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Warby Parker Marketing

The Inside Story of Warby Parker's Marketing Success

     

In this presentation from eTail East 2013, hear Tim Riley, Director of Online Experience at Warby Parker, tell the inside story of Warby Parker's phenomenal marketing strategy.

Video Transcript

Hi everyone. I'm Tim, very nice to meet you all. I am the director of Online Experience at Warby Parker. I'm actually from Philadelphia originally, I went right up the street at school at Temple University so it's really nice to be back here and when I was growing up, when I was a kid, when I was like ten years old I knew that I absolutely 100% wanted to grow up one day and sell stylish yet affordable eye glasses online; I'm kidding. But I knew what I really want to do is I started really thinking about that question more seriously many years later because I was really drawn to interesting brands and business models and that's why I kind of gravitate toward Warby Parker when it first started and for those who don't know, Warby Parker is a vertically integrated eyewear brand, we design, manufacturer and sell our own brand eyewear for starting at $95 and that includes prescription lenses and then for every pair that we sell we distribute additional pair to someone in need through one of our non-profit partners. And what I'm here to talk to you about today is sort of the growth of Warby Parker and kind of a brand case study in a sense, we're only about 3Ω years old so we're climbing out toddler phase of maturity right now, but we've done a lot and I think it might be interesting to kind of walk through the genesis and see how we've come and how we kind of meshed in together not just online but more to blend in the offline retail world as well.

So how did Warby Parker get started? Four guys who went to school at Wharton about 30 blocks away that away. They were all talking around a class one day and one of the four guys had just lost a $700 pair of eyeglasses and they were talking around like I'm not really sure but I have a question like why do glasses cost so much as an iPhone? Glasses have been around for 800 years and when you think about what glasses are made that's couple pieces of plastic, not much else. There's a prescription probably in there but didn't seem as complex as this magical device that you carry around your pocket all day long as all these electronics moving about. So they felt like yeah, let's look into that. And the other thing was that they knew that things could be sold online that haven't been sold online, so Amazon of course had been selling everything under the sun online for quite some time but diapers, shoes, diamond rings, even high-end fashion and contact lenses were also being sold and so they thought, ìOkay, there's an opportunity hereî and then when they looked at the market dynamics and how big the market opportunity was, they saw that globally, it's about $65 billion year industry, in the US it's a $22 billion industry and then online only about 1% of that is actually sold online so really big opportunity here.

And when you think about how typically you buy eyewear, you could buy an eyewear only brand like Ray Ban, Oakley, Oliver Peoples, Persol, you could go new by a fashion brand like Chanel, DKNY, D&G or you could go into an eyewear retailer like Lens Crafters, Sunglass Hut, Pearle Vision, even like Target and Sears are now selling them or you could also just use your vision insurance, so what I'm showing here is an example; this is Eye Med, this is the second largest vision insurance company in the country. Does anyone know what all these companies have in common? They are all owned by the same company Luxottica, so that sort of gave the answer of why maybe glasses are so expensive. And so I thought, ìWell if all companies are owned by one company, maybe there's something that we could do about itî and that's basically how Warby Parker was created. They thought, ìWhat if we could create a world class online brand that could radically transform the optical industry and also transfer billions of dollars away from multinational corporations to normal people like you or I and provide excellent service at a great price point so that's sort of the pitch of Warby Parker.

In addition, one of the founders, he had done a lot of work in developing counties prior and he knew from his experience that about 700 million people didn't have access to proper eye care and this is a huge problem in the world so basically 15% of the world doesn't have proper access to eye care, in the sense that you should be doing something. So the other things that Warby Parker does is figure out how can we for every pair that we sell find a way to distribute pairs in need economically sustainable and viable way through some of our partners. And when we started thinking about sort of the brand hierarchy and how we would describe it, we thought, ìWhat do people care about when they actually start looking to buy a pair of glassesî and the first thing is they want to make sure that the glasses look good, right? That's what they really care about so ìDo these glasses look good on my face?î so that's when this fashion brand comes in. And then the second thing is how much does it cost, what's the quality? So for Warby Parker, they started at $95, they're very high quality, custom acetate, Teflon coated screws, we have free shipping free returns, this is a big service and value component, and then finally that we do have buy a pair give a pair model and that we are a carbon neutral brand and the way of these are sort up in order, it's not that this last piece of social mission is the third most important; it's just that you need to do the first two in order to make the third one as successful as you want it to be. And when the company decided to launch, they really were trying to figure out how do we tell our story and there are a million ways to tell a brand story and kind of get in front of people and the first thing that they decided to do was launch in features in GQ and Vogue and the feature in GQ called them the Netflix of eyewear and so they launched these three features and end up happening. Well within three weeks, it hit their first year sales targets; they sold their top 15 styles in four weeks and then we had a waiting list of 20,000 customers after a month, so these are all good problems they have and then what end up happening after that was all these other press outlets came kind of flooding in wanting to write about the same story and so we found that kind of telling our story through credible sources had been a really strong piece for us.

The next thing is how do you create experiences? Experiences that people want to talk about, people want to share with their friends and one of the things that we end up doing in 2011 for our first fashion week in New York, there are couple things you can do for fashion week; I didn't know this before I started working there but there is a difference between like a runway show and a presentation and runway show, fashion show is exactly what you think, there are models kind of walking up and down in cat walk and a presentation is where you rent out a really nice studio in the meat packing district and you have models wearing your product and people walk up and just take notes and take pictures and they walk away. And we decided to do something a little different and what we did was we staked out this great reading room in the New York Public Library, I don't know if any of you guys have ever been there which is huge massive beautiful room with long stretches of tables and the last two tables, you cannot use a laptop at all, it's only for reading so now it's kind of inundated with tons of laptops and people camping out using the internet. And what Warby Parker did was in the morning of this day that we did this presentation, we stake out the last two tables, we basically had placed folder seats there, people like waiting there for 8 hours or so, we sent out invitations to 30 fashioners all round town and told them to show up at the stuffs in the New York Public Library and we actually didn't even use the name, we said, ìCome outside at Bryant Park outside the building with the lions in front of itî because we actually didn't have the permission in the New York Public Library to do this so the invitation just said, ìSsshhhî on it and with the address to show up. And these editors sure enough showed up which is really awesome, we were super jazzed and then we brought them into this great reading room and at 3:30 on the dot, all these models walked in carrying these bright blue books and wearing glasses and then they all sat down and opened up their books all at once and what happened was you can see that what the book says on the outside cover, is the name of the frames that they're wearing so we had about 30 to 40 models all sort of saying they're reading, now I can't guarantee you that they are reading, these are models, these aren't students here. But they did this for about 15 minutes and all the editors that were we brought, they were running up, taking pictures and writing notes and all those stuff and then all the security in the New York Public Library was kind of running around and they're trying to figure out what was going on but nothing was sort of illegal is happening because everyone is just staying there reading so they really can't do anything. And then at 3:45 on the dot, everyone closed their book and got up and just walked right out and that was the end of it and we actually did that the day before fashion week started so the next morning when everyone and the press were reading all their fashion outlet stuff, they saw this thing from Warby Parker who did this sort of hush mob they called it presentation in the New York Public Library.

One of the other things that we decided to do is really be super transparent with our brand and our company and everything that we're doing and in I would say late 2011, there's obviously this trend growing around doing info graphics and presenting all sorts of data and meshing it up and splitting it back out and just getting it passed around the web and we thought why don't we do the same as that thing but let's make it into kind of an annual report. If you think about typically how an annual report is done, its bunch of really bland, boring financials that public companies had to put out every quarter and we thought why don't we do the same thing but because we're a private company why don't we just disclose any financial data? We can just make it really fun in about the inner workings of Warby Parker and what makes us tick and that could be some things that are culture related, some things that are business related and something that are just plain fun and so one of the things here that I'm going to show, this is from this year's report, is this little factoid, and every employee has a fun fact and this one is, ìI have held Michael Jackson's baby blanket in my armsî and we just thought that was a really awesome fact so peppered throughout this annual report are like little facts about the company. Here's an example of one the first one we did and this is just showing web traffic over time for the year, kind of showing the growth, we chopped off the axis so you can't really tell the numbers in the scale. We showed what kinds of people come to our site, what operating systems we're using, what countries they're coming from. How many people are coming from mobile devices and then my favorite part here is down at the middle or down at the bottom right and this is showing you the most commonly misspelled key word searches for Warby Parker and if you zoom in on it, there are all different ways to spell Warby Parker, luckily Google led all those people back to us and then one thing I want to highlight here that I found really interesting and we all found very funny when we were doing this internally is this one word; Warby Barker. So we had a good chuckle about that and as we were thinking about it that would actually be a really awesome site to make and so three months later we launched warbybarker.com on April Fools' and what we do is we just cloned our entire site, we had a fashion shoot with professional dog models and for those of who have not had the pleasure of working with professional dog models, they are a million times better than professional human models, they will do anything you ask them to do even kind of very still and silent and someone grabs your ears and spreads them all the way across the page and this is really successful thing and kind of I skipped over the juiciest part of this but going back to this, when we launched this, we launch this just to show off to our customers and say ìThank you. We want to give you an inside look at the company. If you guys had any questions, you can take a deeper lookî and we launched this in January of the first when we did is January 2012 so as every retailer knows January is the hottest month of sales right in the calendar year? But we launched this and we thought, ìThis would be fun to share and hopefully get some buzz.î What end up happening was so many people took this and shared it, ended up being our three highest consecutive sales days in the company's history at the time. We had no expectations and no idea that that was going to happen and that was a very pleasant result. And sort of same thing happened here, when we launched Warby Barker for the first three days in April, this site had 2Ω times the amount of traffic that warbyparker.com had. We eventually kind of brought people back over, if you kind of dug into the site we kind of pulled it back over to warbyparker.com, but one of the things we thought about is like it's very rare that you're going to introduce to an eyewear brand through an April Fool's Day prank featuring dogs wearing glasses and so we wanted to differentiate ourselves by doing stuff like this.

One of the other things we started doing recently, actually just launched yesterday is dipping out toe into TV and so everything I showed you before is very kind of like lo-fi, kind of DIY type stuff and this is a little more polished in terms of traditional advertising but we didn't just want to shoot a TV commercial and just have it seen and that's it so what we did was we built a whole entire site around it so when you come to our site if you want to know more about this commercial you can kind of come in and you can go around and watch the commercial and go to each different scene and every scene here has about like 10 or 12 different hidden objects that you can click on and understand why we included that in the commercial. There are these little details that we think are relatable to our brand, why we chose to do it in a certain way. A lot of these things if you're watching the commercial or like blink and you'll miss it but we wanted a chance to invite customers and fans and anyone else who wanted to know to come back and say, ìHey, you can find in these little details about Warby Parker and see the kind of thought that we put into everything that we do.î

Another way that we think about growing the brand is thinking about what kind of partners make sense for us to partner up with and recently this past may we did a partnership with the Man of Steel movie that came out in June and why did this make sense? Well maybe because Clark Kent is the most iconic glasses wearer of all time and we all have huge crushes on Superman, he's the original do-gooder. I'm actually sporting the frames, the Man of Steel frames today, my current favorites from Warby Parker and we put this out here knowing that Superman makes sense for us, Clark Kent is a good connection and that it would expose us to a lot new people who might not be familiar for Warby Parker so what end up happening, we sold out of we had two different frames, we sold all of them in six days. At the time, it was our fastest selling collection.

And then just more recently we did a small partnership with a company called Ghostly. Ghostly International; they're an online record label and they have a very niche but dedicated fan base, we also thought this is a good partnership for us as well and we built a whole mega site experience blending music into it, and kind of promoted it through Ghostly channels and through our own channels and what we end up finding out was that this partnership, all the frame sold out in less than 24 hours and we ended up seeing a week later that some of the frames were on eBay for $350, so basically like 3Ω times the cost of what they are originally selling for. And another partnership and try to think about that sort of do-good model, we recently did one shortly after Ghostly with DonorsChoose and DonorsChoose is a great organization where you can go and their websiteÖ and they're kind of promoting all the different projects that you can sponsor from educational perspective and so it's not like your money goes into this sort of black hole but you can actually see where it's making an impact and here is Mindy Kaling and the CEO, Charles Best of DonorsChoose and they were the models on our site to be able to promote it. So if you think about the product mix, there's this like big blockbuster movie tie in, there is very niche kind of music fan site and then you have something that's a little more do-good and that's the DonorsChoose piece.

One of the other things that we really want to focus on is having an awesome customer experience and sunglasses online can be very tricky sometimes and here are some of the examples of the question that we get on Twitter, our rule of thumb is that anytime someone tweets us at, we'll answer them so we answer every single tweet that we get. And this is a question that came up, how do your new blue mirror sunglasses look? That's a really hard question to answer in 140 characters. I can kind of tell you, I can maybe show you a picture but depending on the angles and the light and everything that's happening they could look wildly different so what we decided to do was record a video and we opened up our Mac laptop, fired up our iSight camera, took a 30 second video, actually this one is only like 20 seconds or something, upload it quick to YouTube, took that link on YouTube, quickly put it back into a Tweet and send it back and this is our response and what we found is that you can see here, this is an old screenshot but this video has 525 views on it and if you're thinking about if we were to just answer that tweet just with standard 140 character response, it probably gotten read and totally forgotten about. Now this is sort of living, it's being shared and how do we know it's being shared? We find that on average instead of just like one video view, all these video's that we were sending back out to just one customer are viewed 50 times. So on one hand you can think that the customer so love the video that they're watching about 50 times on average over and over and over again but we know that's not true, they are often retweet it to their friends and sharing it to everybody and then that's just another way that people get introduced to the brand and have a very close connection. These people that you see here, these are just kind of random folks that work at Warby Parker, we kind of just grab them whenever someone is walking by and ìHey, want to answer a quick question?î, give them the hot seat and you film a couple of 20-30 second slots and you're done and you move on. We since upgraded we use more professional camera now but before it was kind of quick and dirty and just did the job.

Another thing is thinking about kind of how do you expand that annual report idea of the behind the scenes all year round and this is our Tumbler blog user, some screenshots. Each one of these is a different pose, super visual so one is behind the scenes about our collaboration with Ghostly, another is just a book that we think is a good summer read, we had someone in-house who is not on our design team but he loves to draw, design a bunch of different reading positions and you can see on the bottom left and this actually got picked up and passed around and I got a Google alert one day that newspaper in Houston was writing about it and thought this was really awesome and intrigued about it. And the last one was this behind the scenes video shoot that we did and this is just another way of letting people know all year round, not waiting until the end of the year and showing this annual report, all things that are happening so you can share them and stay in touch with everyone who wants to know. And kind of more on the little touches, one of things that we started doing when we're very small, when there was only 20 or 30 of us, we started selling gift cards for the first time and we decided that every time that someone wrote a gift card in with a message, if it was a physical gift card, we would actually take that message and hand write it out and transcribe it so when someone got it, it wasn't just a printed piece of paper with a message it actually felt like there was a human being it. It's a little tricky to find people with really nice handwritings these days, especially as our gift card buying sort of scales but this is sort of those nice touches that we've done from day one selling cards and we're not trying not to let go so everybody who buys the physical gift card from us gets their message transcribed by hand.

And what is that all mean? Well what it means is that this is sort of the evidence where we have a net promoters growth of 91, that sounds sort of almost you can't really comprehend that, sounds like super ridiculous to put in perspective, companies like Apple and Zappos are at the top of the list, they have like the highest 70s and low 80s and net promoter score is basically the measure of how likely are you to recommend the service or product to a friend, family or colleague and what that answer is; and what we've also found is that about 50% of our sales are driven through word of mouth. So all those activities that I was showing you and we were doing, that drives a ton of word of mouth and a ton of goodwill and it gets a lot of people talking about our brand in a positive context.

So last thing I really want to touch on was this idea of retail. I've focused a lot on the stuff that I've been saying about online sales and what happened when the business first started I told you everything sold out and they ran out of inventory, people are calling up to the company saying, ìHey, can we come by your office and try on your glasses?î and at the time the four guys are just working out of their apartment about 20 blocks from here and they would say, ìSure. You can come by to our office but just so you know it's not an office, this is my apartment. Ask the doorman for Neil when you get hereî and believe it or not people were showing up and the glasses were just laid out on the kitchen table and sort of this idea, this light went off in their heads thinking this is really awesome, we get to see our customers, get immediate feedback, understand what they like, why don't we transfer this when we move to New York and have our first office, we'll have our little space and have a showroom there. And in the beginning we were sort of short staffed, we didn't have a retail team per se so everyone just took different turns filling in and selling glasses to whoever walked into the door and what we found is that so many people our first office was this one floor loft where you take the elevator up and the elevator door opens up and then you're there on the floor. When we found that so many people were coming in to try to buy glasses from us and first they wanted to see it that we're being constantly threatened by our landlord to be evicted because it wasn't signed for retail and every other person in the building were complaining about us non-stop because they can never get the elevator, we were always hogging it, it's always on the 6th floor, always. And so we eventually moved to a bigger office and we had two working elevators and we decided to keep on doing this model and so we've been on our showroom in our last office and on the weekends we were finding that a thousand people a day were coming in to a 5th floor unmarked building to come buy glasses, we weren't really telling a lot of people and so we thought that there was something really viable here and we're getting really excited about it.

So we decided to experiment a little bit more and the first thing we did we had a holiday we were calling a holiday spectacle bazaar and we rent up this old garage and sell all the way around the corner from our office and we found the number yurt company in the country, the Colorado Yurt Company, they're also the only yurt company in the country. Yurts are like these Mongolian tents that you can make and you can sleep in and we decided let's put them into this big garage and sell glasses out of them and it was a huge success. It did much more than we thought it ever would and what you see down here is this little bicycle right outside the yurt and we said, ìOkay. We sold glasses inside of a garage that's inside of a tent, why don't we try something that's a little more mobile?î so we built a bike that has frame dressing on it, don't be fooled. This shelving, this casing is actually pretty heavy so you have to have very steady hands when you ride this bike. We took this down to Miami and we're using it as a mobile kind of like showroom and so we said, ìOkay. We've done the kitchen table, we have done our office, we have done a tent, and we have done a bike, what's left?î Having our roots in school we thought, let's buy a school bus and let's turn this into like a small mobile showroom and we call it the Warby Parker Class Trip and this has been traveling around since the fall of 2012, it's been to 15 cities already and it's still going strong, a lot of miles put on this bad boy and on the inside, there aren't seats in there, we stripped it out and it looks like this; really nice beautiful wood, nice leather seating and we actually have one of our employees drive it. There's sort of a I don't know if it's a loop hole per se but you're allowed to drive a bus of this size of the regular license as long as it weighs under a certain amount and you don't have any other passengers. So there's one guy, we entrusted him, he is driving the bus and then our whole entire team is following in SUVs right behind him down the way and we would stop off at tons of different places and tons of different cities; just another way to get exposed.

So you're thinking, okay. We've done all these different things and we really haven't covered sort of the air and water modes of selling; boom, sea-plane. This is a partnership we did with(we actually weren't selling it but anybody who took a ride on this got a complimentary pair of Warby Parker sunglasses, this is a plane that takes off from the Hudson and transport you to the Hamptons so on your way you can grab a pair of Warby Parker sunglasses. And that has all paved the way for what we launched in April which is our first flagship retail store. This is in SOHO, so we took a lot of time doing this and there are a lot of details, there are terrazzo floors, it's modelled after kind of a giant library. There are book there for sale along with glasses and it actually models that great reading room the I mentioned earlier in the presentation and then there just lots of smaller details like an eye exam board, this eye exam board is actually built like a train station time table, you'll see at the street station and little fun fact about this is that we found a professor at the University of Pennsylvania where our roots are from who actually is an audio file and recorded the sound of that sound and that is what's piped in so when you actually go into the store and those panels flutter, this is a digital thing, there's an analogue sound of the real sort of train board being changing its numbers as you go in here and these are just all the appointments for the eye exams, so just a small detail like that, that's sort of how we're kind of blending everything together.

This is another store, we just opened in the high line and we can see that it's much different that this store which is like very pristine, it has a very kind of SOHO feel to it. In this store, high line is more industrial, it's a little more raw. This was wood that reused from an old barn upstate in New Hampshire somewhere, the floors are a little more concrete, it feels much more natural to the environment that it's in and that's how we've been thinking about all our stores and not going to be uniform but they're kind of mold and blend into the environment that they're staying in. And finally, I'll bring this back to the digital space is we did a ton of work and research into finding a really awesome mobile point of sales system and as you guys know like Apple they have a great one along the Apple Store, there's a guy there, swipe your credit card and boom, you just spent a $1000 and you don't even know it. These guys are really smart. So we wanted to do something of our own, we looked at 40-50 different vendors, couldn't find the solution that was really for us so we said, ìOkay. We're just going to build our ownî so right now what we're currently doing is iterating, we're building our own custom mobile point of sales system that can link not only offline to online but online to offline so now there's going to be this sort of seamless transition as customers go from one sort of mode of shopping into another.

And that's really all I got for Warby Parker. Hope you guys liked it.

[Applause]

Female Speaker: Alright. Got two questions up here. Okay. I'll just go down the ramp.

Q: That was great. Thanks. I think it's fascinating that you guys started online but then ended up going back into retail and some traditional channels; school bus, pop-up shops or whatever it might be. We're you involved of the decisions of when you decided that we had this online shop, we're showing people glasses in our apartments, what was the decision process like to actually go retail? How important was that and how important are all of your retail spaces given your pretty broad reach online now?

A: Yeah, so what's the decision? I think it was just more of experimentation iteration so the first thing was that you experiment the original experiment for retail was done out of necessity, people we had a media demand that we couldn't online so people wanted that physical phase and one thing that we found is that shopping is for glasses is a very social experience, it's not something you kind of do isolated, you bring a friend, you bring your significant other because those are the people that look you all day in these frames, so it's really important that you get that positive reinforcement for whoever that is, so a lot times it's not really you that's making the decision buying glasses believe it or not, it's the people that you're surrounded by and kind of hard to how to run a computer and do that and so the retail space kind of allows for that so it started off with just like from the kitchen table to like the office we just kept on iterating and iterating and seeing how far we could stretch it and then learning along the way, there are definitely things that we did at first that weren't that great or we couldn't do so we couldn't have eye doctors, right? We have to send you somewhere else and get a prescription. Now all of our retail stores come and get an eye appointment there right there on the spot and if you get an eye exam right there on the spot the likelihood of you buying glasses is almost 100%.

Q: My name is Janet Belanza and I'm from a company called Pop-up Artists, we create and operate turnkey, short terms selling space and what we do often is we advise clients on how to integrate bricks and mortar with online, not just from a marketing point of view, but also from a fulfilment point of view and inventory point of view and I'm just curious what your plans are in that area at Warby Parker and how going forward online and offline will be integrated?

A: Yeah, I think very basically we look at it's not online versus offline, it's just retail like period like there are million ways to buy something and that's we're looking at so we just live with that same experience across and means you have the same access net information that means that if you do something in the retail store hopefully we can use that data that happened there and translate it back online so for instance you came to the store and I knew who you were and said hi, how are you and we signed in and you've looked at three or four frames but you didn't pull the trigger and go like, ìLet me think about itî I would be like send that back to your customer record online so you could take a look on them there and maybe I could show the case in more prominently as you're shopping around the store around the shop online. So we're basically looking to have it as seamless as possible and blend that data back and forth so there's not like the siloed camps and like, ìOh you're on your phoneî or you came into the store, you saw us on the bus, just make it very holistic and very right, that's the I mean everybody says that but we feel that we have a pretty good head start because we're coming from an online technology driven point of view, I mean not working backwards and we're trying to be as soft as possible that's why you see that mobile POS is not just about checking out, it's about grabbing as much data as possible and customizing it the way that we think would be helpful for our customers.

Q: Will you be expanding into children's wear?

A: I think, I actually don't know the answer to that. I will say that the market for sort of adult wear is incredibly, incredibly large and actually when you look at children's is a very, very small piece of the pie and I think we have a really, really long way to go before we kind of totally nail and capture the adult market and actually I think, the status is something around age of like 9 or 10, a little after that you can almost start wearing kind of adult sized glasses. So if you really think about being able to fulfil someone who is 10 to 80 years old versus 5 to 9, that market kind of we want to focus on this one first.

Host: All right. Thank you, Tim. That's all we have time for.

Tim Riley: Yup. Cool. Thanks guys.