Getting your hands on a pair of Snap Inc.'s Spectacles is the equivalent of striking gold for early tech adopters, but you better be prepared to work for them—even the president of Snapchat's ad agency Truffle Pig had to fight to get a pair.
On Monday, the buzzy Spectacles went on sale in New York at a pop-up store on the corner of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue that will be open through New Year's Eve for holiday shoppers. Since launching a few weeks ago, Snap's marketing team has taken an unusual approach to distributing Spectacles, selling them in vending machines called Snapbots in places such as Venice and Big Sur in California; Tulsa, Okla., and near the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
There had been some rumors that the glasses would take a while to make their way to the East Coast, so when Spectacles tweeted at 6 a.m. Monday morning that the elusive Snapbot vending machine was finally in New York, hundreds of people—myself included—practically jumped out of bed to get into line.
The pop-up is across the street from Apple's glass flagship store on 5th Avenue. The slew of nearby retail stores that will soon be lit up with holiday window displays gives Snap's store a lot of visibility in a busy area of the city. Perhaps more noticeable though, is a vertical sign printed with the Snap eye that hangs above the store, similar to the company's secretive billboards. There's also a "Spectacles" sign above the door, making it look like a real retail store. The pop-up will be open through the holidays, but closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
A little before 8 a.m., a line was already snaking out the door when I arrived and a handful of staffers were telling people it would be an hour and a half wait (it was actually three hours, but more on that later). As soon as I got into line, it became immediately clear that this was indeed a very different type of launch event from other types of tech wearables like the defunct Google Glass, where a small group of influencers and celebs got first dibs on the pricey gadgets before the masses.
Snap's move into wearables takes a much different direction to build hype: Regardless of one's notoriety or fame, everyone has to wait in an insanely long line to purchase a pair of glasses from a single vending machine.
On Monday morning, the line included a mix of tech folks, journalists, influencers, people who were just curious about Spectacles and groups who heard that they could make up to $1,000 selling the video-recording glasses on eBay. Paul Marcum, president of Truffle Pig—the joint advertising agency owned by Snapchat, WPP and Daily Mail—was a few spots ahead of me and spent a decent amount of time while in line working on a laptop with a big Truffle Pig sticker slapped on the front. Behind me, a group had evidentially heard about the sky-high prices that Spectacles were being sold for online and were there to make money. And nearby, livestreaming star Geoff Golberg was broadcasting his entire experience on Periscope.
Once getting into line outside, employees wrapped plastic bracelets around each person's wrist before we were let inside to wait in another long, winding line to make it to the front of an otherwise empty room where one bot was placed behind the curtain. Some people in line complained that there was only one vending machine to service hundreds of customers. Others balked that the bot could only accept credit and debit cards, while others grumbled that they were only able to buy two pairs of Spectacles at a time, which each cost $140. Of course, all of those factors are built by design and part of Snap's plan to bill the glasses as a limited-edition product.
Along the walls in the pop-up space are rotating TVs that spin clockwise to show how Spectacle's circle-shaped video works.
As soon as I was let into the room from the street, I quickly figured out that the wait would be much longer than an hour and a half. The line was queued up to the back of the store with a couple hundred people that weren't moving, while a second line of people who looked frustrated stood off to the side. They were calling their banks because the Snapbot had declined their cards.
The Snapbot, we were told, is quite fickle and often declines purchases because banks are skeptical when they see $140 transactions coming from a vending machine. A handful of staffers urged everyone to call their bank while in line to alert them about the upcoming purchase and patiently answered questions.
"Does the Snapbot prefer credit cards instead of debit cards?" I asked. "It depends," an employee told me, adding that Spectacles are new and still working out some of the payment kinks.
A few minutes later, the lights suddenly dimmed, indicating that the Snapbot has run out of Spectacles and needed to be re-filled. On cue, a curtain swept in front of the bot—of course, consumers are not allowed to see the magic of how the Snapbot is stocked—and 10 minutes later it was back in action.
As I got closer in line, it became apparent that most people were having problems paying for their Spectacles. If the Snapbot declined a purchase, the person stepped to the side, called their bank and could then skip the line to try again. As you can imagine, this slowed down the process significantly and there were more than a few audible gripes and "boos" each time someone from the line of declined cards cut the line and tried to re-swipe their card, only to get it declined again. And for each person who swiftly bought Spectacles in less than a minute, people in line clapped and even cheered.
At the front of the line, some people were taking pictures and videos with the bot when it was their turn, which again elicited more booing from the impatient crowd. Unsurprisingly, New Yorkers are annoyed but ultimately unfazed by the idea of waiting in line for several hours just to be one of the first to test the video-recording glasses.
Finally, it was my turn and I purchased two pairs of Spectacles—one for myself and one for Adweek's other tech reporter Marty Swant. When you walk up to the bot, the first thing you notice is its wild eye that swirls around and changes sizes. Three big buttons below the eye show the colors of the glasses—teal, black and coral. After picking a color, you can virtually try on a pair using a Snapchat lens and swipe a credit card before the machine spits out the glasses and a rainbow-colored receipt.
I finally left around 11 a.m. when there was a line wrapped around the corner of 5th Avenue. As people came out of the pop-up store with glasses, some immediately started bargaining and offering the glasses to people in line for a few hundred dollars. According to Twitter, the last wristbands were given out around 9:30 Monday morning.
— Sebastian graus (@sebgraus) November 21, 2016
By 4 p.m., the store was shut down, although that didn't stop a number of people from trying to open the doors or peering through the shades. One man who Adweek spoke to later that afternoon couldn't believe that the store didn't have the same operating hours as the others nearby. Going forward, the store will have more regular hours—from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 6 a.m. to noon on Saturday and Sunday—but the ephemeral pop-up store's unpredictable hours makes sense for Snapchat, since it's the same traits that made the mobile app a runaway hit with millennials.
Check out the below video—of anti-Trump protesters outside of nearby Trump Tower—to see how Spectacles work.