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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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