eCommerce

To Amazon Or Not Amazon? An Eyeglass Retailer Faces The Question

Want to know how the future of eCommerce looks?

Well, you could do worse than taking a deeper dive into the world of prescription eyewear. It’s an industry that has — and continues to — shift quickly from its brick-and-mortar roots to an often innovative eCommerce experience. In a new PYMNTS interview, David Roger, co-founder & CEO of Felix Gray, a direct-to-consumer (DTC) eyewear seller that is also trying to tap into broader wellness trends, talks about what’s coming next for this particular brand of online retail, and why Amazon may — or may not — get more involved.

Eyeglasses are not a want, of course, but a need — and that provides ample opportunity for all types of businesses involved with this particular category of retail. But Felix Gray, which launched in 2016 with non-prescription offerings before moving into prescription lenses in April 2018, aims to ride the broader consumer desire for products that promote individual wellness — a trend that largely stems from younger consumers, such as millennials and Gen Z members, but also encompasses older shoppers, including Baby Boomers who are in or nearing retirement.

Wellness and Sustainability

In short, the lenses sold by Felix Gray are meant to combat the negative impacts of looking at computer and smartphone screens all day. Light from such devices can interrupt sleep patterns and lead to eye strain, among other problems (not all of which are yet totally understood by medical science, given the relatively recent explosion of the screen-anchored life for so many global consumers).

Other eyeglass operations are following a roughly similar path, though sometimes wellness gives way to younger consumers' demand that retail becomes much more sustainable. Take Sydney, Australia-headquartered Dresden Vision. Founded in 2015, it has gradually built up a large enough following that they’ve started to be called “the Warby Parker of Australia,” unironically. Among Dresden’s more unique selling points is that its frames, arms and pins are created in a closed-loop production process that uses as many recycled materials as possible.

As for Felix Gray, wellness is an anchor of its brand proposition — but that focus is one reason it might not be working with Amazon's marketplace services anytime soon. Amazon has lately seen the defection of the global shoe and apparel powerhouse Nike, in part because of Nike's concerns about how its presence on Amazon could weaken its brand. That move, announced late last year, led to the latest round of debates about the value of listing on Amazon's marketplace. Part of those debates is the risk, whether real or perceived, that the data Amazon collects from its marketplace sellers and their product listings will ultimately be used in Amazon's efforts to best its competitors and control more of the retail space.

“As we’ve grown, Amazon has become an interesting opportunity,” said Roger, whose company has served some 100,000 customers and expects to take in $14 million in revenue this year. “But it’s a double-edged sword.”

That’s not the only factor at play for Felix Gray. Like many retailers, it depends on what is often called its brand story, or its brand proposition — in this case, lenses that enable consumers to better deal with all of those screens and the problems they might cause. “Amazon doesn’t allow for the same level of brand storytelling,” Roger said, echoing the comments and concerns of various other retail operations that work with relatively specialized products.

As well, the sale of prescription eyewear is a complicated, multistep process that can be difficult to shift to other players. “On the non-prescription side, Amazon makes more sense,” he said.

Beyond the Buy Button?

Indeed, Felix Gray's experiences so far in trying to remove as much friction as possible from the shopping and buying process can offer lessons to other retails, and perhaps provide some foreshadowing of where certain parts of eCommerce are headed in the coming few years. Take the concept of the buy button, for instance — a concept that Felix Gray has essentially remade in its own image.

Ongoing PYMNTS research continues to shed light on buy button operations, challenges and successes. The PYMNTS Q2 2019 Buy Button Index found, for instance, that 80 percent of electronics eCommerce sites support at least one buy button. More than 15 percent of online retailers are using the Amazon Pay buy button. And a good fifth of all eCommerce sites sport more than one buy button. The theory is that when it comes to offering a single-step process and reducing shopping cart abandonment, too much of a good thing is really never enough.

But there are other sides to the buy button story — one of which Felix Gray has addressed in a way that may reflect the wishes of other retailers. PYMNTS’ analysis of eCommerce has found that the buy button feature leads to increased sales, yet adoption is falling. Roger couldn’t really speak as to why that might be happening in the broader world, but he did suggest that the buy button might actually put off some shoppers — the key word being “might.”

Felix Gray does not, in fact, use any tool labeled as a “buy button.” Prescription eyeglass sales have an amount of friction that is inherent to that part of retail, which can only be reduced so much. But Felix Gray also sells non-prescription lenses and related products, so there is ample opportunity to deploy buy buttons.

“But buy buttons, in term of language, are a little bit aggressive and sales-y,” Roger said. “It’s like if you are in a store, and there is an overly aggressive salesperson following you around and saying ‘Can I help you, can I help you?’ It doesn’t make you feel comfortable.” Instead, the eCommerce operator relies on “add to cart” appeals. “It’s a little bit more of a nuanced approach,” he said, though he added that as of yet, he could offer no deeper analysis of the success or shortcomings of that approach.

In any case, significant innovations and experiments are playing out in eyeglasses retail, and operations are certainly tapping into larger consumer and commerce trends. It will pay to keep watching this part of the retail industry to spot patterns and lessons that might come in handy later.

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