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Warby Parker’s Brick-and-Mortar Store Shows the Limits of E-Commerce

Need for touch

Trendy eyeglass shop Warby Parker spawned a number of imitators with its online-only model. But now that it’s opened its first brick-and-mortar store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, does that prove that having a physical presence is as relevant as ever?

At launch, Warby's founders thought that their business would be entirely online (although the broader vision was to expand beyond e-commerce). They saw that letting people interact with the company's products, via pop-up shops and nonretail showrooms, boosted sales. "At the end of the day, we’re trying to provide the best possible experience for our customers and that means offering our glasses where they like to shop," Warby co-founder David Gilboa said.

Forrester retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru said having a brick-and-mortar presence, where 90 percent of retail still takes place, could be a way for online brands to ensure they stick around, especially for e-commerce brands like Warby Parker that only sell their own label. “There’s an argument that when you’re a private label and people don’t necessarily know who you are, letting them touch and feel your products can be critical in reducing any friction,” said Mulpuru.

So are online-only retailers selling out by peddling their goods the old-fashioned way? Gilboa argues that having a store makes Warby more disruptive. “We’re able to offer beautiful glasses at great price points, and we’re able to do that both online and offline.” But, he added, “For now, the vast majority of sales are still coming through the site, and we expect it to stay that way.” 

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