Buying glasses should not make you roll your eyes. It also shouldn’t make your eyes widen in disbelief at the price.
Enter the eyecare industry disruptors. These are people who have caught a vision of a better, simpler, and less expensive way to purchase eyewear. They are creating companies to promote their ideas; they are using social media to introduce these ideas; they are making a disruption in the industry that is scattering traditional ways of doing business.
And it’s all for the best of the consumer.
One of the trademarks of the eyecare industry disruptors is the breakdown of geography. By using current technology, consumers are not limited to a place for a vision exam or to purchase eyewear. Smartphones and the Internet open up possibilities that never existed before. Instead of going to an optical store to look at hundreds of frames, consumers can sit at a computer and view thousands of them. Add to that try-on technology in the comfort of home and the traditional business model doesn’t look so good anymore.
Most interesting about the eyecare industry disruptors is the fact that their vision extends worldwide. The viability of any change in a business model can be measured in the level of acceptance across a wide audience. Internationally, these disruptors are making inroads in areas that are diverse in culture, yet common in a desire to affect change in an industry that needs reform.
A look at some of these international industry disruptors will reveal a common thread of placing the purchasing power into the consumer’s hands. These companies offer new business models with some unique ideas. The end result is an industry that will be better able to address the real needs of consumers.
India’s Industry Disruptors
Industry disruptors are problem solvers. To succeed, they need a problem to fix.
The problem is numbers. For the first time, India is dealing with an aging population as well as a large one. As the country grew, so did the life expectancy. In 2015, the World Health Organization reported India’s life expectancy to be 68 years of age. In the 1990s, it was only 58 years.
This affects all aspects of the eyecare industry from prescriptions, to medical treatment, to corrective eyewear. Change is needed to more efficiently reach the many people who need it.
Consumers deal with a few different vision problems. As people get older, there is a greater likelihood their eyesight will weaken. There has also been an increase in instances of myopia. These people need corrective lenses to maintain their quality of life.
Many unchecked vision problems can progress into vision loss which is indeed what happens here. India has the largest population of blind people in the world. The market even reflects this. The biggest sectors of the eyecare industry here all deal with conditions which relate to blindness: cataracts, retinal disease, and glaucoma.
India’s problem is a lack of doctors to provide preventative vision care. Due to government regulations and insufficient training programs, India has only about one-third of the eye doctors it needs to provide care to all the people. But if the doctors are busy treating patients with glaucoma and cataracts, they just don’t have the time or resources to see the patient who just needs glasses. That patient who didn’t get to see the doctor goes without vision correction until it severely impairs their sight and the cycle continues.
This is the place the disruptors enter the market. Eyecare industry disruptors around the world share one common goal: accessibility to the consumer. They want their product to reach the people and areas left untouched by the largest companies.
Winkk addresses the frustration many people feel when trying to purchase eyeglasses. Only after navigating the frame selection and confusing lens upgrades with the “help” of a pushy employee does the customer learn the price of the eyeglasses.
They set out to offer frames that are both trendy and cost-effective. What is Winkk’s contribution to transparency in the eyecare industry? Their eyeglasses have a listed price which includes the prescription lenses. Offering frames that are both affordable and fashionable gives the consumer purchasing power and reduces the number of people going without vision correction due to a confusing sales experience.
Glassic was founded after learning the reason the eyewear market was so confusing and overpriced. Over 80 percent of the market was being controlled by a single supply chain, from manufacture to sale. The founders of Glassic are able to keep their prices reasonable by making their glasses in-house and cutting out the retailer by selling through their own website.
A few creative solutions allowed them to overcome the concerns of not being able to see yourself in the frames first and the unclear lens options. A virtual try-on which uses the customer’s webcam creates an experience just like testing frames in-person. Glassic addresses the lens selection issue with a unique algorithm which suggests lenses after the customer selects their power, ensuring the product they buy is their best option. This algorithm also eliminates the navigation of lens types as well as the price variation between different opticians.
Lenskart expands on convenience of shopping for glasses. By offering a vision exam at home, the consumer is not only able to get a lens prescription, but this keeps an optician free to care for a patient with more immediate issues. Certain areas are eligible for a home visit to try on frames. An employee brings 100 frame options and helps the customer with their purchase.
These innovative companies prove the power of a creative idea to change the status quo, create solutions, and assure the consumer that they made a good investment.
Latin America Eyecare Industry
Three factors contributed to the eyecare industry disruption in Latin America: a growing population, a steady increase of people requiring vision correction, and runaway inflationary rate on eyewear. The first two factors seemed to point to a steady volume of consumers, but the rising retail cost of eyewear made them postpone or cancel purchases.
The traditional business model has merely assumed that a steady customer base equals steady sales. While this may be accurate to an extent, consumers have become more cost-savvy and will not purchase a product if they feel their best interests have not been realized.
Eyecare industry disruptors saw this and reacted by offering more cost-effective choices. In Latin America, this was done by two primary methods: acquisitions and partnerships.
For example, Luxottica, the eyewear superpower, increased their distribution by acquiring retailers. Having retail-ready locations for their manufactured products builds a strong competitive edge and gives consumers a network of locations to purchase eyewear.
Partnerships have a similar strategy but balance the power differently. Chilli Beans, the major retailer of sunglasses in Latin America, partnered with GoECart to run the e-commerce side of their business. This type of industry disruption embraces the technology that is available and makes product selection more accessible.
Yet, the eyecare industry disruptors in Latin America are not looking to just take over the competition, they are in the business with long-range and innovative goals. Lema21, the “Warby Parker” of Brazil, sells private label frames directly to consumers. They compete with designer brands, which are made in the same Chinese factories as their own products. The difference is a much lower price, averaging about $100.
But Lema21 didn’t stop with the monetary benefit; they added a virtual try-on tool and a home trial that ships four different frames to consumers. Now, people can shop conveniently, have choices, and save money. The industry disruptors listened to the consumers, made changes in the business model, and everyone walks away happy.
European Industry Disruptors
European consumers are welcoming the eyecare industry disruptors. In Germany, consumers are buying glasses online at an increasing rate, while industry experts predict an even bigger growth in this venue of sales.
Industry disruptors are responding to consumer concerns about buying eyewear online: the lack of an optician to provide advice when making a purchase. This can be remedied through a variety of means. Try-on technology and an easier return policy are ways to give consumers more confidence. Social media, blogs, and forums can connect customers to style experts both within and outside of the industry. All of these things contribute to a better buying experience.
Eyecare industry disruptors will concentrate on these issues since most consumers have stated that they are very satisfied with the lower costs of purchasing glasses online. Price is an overriding factor in consumer appeal and industry disruptors will continue to refine the entire process, stressing the personalization of each sale.
In France, Paul Morlet, the founder of Lunettes Pour Tous (Glasses for All), is making a bold claim: get a pair of glasses for 10 euros in 10 minutes. His democratic approach to making glasses both affordable and accessible is shaking up the core of the industry in this country. The basic idea is for consumers to buy glasses and leave with them the same day.
His business model is basic with lower prices, reduced markups, and large volume sales. His marketing strategy includes educating consumers about the high profits opticians enjoy as they sell glasses that are cheaply made in China. Truth-telling is a large part of the eyecare industry disruption strategy since no consumer wants to feel taken advantage of.
Throughout Europe, these same principles are steering the eyewear industry into new ways to do business. Cost, choice, and convenience are the keywords that consumers use, and industry disruptors are providing real solutions in these areas. While each country may have varying measures of progress in the disruption phase, industry experts see a steady increase of consumer confidence in purchasing eyewear online.
Technology and transparency in the eyecare industry is forever changing the view (and the resulting purchasing power) of consumers.
Japanese Eyecare Industry Disruptors
A trademark of industry disruptors is their lack of boundaries, either physical or creative. Japan-based Jins Eyewear perfectly captures this element of being a disruptor. Crossing borders and collaborating with tech, fashion, and business allow this company to make headlines.
Although they were unknown in the US, they operated over 300 stores overseas Japan and China. So why open a flagship store in San Francisco, California? Because the trendy city is a great fit for their brand of eyewear that is fashionable and tech-savvy. Young, progressive cities are like a magnet for industry disruptors because they are full of the kind of adventurous consumers which startups need to succeed.
The technology allowing them to disrupt is Kanna, their in-house eyeglass manufacturing robot. Having a lens lab right in the store means not only are the materials sourced directly from the company, the manufacturing is too. Really embracing the concept of controlling the whole supply chain to keep costs down also results in the fast wait time between selecting and taking home a new pair of glasses. The Jins experience is going home with a pair of glasses for only $120 and 30 minutes of time. In San Francisco. The low cost enables their fashion-savvy consumer to have multiple pairs quickly and inexpensively.
The Jins flagship store has another unique collaboration: a fellow disruptor. 20/20 Now, who offer vision tests through video-conference, rents space in the back of the store. If you add an inexpensive refraction to your trip to Jins, you can still leave your visit with a new prescription and a new pair of glasses for under $200. Again, this is San Francisco.
The most important goal of industry disruptors is creating transparency. Regardless of the problems the eyeglass market faces, information is what leads to solutions. Overpriced eyeglasses and consumers who are kept in the dark about their true cost is a problem worldwide.
Eyecare industry disruptors are creating solutions. The fact that they are all working towards fixing the same problems shows the issues the market faces are due to the distribution model rather than their physical location.
The future of this industry rests in the vision of these disruptors.