The imperfect world of Warby Parker: With growth comes complexity

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Now I want to start by stating that I have been, and continue to be, a big fan of Warby Parker. They have been an impressive brand right from their launch, whether in the simple design of their website to the category revolutionizing pricing model and the ease of sampling/ordering/returning, all the way down to the beautifully designed annual report – probably the first annual report that non-investors were interested in exploring.


(Source: Daily Finance)

And so I was excited to go shop at one of their recently opened brick and mortar locations on the Upper East Side in New York City. I knew I needed a revised prescription and was happy to find that I could get my eyes examined by an eye doctor on site. I stopped by on a Saturday afternoon, made an appointment for an eye exam the next day, browsed the beautifully designed store (located in what used to be an old-fashioned boutique pharmacy) and decided on the glasses I wanted to get the next day. All of the sales assistants, many bespectacled in their own wares, were using iPads (including the one that set up my appointment for the next day), and it was all very Apple store-esque.

When I came back the next day, I still had a positive experience, but there were a few puzzling inconsistencies, especially given Warby Parker’s inception as an online retailer and their transition to a hybrid retailer:

The sales process was in no way streamlined
Even though I knew which frames I wanted to buy, I had to pay for the eye exam at a separate counter and talk to a separate iPad wielding sales associate. Actually I had to talk to two iPad wielding sales associates, as I wanted two pairs and these needed to be ordered completely separately. Ironically, one of the sales associates told me they were going to perform the “famous Warby Parker double team” on me, and as luck would have it, his iPad crashed and he had to shamefacedly let the other sales associate fill in both my orders. This included re-entering all my information twice. So if I had wanted to buy ten pairs of glasses, the process would have been punitive. Considering how seamless their online e-commerce experience is, and how handsome the in-person stores are, this process seemed clunky and officious.

The iPads had no credit card tech
While all the sales associates were outfitted with iPads – the hallmark of a modern, high-functioning, tech-oriented work environ – none of the iPads were provisioned with a credit card swipe. This meant that all card information had to be entered by hand, multiple times if there were multiple orders. The sales associate told me Warby Parker was developing its own tech to this end, as it did not want to pay the 3% fee that many of the existing ones on the market charge as third-party vendors. While I applaud the economics, I question the benefit of having people running around with iPads that do not function efficiently; they might as well just keep traditional cash registers around. If my local small business coffee shop is biting the bullet and has Square or another branded credit card vendor, surely Warby Parker can do the same until their “yet-to-be seen-Warby-credit-card-machine” makes its grand appearance.

Warby Parker had no online order tracking
Now, this was particularly puzzling, especially given Warby’s inception as an e-commerce retailer. Typically, an e-comm business has both order tracking and links to shipment tracking, regardless of platform, size, or shipping vendor. After ordering my glasses, one of my pairs arrived quite promptly, but the other failed to arrive even one week after the first pair. Given the discombobulated ordering process I outlined above, I was concerned it might have just gotten lost in the shuffle.

So I went to the Warby website, expecting to be able to enter my order or credit card information and see what might be happening with my purchase. Much to my surprise, there was no possibility of checking up on the order online: you had to call a phone number during business hours. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of one-stop-online shopping; shouldn’t I be able to find out what is going on with my order, where it is, and how far along it is at any moment?


(Source: Coolhunting)

While I eventually did call their customer service hotline, and the very nice representative assured me my order was being processed and shipping soon, A week later, I received an email apologizing for a further delay, telling me I would be getting 10% back. Nice of them, but it does make one stop and think about whether it was worth the time investment.

Ultimately, I received my second pair of glasses and am very happy with both. I will definitely shop at Warby Parker again, as I like the glasses and the price. However, for a brand that has put such a focus on the experience and differentiating from the standard glasses retailer, I can only hope that they push things further. It is true, this is their first foray into the physical retail market, but these issues seem to me to be very brick and mortar 101 in the 21st century. But as Steve Jobs knew, the devil is in the details and Warby Parker will not have completely simplified the glasses buying experience, as Apple has done with the computer buying experience, if they do not ensure that every step of the purchase is as simple as it is at the Apple store.

Brian Rafferty is Global Director of Research Insights at Siegel+Gale New York. You can follow him on Twitter: @btrafferty

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