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New York ecommerce phenomenon Warby Parker on the keys to success

You don’t need to be a virtuoso ecommerce analyst to appreciate that if an ecommerce startup manages to bag $60 million in Series C funding just three years after its launch, bringing its total investment to $116m, it’s probably got a pretty hot business model. And that’s exactly what New York eyewear startup Warby Parker has achieved.

An ecommerce success story 

It gained a well-deserved reputation for radically rethinking the retail model soon after its launch in 2010, allowing customers to try on eyewear in their own homes before purchase. And despite their slobberingly gorgeous high-fashion and classic-retro designs, Warby Parker’s prices knock spots off most bricks-and-mortar retailers.

It’s even created an interest on monocles of all things; it sold 574 of them last year. But that was also the year it doubled its staff to 300, which won’t come as a surprise to ecommerce analysts when they see that it’s managed to double its sales every year since its launch.

In an interview with Digiday, Warby Parker co-CEO Dave Gilboa underlined the importance of free shipping for the startup. Increasing numbers of purchasers just won’t buy online unless it’s available. Gilboa said:

“Amazon and Zappos have trained customers to expect fast, free shipping — and we think customers now expect this from all stores.”

Free shipping has been a part of Warby Parker’s commercial ethos from the outset. Another core Warby Parker offering – letting customers try things out at home prior to buying – will become increasingly important in 2014, Gilboa believes. He’s already hard at work on plans to enhance this service.

Integrating ecommerce with bricks-and-mortar 

But adding a bricks-and-mortar presence has helped the (originally purely ecommerce) startup enormously: it now has stores in New York, Boston and Los Angeles, which Gilboa describes as a “big game-changer”, providing the brand with much greater exposure.

And the canny ecommerce analyst won’t overlook the fact that ecommerce-with-bricks-and-mortar brings another opportunity to improve customer service: an integrated point-of-sale system. Warby Parker has developed an iPad-based one. Gilboa explains:

“If customers have ordered online and come into the store, we have all of their order and prescription information at our fingertips, and vice versa. Our goal is to offer an unparalleled seamless shopping experience through any channel our customers want to engage with us through.

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