How a fresh brand experience turns ‘commodity’ into ‘lifestyle’

June 24, 2014

Shopping for eyeglasses was never fun and always expensive. I’d get a pair and wear them 3-4 years, way beyond the prescription update deadline. Then, suitably blind again, I’d finally give in and go to my local mall store and spend an excruciating hour with someone who distractedly presented frames from behind the counter, based on my squinty pointing, as if they were precious jewels to behold. An apt analogy, because the prices of these things were astronomical. In the end, I felt pressured and ripped off.

Enter Warby Parker. They have completely changed the experience of shopping for eyeglasses. Other eyewear retailers may offer similar things (boutique stores, web shopping, option for home try-ons), but Warby Parker has polished the brand and shopping experience, in my opinion, to near perfection. For me, they’ve evolved what used to be a postpone-at-all-costs chore into a new way to affordably express and update my inner fashionista.

The name stems from two Jack Kerouac characters, and their website notes Kerouac… inspired a generation to take a road less traveled and to see the world through a different lens. Their flagship store in SoHo is super cool, as you might expect given the neighborhood, but not off-putting—kind of a sleek post-modern hipster library. Young, attractive people who are genuinely friendly and helpful, and who don’t ignore me because I am older than 30 and not a model staff the store. There is some sort of virtual try-on screen/photo booth available, but I prefer to kick it old school style, perusing the hundreds of frames on shelves, there for my taking and trying. By myself, thank you. Until I need help—not being a model, reaching the top shelves is a bit tricky—and then a young, attractive, genuinely friendly salesperson appears with an iPad to get the top shelf pair, answer my questions, finalize my sale. Enter your prescription (or schedule an eye exam on the premises), billing details and address (glasses are mailed within 10 days or so), and you are done. Almost immediately, I get a thank-you email—personally written, it seems—from that genuinely friendly salesperson, letting me know that my order is being processed, and isn’t it exciting? (It is). Shipping updates via email are the best: Brief, in big, bold letters, expressing more excitement that my glasses are on their way, and to click here (in big, bold letters) for tracking info. (I will). And did I mention the frames are very reasonably priced? (They are). And, for every pair of glasses they sell, a pair is distributed to someone in need? (BINGO!)

Believe me when I say that I am hyper-critical of brands that merely give lip service to customer service. Perhaps it’s the business I work in, where Exceptional Customer Service is a foundational attribute for virtually every company we work with. But it’s also because I spent a fair amount of time in retail and food service back in the day—you can’t fool me. So when Warby Parker’s website says they can’t wait to meet me! I believe them, because my experience has resulted in just that. If they kept saying that, but delivered a sub-par shopping experience, it would be irritating. It’s like hearing the ubiquitous ‘Have a nice day’ when you know darn well the cashier could not care less about your day.

But, excellent customer service is just one component of the total Warby Parker package. Affordably priced goods + shopper independence + doing well by doing good + the hipster-cred-by-proxy vibe, all via website or bricks and mortar = I now consider eyeglasses a style accessory, something to have fun with and update a few times a year. Subsequently, a repeat visit is on the horizon for me in the next 6 months…not in 3 to 4 years. Bottom line? Warby Parker has done an exceptional job of evolving a commodity purchase into something much, much more.

What other brands or products have moved from dreaded or infrequent commodity purchases to lifestyle must-haves, due to good branding?

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