Retail Recon | Inside Warby Parker’s First Offline Flagship

After experimenting with a series of offline “showrooms,” trendy online eyewear company Warby Parker has launched it’s first physical flagship, complete with sensors that replicate online analytics, in New York’s Soho. BoF investigates.

Warby Parker Flagship, Soho, New York | Source: Warby Parker

NEW YORK, United States Warby Parker is on the move. The trendy eyewear company launched online in 2010 — which took on licensing giants like Luxottica with a vertically integrated model that offered consumers style-conscious glasses at significantly lower prices — recently raised a $41.5 million round of financing from investors including American Express and J. Crew chief executive Mickey Drexler and is reportedly in talks with tech giant Google to bring a much needed sense of style to their wearable computing platform Glass.

Now, after experimenting with a series of successful “shop-in-shops” and showrooms in several US cities, Warby Parker is making its first major push into offline commerce, with the launch of a physical flagship at 121 Greene Street, smack in the heart of New York’s Soho district.

When BoF visited the new store, three days after it opened to the public, it was already buzzing with a fleet of uniformed sales-staff and people of all ages, both locals and visitors, trying on eyeglasses and exploring the airy space. The deep, high-ceilinged interior was flooded with light and, on each side of the store, the walls were lined with 18-foot-high shelves displaying the brand’s fashionable frames, interspersed with a curated selection of books from independent, artsy imprints.

Inspired by great libraries, the terrazzo-floored flagship is punctuated with design touches that suggest a lighter version of the mid-century modern style popularised by television programmes like Mad Men. In the middle of the store, there is an optical station covered with rosewood panelling. Inside, Warby Parker’s full-time optometrists give customers $50 eye exams, appointments for which are displayed on a train-station-style board. At the end of the store, an original skylight has been beautifully preserved — and here, amongst plants and modernist chairs, even more books are displayed on tables, including a Grace Coddington memoir and old issues of the Paris Review.

Clearly, the new flagship will enable customers to better experience the Warby Parker brand — and touch, feel and try on the product. The store, with its prime Soho location and fashionable neighbours like Apple, Louis Vuitton and A.P.C., will also, no doubt, help the company raise brand awareness and signal its premium positioning.

But importantly, the new flagship, which shares inventory with the site, also aims to combine the tactile and sensory richness of a physical library with the efficiency and measurability of Warby Parker’s digital presence. Hidden sensors embedded in the store track how people use people the retail space, mirroring the kind of online analytics that measure how visitors interact with a website, Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal told BoF. Indeed, in partnership with analytics start-up Nomi, the company plans to marry information collected in-store with online data trails to create a single, unified view of their customers, online and offline, and deliver a seamless omni-channel experience.

The store also features a photo booth where customers can take, and then print or email, pictures of themselves trying on new glasses. And if there’s not a cashier in sight, it’s because the flagship’s salespeople are armed with tablets running point of sale (POS) software, much like at the Apple Store across the street.

Warby Parker is certainly not the only e-tailer to launch or consider launching an offline presence. Online men’s apparel brand Bonobos, which has opened a number of showroom-style “Guideshops,” last April announced a partnership with the 111-year-old department store Nordstrom. Meanwhile, technology giants Amazon, Google and eBay have all either experimented or expressed a desire to experiment with physical locations.

As Blumenthal put it, “There is a convergence happening, it’s not either or, that your are either online or offline, you need to be in both places and they need to be seamlessly integrated.”