I Cut Out the Middleman and I Liked It
I did it. I went direct. I cut out the distributor. I cut out the supplier. I bought directly from China.
It wasn’t bad. In fact, it was quite good. Delivery was three weeks. Product quality was excellent. Service was outstanding. English wasn’t a problem. I’ve already ordered a second time.
I bought glasses directly from China. Not my optometrist. Not the vision center in Target. Not even the much-hyped Warby Parker. I really bought direct. I bought directly from zennioptical.com.
I had my annual eye exam in November, and after a lot of pressure to buy before I left the office (and store) to buy glasses. Instead, I decided to buy online. I have heard so many people talk about Zenni Optical and how their prices compare with the prices of throwaway readers. Yet, you get your exact prescription.
It was so easy. I put in my prescription on the site and uploaded my photo. I was immediately able to “try on” glasses.
Of course, I still didn’t trust it much, so I placed an order for nice glasses that were the least expensive glasses available. I was impressed by how many $7 pairs of prescription glasses there were.
I received my glasses about 3 weeks after ordering, and was notified of shipping in advance. I was so excited to try them on and see if a prescription made a difference in my reading. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. The glasses looked great, but the prescription was wrong. It was my distance prescription, not my reading prescription, and I have a very minor distance problem, so I don’t need distance glasses.
A very simple phone call later, it turns out I entered the prescription in wrong. Had I called them for my first order, they would have helped me. I hung up and put it in again the right way while also adding nicer glasses and glasses for my son. My total spend went from $20 for two pairs of glasses to a total of $70 for four pairs glasses. Nice upsell on their part.
Sadly, I was disappointed to receive an email the next day that there was a problem with my prescription. The lab had noticed a discrepancy with how I ordered my glasses and held the order. I called to figure out what was wrong and spoke to someone who helped me figure it out (their English was very good and they may be U.S.-based).
I had ordered one pair of reading glasses for me and then decided to try the progressive lenses. When I did, they suggested ordering a pair of reading glasses as well with the progressive. When you choose that option, it automatically adjusts your prescription for reading. I had not done that when I ordered the reading glasses directly. She adjusted the incorrectly-input prescription for my reading glasses on the phone to match what they recommended. To be clear, I made another mistake, and they were efficient enough that they caught it and held the order despite the order being for a $7 pair of glasses!
For $90, I have two distance glasses, one pair of progressive, two readers and my son will have a pair of glasses. Service was excellent (remember, they caught my mistake), and the glasses have all sorts of upgrades (anti-glare, scratch resistant, etc). I even added engraving (on the inside arm) for $2 per pair so my son and I could tell our glasses apart. The price for all six glasses is cheaper than the one pair quoted in my local store. The local store had to pay for their rent and pay their supplier, who then had to pay the factory.
I prefer not to talk to the local eyeglass salesperson. I like looking at the images online and getting my wife’s opinion before purchasing. The online service was available after hours when I needed it, not in the middle of the day when I was working. Given that I make my living as part of a distributor, I could be scared by this. I’m not. At least, I'm not panicked. I’m focused, as you should be, on meeting clients' needs online and offline while adding value in every way possible.
Eyeglasses are relatively simple decisions compared to promotional products, which have enormous (and often underestimated) complexities. Yet, the lessons from what is happening to the eyeglass industry are instructive to those who want to get ahead. Warby Parker is serving a large user base and succeeding despite lower prices from Zenni. They have differentiated themselves, but they also offer a great online experience despite being a minimum of $95 compared to Zenni's $7 minimum.
You can (and will) continue to compete with online competitors, but some of your customers are slipping away to the online experience. Is your online experience as good (or even nearly as good) as the top online competitors? Is your offline experience as good as the offline (phone) experience as the big competitors? Your creativity and local service are keys to your success, and you need to extend your service to your customers using online channels before your customers slip away to an online competitor.