Store of the Future   //   April 18, 2024

Eyebuydirect opens first physical retail location

Online prescription glasses company Eyebuydirect is venturing into physical retail.

This week, the company is opening a 140-square-foot kiosk at The Shops at Mission Viejo in Orange County, California. This marks the first official brick-and-mortar location for Eyebuydirect, which launched online in 2006. Eyebuydirect, a subsidiary of lens manufacturer EssilorLuxottica, sells prescription glasses frames starting at $6. While Eyebuydirect sells glasses by premium brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley, all the in-store styles will be white-label frames. According to the company, the store format will allow it to experiment with physical retail and test which tactics will resonate with in-person shoppers.

“We’ve done some events in the past and have done a lot more lately, and we always get great feedback on the products and styles,” Branden Maes, senior brand manager at Eyebuydirect, told Modern Retail. For example, the company has done limited-time branded activations and pop-ups, most recently in Los Angeles last summer.

The kiosk has been in the works for about a year, Maes said, and will be a test for Eyebuydirect’s future retail plans. Maes said the undertaking is “very new for everyone on the team.” However, the company was encouraged by past experiences with pop-ups where customers were excited to be able to touch and feel the products before committing to prescription orders.

Because of the small size of the kiosk, Eyebuydirect was limited in the number of products it could feature. Shoppers will be able to choose from 400 styles, compared to the more than 3,000 variations offered on its site. 

“We looked at what customers would like based on our online data, balancing that with some of the products we want to push in the market,” Maes said. The company settled on a mix of new and existing top-sellers, along with some eco-friendly styles it wants to promote. The kiosk’s featured styles will range from in price about $6 to slightly above $70. “This will help us find out what the sweet spot is in terms of pricing over the next few months,” Maes said.

For its first foray into retail, Eyebuydirect is focused on bringing its digital services offline, especially the virtual try-on process. “We want to ensure people aren’t limited to the frames available in the physical location,” Maes said. Visitors will also be able to explore the rest of Eyebuydirect’s styles on iPads and try them on virtually with the help of an associate. After placing an order, prescription glasses will be delivered to the customer’s home, with select styles available via two-day delivery. 

Setting up shop in Orange County, Maes said, “provides us with a pretty wide demographic in terms of the colleges nearby, as well as families.” This is especially important given that about 65% of Eyebuydirect’s shoppers are between the ages of 18 and 35. He also noted the diverse age range of the Southern California locale. The kiosk’s Mission Viejo mall location is also near a LensCrafters store, which is an eye exam partner of Eyebuydirect. 

As for marketing, Maes said the company wants to ensure the store’s experience runs smoothly before pushing out campaigns around it. But the effort is kicking off with press and partnerships with local micro-influencers, he said. 

Thus far, Eyebuydirect has competed with other DTC players like Warby Parker and Zenni through its online channel. Many of these online players are starting to invest more in physical stores, as that is where the majority of eyewear sales still take place. Warby Parker, for instance, has invested heavily into opening stores and building out in-store eye exams, with plans to open 40 new locations in 2024.

Neil Saunders, managing director of retail at GlobalData, said the opening of a physical space by an online brand serves two main purposes. “Firstly, and most importantly, it is an advert for the brand and will encourage more consumers to consider Eyebuydirect when they need eyewear,” he said. Moreover, it allows customers to see frames in person, which Saunders says is often an important part of the buying process. “All of this is positive for Eyebuydirect.”

Saunders added that the kiosk concept is also small enough that it does not require a lot of upfront capital. “That does place Eyebuydirect at a disadvantage to the more experiential and interesting stores Warby has come up with, but the sharp price points will help to overcome this,” he said.

After nearly two decades of selling prescription eyewear online, Maes said Eyebuydirect is approaching in-person retail gradually. There are no immediate plans for opening future locations. “Having this phygital location is an exciting way for us to understand what retail opportunities there are for us,” Maes said.