The Business Model: Be ‘Remark’ – able
Here’s a novel idea: let’s take a puzzlingly over-priced product, vertically integrate our design and production, and sell it over the internet at an affordable price. Sound familiar?
Today, this business model seems both prevalent and obvious, and certainly shouldn’t be credited to any single company. But how has Warby Parker done just that and created an entire ‘category’ around itself?[i] In a little over five years, how has it climbed to a $1.2 billion valuation and been awarded Fast Company’s and the National Retail Federation’s “Most Innovative Company” awards, while other vertically integrated, ecommerce companies have not?[ii]
Warby Parker has created a simple, intentionally hierarchical promise: (1) create beautiful glasses, (2) offer amazing quality and service at an affordable price, and (3) ‘do good’ in the world.[iii] But what really makes the model click is the deliberate and careful dissemination of a brand that promotes that customer promise. Tactically, the goal is not simply to differentiate, but to make the brand and the three tenets of its business model ‘remark’-able so that it generates conversations amongst consumers and influencers alike.[iv]
The Beauty and the Buzz
From its public debut in February 2010, Warby Parker has sought to align itself with key cultural influencers. The company launched to the world via articles in GQ and Vogue, where it was called ‘the Netflix of eyewear’.[v] For its first New York Fashion Week in 2011, the company staged a ‘renegade’ and ‘gorilla’ presentation in the New York Public Library, where fashion editors were snuck in to witness models, donning Warby Parker glasses, reading books titled with each frame’s style.[vi]
Vogue was just one of many fashion authorities in attendance for “one of the more novel presentations at New York Fashion Week.” [vii]
Asides from fashionistas, Warby Parker sought the support of other cultural influencers. In 2012 and 2013, the Warby Parker Class Trip, a tricked-out yellow school bus, travelled around the United States, stopping in different cities and partnering with local like-minded organizations and personalities.[viii] The tour served as a grass-roots national advertising campaign and created local advocates for the brand. It also created an early opportunity for the company to begin cataloguing its customers by region and to test retail markets for its eventual brick-and-mortar roll-out. Most importantly though, Warby Parker’s careful assembly of cultural influencers lent credibility to the brand and has continued to serve as an essential driver of the company’s organic growth.
Warby Parker even won over Oprah, and was featured as part of her famed ‘Favorite Things’ list in 2014[ix]
Surprise and Delight: Exceptional Quality, Value, and Service
Warby Parker frames are made from acetate customized in Italy and titanium sourced from Japan, and its lenses include anti-reflective and anti-scratch coating.[x] Despite the high quality, most glasses cost only $95 with prescription, while other designer eyewear retail around $400.[xi] However, the price-point, made possible through vertical integration and control over distribution, is only part of the consumer value. Warby Parker drives customer adoption through exceptional customer service, which is best exhibited through its free shipping, 30-day return policy, and Home Try-On program.[xii] In particular, the Home-Try On program, which allows customers to try on five frames for free pre-purchase, is a clever marketing tool, as users often solicit feedback from friends or the public for help in their purchasing decision.[xiii]
Marina, a Home-Try On customer, turns to YouTube for help with choosing glasses[xiv]
The company also uses interactive and quirky outreach strategies, such as its in-store photo booths and its ‘surprise-and-delight campaign’, to wow the consumer and set the bar for exceptional customer service.[xv] The consistent messaging around quality, value, and service is the primary reason that Warby Parker’s Net Promotor Score, a measurement of customer satisfaction and its most closely tracked metric, is one of the highest reported (91) – well ahead of other great brands, like Apple (72) and Costco (82).[xvi]
A delicious Santa cookie, part of the 2012 surprise-and-delight Christmas campaign.[xvii]
While Warby Parker’s social mission is intentionally the last piece of its customer promise, it is still a core component of its business model, and is even a company Core Value.[xviii] Most notably, Warby Parker employs a ‘buy-a-pair, give-a-pair’ model, through which the company has already distributed more than one million glasses to those in need.[xix] The company is also a B Corp, a coveted distinction anointed to socially accountable for-profit businesses.[xx] Warby Parker’s ‘Do Good’ mission has helped it to not only engage socially conscious consumers, but also attract talent, generate press, and become a leading example of social-impact businesses.[xxi]
Warby Parker’s ‘buy-a-pair, give-a-pair’ program has distributed over one million glasses to those in need.[xxii]
“For being the ‘The Warby Parker of Warby Parkers’.” – Fast Company‘s Most Innovative Companies 2014
While Warby Parker’s basic business model has been and will continue to be replicable, its distinguishing feature is its authentic and creative brand messaging, which is laced throughout the company’s operations. Fashionable products, affordable quality with amazing service, and a socially responsible business have built a brand that people want to not only buy, but champion.
[ii] http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2015/04/30/eyeglass-retailer-warby-parker-valued-at-1-2-billion/ ; https://nrf.com/media/press-releases/home-depot-chairman-receive-nrf-gold-medal-award ; http://www.fastcompany.com/3041334/most-innovative-companies-2015/warby-parker-sees-the-future-of-retail
[iii] Chirstopher Marquis, “Warby Parker: Vision of a “Good” Fashion Brand,” HBS Case No. 9-413-051 (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2014)
[v] Chirstopher Marquis, “Warby Parker: Vision of a “Good” Fashion Brand,” HBS Case No. 9-413-051 (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2014)
[vii] http://www.racked.com/2011/9/7/7752109/warby-parkers-guerilla-eyewear-show-at-the-ny-public-library#4601154 ; http://www.vogue.com/869669/warby-parker-takes-over-the-new-york-public-library/
[ix] https://twitter.com/oprah/status/512404977688395776 ; http://www.oprah.com/gift/Oprahs-Favorite-Things-2014-Warby-Parker-Eyeglasses-and-Sunglasses?editors_pick_id=40340
[xi] Chirstopher Marquis, “Warby Parker: Vision of a “Good” Fashion Brand,” HBS Case No. 9-413-051 (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2014)
[xiii] Personal experience as a Warby Parker employee.
[xv] http://customerthink.com/warby-parker-co-founder-co-ceo-answers-4-questions-for-marketing-innovators/ ; http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/08/fashion/photo-boots-warby-parker-topshop.html?_r=0
[xvii] http://www.themanual.com/fashion/warby-parker-gift-cards/ ; Personal experience as a Warby Parker employee.
[xviii] Chirstopher Marquis, “Warby Parker: Vision of a “Good” Fashion Brand,” HBS Case No. 9-413-051 (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2014)