- Eyeglasses purveyor Warby Parker got its start as an alternative to shopping for glasses at your eye doctor, often selling frames at lower prices.
- Along the way, the company realised that people looking to buy new frames often had expired prescriptions, prompting the company to offer in-person eye exams as well as a virtual prescription check.
- Eye care is a big area of investment for the company, Warby Parker cofounder and co-CEO Dave Gilboa said.
- Here’s what it’s like to get an eyeglass prescription check done virtually.
- My visit to Warby Parker was part of an experiment to get all of my healthcare taken care of virtually or through new models that offer more access.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Warby Parker was one of the first companies to take a direct-to-consumer approach to selling eyeglasses.
Instead of the traditional path of going to the eye doctor and picking out glasses from the assortment of designer frames lining the walls, Warby Parker’s model started out focused on providing frames, often at a much lower price. It made the experience of picking out eyeglasses much more like buying a new pair of shoes.
To date, the company has raised $US290 million and has a $US1.75 billion valuation, according to PitchBook.
Warby Parker cofounder and co-CEO Dave Gilboa told Business Insider that when the company got its start in 2010, it would often come across people trying to buy Warby Parker frames using expired prescriptions.
“We kept hearing that it was a frustrating process to take time off to make an appointment to get a new prescription,” Gilboa said.
Thinking about all that’s included in a vision test, the team thought through how it could be done virtually for those who just wanted a quick prescription check. The company started offering virtual prescription check tests in 2017. Warby Parker now offers both a virtual test and in-person exams with eye doctors in some of its 90 stores around the US.
The company is now making a big investment in eye care, both virtually and in-store.
In essence, Warby Parker is now echoing the model it once said it was trying to disrupt.
“The majority of consumers buy glasses from the same place at the same time as they get an eye exam,” Gilboa said. “We historically decoupled and asked consumers to change their behaviour.”
Hearing from customers is what drove the company to integrate exams into the experience, Gilboa said.
What it’s like to take an online exam
This wasn’t my first time using an online prescription checker for my eyeglasses. I’d done it in 2017 after it first came out.
To take the test, I used my phone as a remote and placed my computer screen a few feet in front of me.
When I called my vision plan to ask about my benefits, I learned that had I gone in to an eye doctor instead, I would have only had a copay of $US10. That would have covered a comprehensive eye health exam, not just getting a new prescription.
The American Optometric Association, which represents optometrists, recommends that people who use eyeglasses or contacts get their eyes checked once a year. The organisation says that virtual prescriptions checks aren’t a good idea, because people might forgo more comprehensive checkups.
“We’re moving in the wrong direction of advancing standards,” Sam Pierce, the president of the American Optometric Association told Business Insider.
The AOA has reported companies to the Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration, calling on the agencies to take action on some of the online tests available. Eye exams like Warby Parker’s are currently registered as class 1 medical devices, which means they’re exempt from FDA review. To date, no online eye exam has been cleared by the FDA.
Getting my new glasses wasn’t an entirely online experience
Still, the day after taking Warby Parker’s virtual test, I had a renewed prescription and could proceed with ordering my glasses. I’d popped into the store a week earlier and decided my next pair of glasses would be a pair of Percey frames.
I recalled getting a notice in the mail that Warby Parker was now in network with my vision plan, but wasn’t seeing it on the site. Instead, I worked with a representative from Warby Parker over the phone to place the order.
While it wasn’t quite the virtual, all-through-a-website experience I’d expected, the representative was helpful at explaining how much I’d be on the hook for and what all was covered. In the end, my glasses only cost $US25 because of a prescription lens copay required by my vision plan.
Looking into my Warby Parker account as well (I’ve bought two other frames in the past), it was cool to see my past orders and prescriptions all stored, like a mini eye health record.
A few days later, my frames arrived.
Funnily enough, my next move was to go to a Warby Parker store, again. I popped into the Greene Street location in NYC to get the frames fitted a bit tighter on my face. It gave me the opportunity to nab this selfie.
While it wasn’t as virtual of an experience as I anticipated, taking an online eye exam was pretty seamless and took about 15 minutes. With the knowledge of what my vision plan would cover for an in-person eye visit, I’ll likely do that next time just to be sure my eyes are still as healthy as they seem to be.
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