Revolutionary Retail: Test-Driving Warby Parker And Dollar Shave Club
Eyeglasses and razors are two notoriously high-margin personal commodities for which we’ve been overpaying for decades, but two companies have declared war on these monopolistic product lines. Using vastly different marketing strategies, Warby Parker and Dollar Shave Club sell eyeglasses (for men and women) and men’s razors respectively, almost entirely online and via mail-order—at a fraction of the prices we are accustomed to paying (as little as $95 for prescription glasses and three bucks a month for razors). But are they worth it, and what’s the experience like? Since I’m physiologically incapable of recommending anything I haven’t experienced, this largely late-adopting guinea pig offers the results of his experience here:
A Rebellious Spirit and a Lofty Objective
Let’s start with Warby Parker, as they were founded first. According to co-founders and Wharton grads, Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa and Jeffrey Raider, “Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to create boutique-quality, classically crafted eyewear at a revolutionary price point.” Admittedly, I’m a sucker for anti-establishment world-changers, especially those who save me money, but I had to be sure Warby Parker would meet the high expectations they set for themselves. Here’s how the process worked for me:
1) I chose 5 sets of glasses online.
2) A few days later, I received this package in the mail:
3) I suffered through two NO WAYs, a NOPE and a MAYBE before finally reaching a YES from my wife and kids.
4) I sent the box of five back in the same packaging in which it arrived (postage paid) and ordered my new glasses online through an intuitive, step-by-step process that included plugging in my prescription.
5) I received my new glasses in about a week.
What if you don’t like any of the first five pairs of glasses you try on? They’ll send you another five at no cost. What if the final product isn’t to your liking? Returns are also free. What about anti-reflective coating? It’s included in the price.
The all-in pricing was, for me, the most satisfying part of the entire process. We have a pretty basic vision insurance plan at work, but I was shocked at how little that actually got me when I went to one of the mainline brick-and-mortar eyeglasses carriers (not to be named, but rhymes with Crenshafters). There, I got an eye exam at no charge. Then, I had $45 to put toward frames and $52 for lenses, separately priced even though they both play a pretty important role. The only frames priced anywhere close to my reimbursement rate looked like they were rejects from the bargain bin at the Dollar Store. I was already a couple hundred bucks out-of-pocket just for frames that I was willing to put on my face. Then, unless I was willing to live with a painful glare when using my glasses where light was present, I had to pay extra for anti-reflective lenses. More still was tacked on if I preferred not to view the world through scratched lenses. At Warby Parker, there were no extra add-ons—everything I actually wanted in a pair of glasses was included. And true to their pledge, the glasses indeed look and feel as though they are higher quality than my name brand (rhymes with Bayran) spectacles.
How do they do it? They cut out the middlemen by creating their own designs and selling directly to consumers. According to Warby Parker, high end brands sell their recognizable names to the companies who design and produce the glasses. The production companies then mark-up their final product to the optical shops who then boost the prices by another 200-300%. Don’t you love being taken advantage of?
On top of that, like Toms shoes, Warby Parker gives away a pair of glasses for every pair they sell to paying customers. The icing on the cake was that I learned my health insurance will actually reimburse Warby Parker, so my new and improved glasses will cost approximately zero dollars. Viva la revolucion!
While Warby Parker has worked to eliminate virtually all of the hesitations we might have of buying something online with their home try-on service, what they noticeably lack is opportunities for customization. Although their frame selection continues to broaden, most of the frames fall under the vintage heading with a hipster vibe, so if you’re going for a Bono look, you’re out of luck. If you need bifocals, progressive lenses or transition lenses, you’re not going to get them at Warby Parker, although they pledge to be working in that direction. And while I found their customer service by phone to be very helpful, you obviously won’t have a Crenshafters employee to clean your new glasses and place them on your lovely face. You may even want or need to take your new purchase to a local eye specialist for an adjustment.
Shave Time. Shave Money.
Dollar Shave Club attacked the high-margin world of razors from an entirely different angle than the high-minded Warby Parker. They’ve used humor—almost exclusively—to attract and retain customers. I heard about DSC the way most men did, through a hysterical, irreverent video featuring the company’s co-founder, Michael Dubin, and decided it was worth the minimum $3 investment to check it out.
They offer three different razor/blade combinations with corresponding price points:
1) The Humble Twin, “Reliable; this is the ’82 wagon that starts when the temp’s below zero,” at three dollars per month (including shipping) for five blades
2) The 4X, “The Lover’s Blade,” six dollars per month for four blades, or
3) The Executive, “The final frontier; it’s like a personal assistant for your face,” nine bucks for four blades
Per blade cartridge, that’s $.60 per Twin, $1.50 per 4X and $2.25 per Executive. To put those prices in perspective with comparable Gillette razors, my previous blade of choice, you’ll pay $2.30 per Sensor Excel cartridge, $2.90per Mach 3 Turbo and $3.62 per Fusion Proglide, premiums of 283%, 93% and 61% respectively. (The Gillette pricing comes via Amazon. It requires you to buy in higher quantities and may not include shipping and handling.)
As any good financial planner would, I opted for the cheapest Dollar Shave Club offering to start and have been pleased enough with the Humble Twin for over a year now that I see no need in upgrading. And the humor keeps coming; each month when I receive my new set of blades, it comes with an accompanying card featuring a funny profile of an employee or patron.
For the Humble Twin, at least, the handle and the blades are noticeably disposable, but that’s what I expected and I’ve yet to suffer as a result. Dollar Shave Club, as one might expect, is now branching into presumably higher margin product lines, like their “Shave Butter” and “One Wipe Charlies, flushable moist wipes” for men, but they will eat into your shavings savings. I’ll stick with Barbasol and TP.
I’m not an early adopter prone to trying every new product trend, or a frugal fiend dying to shave pennies off of every single purchase I make, but Warby Parker saved me $200-$300 on my new glasses and Dollar Shave Club saves me over $100 per year for products that are as good or better than those they’ve replaced. It’s possible that neither will suit you for numerous reasons, but they offer no- or low-cost entry points making them worthy of exploration.