventory, and numerous other expenses to support a very inefficient distribution system. An independent selling a handful of frames each day has to charge the huge prices that has created the niche that is Warby Parker. Don’t be surprised if high volume showrooms become the next wave of brick and mortar.

    In terms of cost WP is selling $5 frames and $5 poly lenses. Packaging and lab work adds a few more $$. Shipping and home try-on adds a few more. I would estimate the total cost per unit is $20. They sell to the public for $95. Now who is the greedy middle man? With the volumes they are selling, this $75 gross margin will pay a lot of salaries and trips to China to buy cheap frames.

    How does Essilor get away with not getting publicized in their role at W-P? Does not Tri-Supreme do their lab work? Hey independent eyewear retailer….E not only owns Frames Direct and Eyebuy Direct, but they are taking a cut from W-P. I hear that if you smile, it won’t hurt as much. So just keep on smiling as you order from E.

    • James Spina says:

      Relatively sure they did not recognize the name and I did NOT use my 2020 e-mail. I didn’t want to raise too many flags about lenses and fittings until there was actual eyewear with my Rx. I did not expect for there to never be any eyewear to try on. I was surprised by the breakdown in delivery. The progressives on order for me came to a total of $225. the $95 charge for single vision is posted all over the store. The hike for a progressive is not. I only found out about that charge AFTER I picked out my frame and gave the ECP my Warby Rx.

      • J R Grotten III says:

        I am surprised they even offer progressives since they do not offer them on their website. Hard to tell if $225 is a good deal. Depends upon if they are cheap stock lenses or digitally surfaced with a decent coating.

        Calling the person you handed your Rx to an “ECP” may be a bit of a stretch, however since NY is a licensed state, maybe this person was licensed.

        Very interesting article.

  7. D. Workman says:

    Perhaps you could change your order to single vision and see what happens…?

    • James Spina says:

      My intention was to try their brick and mortar store but me in a single vision would only make me slam right into a brick and mortar WALL. My dental plan’s not that good.

  8. Stewart Gooderman says:

    Were you dilated?

    • James Spina says:

      I declined since I wanted to be able to choose eyewear AFTER my exam. The dilation was quoted as $25 on top of the $50 exam fee and I WAS invited back for the dilation at any time I liked after picking out frames.

      • drsfg says:

        The problem I have with this is that the standard of care is dilation. You should not be charged extra for a procedure that is not reimbursed as a separate procedure, it should be part of the exam, with your right to refuse it. The exam cost is therefore $75 and not $50 as advertised. The practitioner puts himself in a precarious position by proceeding in such a manner.

  9. Barry Santini says:

    Ooh! That’s a great idea for another blog topic: Should dilation be the standard of care, when all people might want is either an updated Rx, or a second opinion on a refraction?

    • James Spina says:

      Self Dilation. Dilation Apps. 1 800 DILATION. ECPs (and Dentists) renting “chair” space from Barbershops. the possiblities are endless and the prospect of a rotary dial phone for IPhone6 seems a rosy prospect.

    • drsfg says:

      This has already been determined by the legal establishment for quite some time now. When you take on a patient, you are responsible for their eye health. That is true even if the patient waives the health testing battery. So, if you do a simple refraction and the patient has glaucoma that you don’t diagnose, you are legally on the hook. It is the responsibility of the practitioner to refuse taking the individual on as a patient if they refuse to comply. Standards of care are based on what most practitioners do in the region when one practices.

      • Anne Smith says:

        If standard of care is based on what most practitioners do in the region of one’s practice, then I can safely say that in Manhattan, most OD’s that work in retail opticals do NOT include dilation as part of an eye exam (unless the patient is using vision insurance, and even then I’ve come across some opticals that charge for a DFE even though it’s supposed to be included).

        • drsfg says:

          It’s not based on the venue. It’s based on the profession. So if most eye care practitioners in the area dilate, then this is the standard of care. Eye care practitioners can include ophthalmologists and optometrists.

          • J R Grotten III says:

            I am having a hard time grasping this broad definition of standard of care. Are you saying a practitioner is on the hook for someone with glaucoma who declines glaucoma screening?

            Standard of care is the caution that a reasonable professional in similar circumstances would exercise in providing care to a patient. If you notify the patient of the need for dilation and have them sign a waiver refusing such testing, I would argue you have met the standard of care.

          • drsfg says:

            Re: @J R Grotten III, regarding the waiver, and glaucoma, technically, yes, you have met the standard of care, although you still may lose in court. But in the case of WP, and dilation, you are adding on a procedure rather than including it as part of the exam. The WP exam does not include dilation. It is my belief that the standard of care in New York City, *includes* routine dilation as a part of the basic exam. You can’t sign a waiver on something you are not being asked to do.

      • Barry Santini says:

        Using this standard, any OTC med, including aspirin, should be banned without a physician taking a look first, for want of missing disease. Default healthcare custodian then also applies to those who *recommend* OTCs…yes?

        • drsfg says:

          No. Standard of care concerns your examination and recommendations, not what is available without an Rx. Taking an aspirin is like consuming food.

  10. Pingback: A New Threat to Independent Optometry? | Practice Director

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