How to buy glasses online (Part 3): Warby Parker

This is the third part of a multipart review series, How To Buy Glasses Online. Part 3 focuses on Warby Parker (warbyparker.com). If you haven't read Parts 1 or 2, you should start here.

This post marks the second of three companies under review, so I'm about mid-way in the total review process. To recap so far, this multipart review has spanned the progress of my attempt to buy high-index glasses online for the first time. Thus far, I have discussed some tips and tricks for choosing online retailers and selecting frames with high-index lens buyers in mind, then comprehensively reviewed my purchase at Glasses.com. As of the writing of this post, my Glasses.com review is still a work in progress, so be sure to check back to see how it all works out. Each part in this review is comparative and cumulative, so best to start at the beginning if you're new to all this. Now, on to Warby Parker.



Warby Parker

As noted in Part 1 of this series, Warby Parker is making pretty big waves in the glasses marketplace. Their story is all over the web, so need to repeat it here.


You have probably heard of them by now, anyway. Aesthetically, Warby Parker is a hipster's paradise. And no, that's not really my scene, but then again I've been a geek since before it was trendy. Luckily, I suit horn-rimmed glasses and Warby Parker carries a great selection at very reasonable prices. Their near-instant popularity has, in large part, stemmed from what sounds like an unbelievable deal to anyone who is used to buying glasses from a chain store. You can get a full pair of glasses for only $95. Remember, however, that this is a high-index lens review, so that jumps to $125 for me (single vision high-index 1.67 polycarbonate + frames). That's still a bargain considering that I have been consistently quoted upwards of $500 offline for the same product.

So successful is their model - itself borrowing from Toms and Zappos.com - that it has been replicated around the web, from the likes of Eyefly and Classic Specs to this French company. This is all good news for consumers like you and I. Greater competition in a marketplace heretofore controlled by monopolistic chains selling "designer" names at inflated prices (I'm looking at you, Luxxotica) can only be a good thing. Of course, as with any product, the rock-bottom prices available on the internet are only worth the savings if the goods and services are of as high a standard as the expensive guys. This is certainly the case with Warby Parker, which makes me more than happy to review this company.


The Product

Like Glasses.com and DBVision.com, Warby Parker offer standard polycarbonate and 1.67 high-index lenses. All WP lenses are double anti-reflective coated and scratch-resistant with a one-year guarantee. The frames are substantial and have a nice, sturdy feel to them. They are supported by strong, Teflon-coated 5-barrel hinges (not sprung). I discuss my first and second impressions of the frame quality below. Unlike Glasses.com and DBVision.com, who each carry both metal and plastic frames, Warby Parker offer exclusively acetate glasses [Update Oct 2012: Titanium frame collection now available!]. According to the company, they "are made of high-quality cellulose acetate sourced from a 150-year-old family-owned Italian company" and are made in China.

Warby Parker's retro/vintage styles are distinctly recognizable: definitely "on trend" if you're fashionably young, or beautifully simple and timeless if you appreciate the classics. Each of the frames come in more than one color or finish – matte black, whiskey tortoise, clear crystal or striped chestnut, to name a few – making their collection quite extensive even though it may at first glance seem rather limited compared to big retailers. As long as you like acetate frames, I am certain there is a style for every face shape and sensibility. I would also recommend giving acetate frames a chance if you have not previously worn them (read on to see how I overcame my own prejudice against plastics!).


The Website

The Warby Parker website has a simple and intuitive UI that is easy to browse and offers virtual try-on as well as several angle views of most of the frames.
When you click on the sample image of each style, you are also provided with the measurements of the frames/lenses. This includes the lens width, bridge width and stem length. On regular optical frames (not sunglasses), the lens height is not displayed. For sunglasses, all measurements, including lens height, are displayed when you mouse-over the image of the frames. This is one feature that I believe could be improved, as lens height is a significant measurement for getting the right fit in any type of frame.

It would also be great if there were an option to order Rx sunglass lenses in any of the standard optical frames that could feasibly contain them, as I believe is the case with DBVision.com (I'll correct this supposition in the next part of my review if necessary).

Regardless, the minimalist style of the Warby Parker website is both unique and fun to browse (albeit a little top-heavy in terms of navigation, but that's a geeky complaint, not a consumer one). The frames are all very attractive and, if you're willing to be a bit adventurous, certainly worth a trial. Like all the companies in this review, they offer a free in-home try-on of 5 frames for up to 5 days, so it's not too big a deal not to have all the measurements since you can try them on before you buy. Because of their popularity, you will also find a lot of images floating around the social web, from blogs to YouTube to the official WP Facebook page, of people trying on and discussing their frame options, so that is also a helpful tool to narrow down your choice.


Customer Service

WP also wins a prize for being extremely transparent and informative on its company story, history, philosophy and materials. I won't repeat it here, but check out their website to learn more. In short, part of their business model includes a buy-one-give-one policy ("for every pair of glasses we sell, we provide a pair to someone in need"), so you can not only afford to see well for yourself, you can do a good deed in the process. (I understand that Classic Specs also donate 6% of each frame to charity, as well as a frame breakage policy similar to Glasses.com, but I did not care enough for their frames or website to include them in my top 3 companies to order from. I find the Classic Specs website extremely frustrating for reasons I can't precisely pin down. Are they just WP copycats? I am certainly not wading into this mess.)

WP offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee, with a 30-day no-hassle returns policy, free shipping both ways, and the aforementioned one-year no-scratch guarantee on lenses. I had to log on to their live chat to ask about a frame guarantee, and while no specific warranty is given, they promise to "work with you" to make you happy should your frame not hold up. Judging by the service I have received, I would have no reason at all not to trust this promise.

The service at WP is really exceptional. Email updates are prompt and the live chat is handy. The people who work there are just so friendly, it's like a complete 180 from the stuck-up opticians I have found near to my home on Long Island. I haven't had the need to call them. Their chat is only online M-F during working hours, unlike Glasses.com who seem to be around all hours of the day and night, but then WP is a smaller outfit. The IHTO service is speedy and it's the only company out of three that slips each frame into a little plastic pouch as well as putting them in a tray. I like that. It makes you feel like someone took the time to clean them up and repack them with each IHTO. The little pouches also have UPC labels with the name of the frame of them, so you can keep track without keeping your invoice nearby.

Also noteworthy is that their use of social media is pretty great. They have really embraced the culture of their demographic and the tools available to revolutionize the way companies do business today. You can find them on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, actually interacting with and responding to their customers. I have had several responses from the WP Help team on Twitter during the course of my order and writing this review.

Lastly, they also have 11 showrooms around the country, so they skirt the line between online and offline retailer, giving you the brick-and-mortar comfort without the price. You can see why WP became a strong contender for my second pair of glasses. When I learned that WP's HQ is here in New York (SoHo), I even thought about applying to work with them. Alas, I'm certainly not cool enough for that.


In-Home Try-On

The first IHTO that I ever ordered in the entire process of buying glasses online was from WP. At that time (early July), I had not tried on many plastic frames and I wasn't sold on them as a whole. I had always worn metal frames with nose pads and spring hinges in designer brands. I like my glasses to stay put and not slide down, which I always imagined to be the case with acetate frames. Since I wear my glasses all the time and in all conditions, I have previously equated spring hinges with comfort and durability. My first impressions of quality – namely, that the acetate frames from WP would not be as durable as metal frames I had always worn – were influenced by my own poor experiences rather than reality. I am pleased that further down the line I ordered another set of samples from WP. I admit to once having some prejudice against acetate frames. Not any longer, because I am thoroughly impressed with the quality of my Warby Parkers.

My first IHTO was a bit of a bust, with the exception of one pair, largely because I submitted my shopping cart without double-checking that I had put the right frames in (I had changed my choices a lot). I thought I looked goofy in most of them and returned them shortly after. For my first trial of acetate frames ever, the feel was probably just a bit too strange, but I loved the way the Reece frames looked on me. In fact, appearance-wise, they were my ultimate favorite glasses that I had tried up to that point – including those at brick-and-mortar opticians. Other than the Reece, my choices of frame were poor because in my noobish state I hadn't taken into account all the dimensions. That is why I now recommend that anyone shopping for frames focus on size as well as style. It makes all the difference, especially for high-index lenses (because of the distortion factor).

Way back at this early stage, I thought that I would be ordering one pair of glasses from my optician, and the cost was mounting up, so I tabled the idea of ordering from WP for the moment. Fast-forward about a week or so and by then I had tried on at least 100 more frames in various optical stores and IHTOs from other sites. I had also been comparison shopping online for good deals and chose to order my designer frames from Glasses.com. That's also when I first encountered DBVision.com (review to follow). After I put in my order with Glasses.com, it left my IHTOs from WP and DB pitted against each other for round two.

Since searching for frames at WP was only part of my eyeglass browsing experience, I was juggling IHTOs from several companies at once, but I am doing my best to keep the sequence straight in these reviews! I ordered my second WP IHTO on a Saturday (within minutes of placing the same with DBvision.com) and they arrived first, on the following Tuesday, which is why I'm reviewing them in this order (after Glasses.com and before DBVision).


I ordered the Reece again along with the four others in the picture (I took them out of their plastic pouches to take the photo above). This time I paid special attention to the quality of the frames. I liked Reece again, but I noticed that the demo frames sounded awfully creaky when I tried them on. As I moved the stems in and out, or if I held on to the front of the frame, they made a funny cracking sound. I tried to put it down to the fact that the demo lenses are just basic plastic and with my own prescription in, it would likely be different. The other frames in the box were all more robust than Reece (pictured in the middle), which has a comparatively thin structure.

In particular, I also fell in love with Fitz (first on the left and also pictured above in the section The Website). They have a thicker frame and bigger lenses and I loved how they felt on. I really warmed up to the vintage styling since my first trial. Right up until the last day of my IHTO, I was deciding between the two. Although Fitz "felt" better in terms of build and had a thicker rim, the lens size at 52 and bridge of 17 (compared to Reece at 51/14) was undoubtedly too big for me.

In fact, being a petite person, a majority of the frames probably have lenses and bridges that are too big for me. Adding nose pads myself could probably help with bridges up to 17 or 18. I'm going to discuss "frame PD", lens sizes, magnification and distortion in my review of DBVision.com (Part 4). For now I'll just say that the Reece were a safer choice for my face and more versatile for my wardrobe and lifestyle. What decided it for me was that the Fitz were a little heavy and somewhat looser on the nose because of the wider bridge, so after the lenses were put in they would get even heavier, not to mention the distortion on a lens that big in my prescription. Had it been available in a 49-50 lens size and 14-16 bridge width, I probably would have ordered Fitz instead.

Sure, I could have tried one more IHTO and maybe ordered the Linwood (but they're never available for IHTO ...), Zagg, or Beckett frames to try something larger in other proportions. After my initial experience with Glasses.com, I wasn't exactly in a hurry to rush into buying a second pair of glasses. But, at the same time, between all the IHTOs from the three companies under review and countless opticians, I had tried on just about all the frames I could stomach. At only $125, I promised myself that if my WP frames turned out great and my Glasses.com order never got resolved, I would just order another pair from WP. So I got decisive and ordered the Reece in Whisky Tortoise.

I couldn't be happier with my choice.


Placing and receiving my order

I placed my order on 7/30 and promptly received an email confirmation. I received another email when the order shipped out on 8/2 and they were delivered via UPS on 8/6. The packaging was excellent and ensured a safe journey. The outer postage box was a perfectly snug fit around the contents, unlike the spacious boxes used by Glasses.com that are prone to being smashed. Inside I found a long Warby Parker cardboard box containing a large, powder gray/white, soft-touch case with vibrant blue inner lining and Warby Parker brand name. Beneath that was a thoughtful little "thank you" card. The case is quite large because it is a standard size for all of their frames, even though the Reece are one of the slimmest models. Inside, the frames were wrapped in a gray microfiber cloth.

You may recall from Part 2 that only a couple of hours earlier that day I received my third defective pair of glasses from Glasses.com. You can imagine my trepidation in unveiling this second purchase. I actually sat with the sealed parcel for a few moments before opening it, not sure if I could take any more disappointment.

Warby Parker - Digby

I gently unfurled the microfiber cloth to reveal my new glasses. They were pristinely clean, polished to a beautiful shine, and perfect in every way. My first impression was that a great deal of care had gone into filling and packing my order. As I opened the glasses to try them on, I felt the quality of the frame to be excellent. The color was a deep tortoise brown, actually much deeper and richer in color than the demo frames which were a bit more orange in the light. This made me very happy because I wanted a dark tortoise. The hinges were very sturdy, and the cracking noise at the front of the frames was non-existent now that the lenses were in. The stems still make a little noise at the hinges, but nothing that suggests poor quality.


My frame choice was just right. The lenses are the perfect size and the frames are comfortable on my nose and supremely lightweight. I hardly notice that they're on, which is exactly what I want from my glasses. My high-index lenses are completely contained within the frame (a great benefit of full acetate frames!) for the first time on any glasses I've ever owned.

Probably the most important thing to review with any glasses purchase is the clarity of vision. As soon as I put them on, my vision felt very comfortable. I have no dizziness, headaches or feelings of distortion. I cannot say the same about my first two pairs of glasses from Glasses.com. I have noticed that there is a little bit more glare on the lenses when I sit in front of direct light (e.g. my computer monitor) than on my previous glasses. To be clear, I can't see or notice any glare when wearing them, but when I look at my webcam feed, there can be some shine on the lenses when I move my head back and forth in front of my bright monitor. It's probably just the type of AR-coating and does not significantly bother me. I do not think it would show up in photos or anything.

In short, I have had a perfect experience ordering my glasses from Warby Parker and I would highly recommend this company to others in my position. The savings are immense (even if they are not the cheapest on the web) and the quality stands up.


Other thoughts

Since this review is really targeted at people who, like me, wear strong prescriptions, I thought I would share one worry I have had throughout this process. A lot of the WP frames have quite big lenses. The Fitz are bigger than Reece, but many are even bigger than that (I am talking lens width and height). A very wide lens in a high Rx will be prone to distortion and very thick outer edges. Hence "coke bottle" lenses and the need for thinned high-index lenses to begin with. That is pretty standard knowledge and high-index wearers usually try and keep their lenses as narrow as possible to avoid too much thickness/distortion. It's something people with weaker prescriptions don't really have to bother with. But a lot of us have to, and cheaper, high-quality glasses are a better value for high-index lens wearers than anyone else.

In addition, my other concern with some of the WP glasses is the height of the lenses. A lens' optimal visual acuity is quite specifically located at the thinnest part of the lens; or, in other words, the spot pinpointed by your PD (that's why you have to provide it). Where your eyes sit within your lens frame is of the utmost importance for proper and safe vision. To illustrate, here's WP's lovely YouTube helper, Taylor, dishing out helpful advice.


See how her eyes are looking through the very top of her stylish frames? Shouldn't this cause concern for strong Rx lens wearers? What I'm suggesting is that WP's frame choices restrict a large portion of buyers; in this case, people wish smallish statures and very poor vision. Even though they look lovely and fashionable, quite a few are probably not suitable for high indexes. If this applies to you, make sure you take the time to try on your frames with this in mind, or better yet, consult your optician.

I'm lucky that the Reece frames fit me so well, but they only come in one color that I like (tortoise). For some reason they are not available in black?

Another thing I thought I would mention for anyone else who is getting plastic frames for the first time is that the lenses seem harder to clean than wire frames. I notice that I have to take a little more time using the microfiber cloth to get around the inside of the frame, otherwise it just pushes any dust into the inner corners. In this respect, I'm probably lucky for once that my lenses are thicker at the other end :). I also catch myself wiping the frames, too, which I hardly ever did before.

I believe that just before my order arrived, WP was featured on Nightline. With the great reviews they're getting, I have no doubt their business will keep expanding. As long as they maintain this same quality and attention to detail as they grow (always a challenge and a risk), then their attempt to alter the dominance of the current glasses marketplace may very well succeed.

To conclude: I've enjoyed shopping with WP so much and am so content with my purchase that, if I could afford it, I would have already ordered another pair (or two).


Eyeglasses Review Index



Images:
1 - 3: Screenshots from WarbyParker.com
4. Photo of IHTO frames, by author.
5. Unboxing photo by Flickr user vwcdubya.
6. Reece frames, screenshot from WarbyParker.com

5 comments:

troybrant said...

Excellent and well-written review. Thank you so much!

Fran Barone said...

You're welcome! Thanks for your comment.

Kyralady said...

Im not even done reading your entire review...outstanding help. Cant thank you enough!

Fran Barone said...

You're welcome, Kyralady. Thanks for your comment! I have a new review coming out soon, so be sure to check back.

Debvrat Chaturvedi said...

Great and a very useful blog for me. I like reading this blog. Thanks for the post.

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