Operations   //   August 11, 2022

‘The category will continue to grow’: Eyebuydirect CEO Sunny Jiang on staying competitive with Warby Parker

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The eyeglasses industry is very competitive, but Eyebuydirect is focused on cornering the market via affordability.

The EssilorLuxotica-owned company has been around since 2005 and its primary focus has been on value: a pair of frames from Eyebuydirect can be as cheap as $6. This week on the Modern Retail Podcast, CEO Sunny Jiang spoke about the company’s trajectory and how she’s been steering the ship.

Jiang has been at Eyebuydirect for 15 years — she first took a job there when she was fresh out of university as a finance controller. She’s risen the ranks ever since, going from operations director to general manager and then ultimately becoming CEO in 2017.

“Since I’ve become CEO the company has grown nearly 300%,” she said.

Eyebuydirect was one of the first online-only glasses players. Though Zenni is a few years older, Warby Parker is much younger. And, according to Jiang, the way the company is able to sell glasses so cheaply is because of its business model. “we manage everything from the beginning to the end,” she said. This includes manufacturing, logistics, even returns. “This allows us to have the ability or possibility to forward a lot of profitability directly to customers.”

When Eyebuydirect first launched, there were hardly any digital competitors out there. Now, the playing field is a lot more intense, thanks to leaders like Warby Parker and America’s Best. Over the last two years specifically, Jiang said that a number of competitors have also been upping their digital games. Still, she’s confident that the company can continue to grow. According to her own competitive analysis, the top three or four eyeglass players only account for about half of the market. To her, that means she can continue taking market share and finding new customers.

To do that, Eyebuydirect recently underwent a rebrand, upgrading the look of the website and the company’s marketing materials — including its logo, fonts and overall imagery. On the program, Jiang described the entire process. “One of the reasons why we were thinking to rebrand is that we found the brand or the company didn’t have a clear purpose,” she said.

With that done, Jiang is currently crafting a five-year plan for Eyebuydirect’s growth. This means boosting its customer service options and also trying to up its delivery speed.

“The category will continue to grow, and I will make sure that Eyebuydirect will beat the benchmarks.”

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

Eyebuydirect’s business model
“Eyebuydirect is a purely online player. We are very digitalized, and we provide affordable stylish high-quality prescription and non-prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses. Our products start from $6, it’s rather affordable. The reason why we are able to provide a decent pair of glasses starting at $6 is because of the business model. In the business, we manage everything from the beginning to the end. To be specific, we measure and manage the concept, design, manufacturing, logistics, even the post-purchase return — and we do everything in-house. This allows us to have the ability or possibility to forward a lot of profitability directly to customers. This is also why we are able to start from $6 without compromising anything on the product quality.”

On the growing competitive landscape
“When Warby appeared, it brought the impression that it was becoming a busy or crowded market. But, from our many years of observation… from our study, the top four or five players, they only account for, let’s say, 50% of the market share. We also constantly [see] new entries from… small players. There are so many [new players], and some of them are growing. So this is another consideration. I will say another factor is that some existing brands who used to be purely offline, now they have become interested in online. For example, America’s Best — before 2019, they operated a lot of stores across the U.S. Then, once the pandemic happened, they improved the shopping experience online — they improved their shipping their try online… So it [has] become competitive as well.”

Eyebuydirect’s influencer strategy
“When we work with influencers, especially the individual influencers, we do not only look at how many followers they have. We care more about the engagement and the common language between Eyebuydirect and the influencers and the influencers’ audiences. We want to make sure that their audiences share a common thing with Eyebuydirect so the engagement and the response could be positive. And a lot of times we found that when we work with an influencer with 1 million or even 2 million followers, the performance will not [necessarily] be stronger or better than [if we work with] the influencer who has only 200,000 followers but with a better engagement.”