NEW YORK: Warby Parker, the eyewear retailer, is disrupting the eyewear category through challenging industry norms in areas such as product selection, pricing and distribution.

Neil Blumenthal, Warby Parker's ceo/co-founder, told delegates at BRITE '14 – an event run by the Center on Global Brand Leadership at Columbia Business School – its goal has been to solve a variety of problems.

"We just love glasses. But we didn't love the process of buying glasses: we thought that was something you could just do better," he said. (For more, including how Warby Parker tackled doubts about buying glasses online, read Warc's exclusive report: How Warby Parker disrupted the eyewear category.)

One issue Warby Parker observed when surveying the scene was that the existing experience often proved disappointing in terms of store layout.

The huge number of near-identical products available also served to paralyse consumer decision-making, rather than enhancing perceptions of choice.

"When you walk into a typical optical shop, there are 700 to 1,000 different options. It's overwhelming," said Blumenthal. "And when you typically look to buy glasses now, they're really expensive.

"It didn't make sense to us that glasses cost as much as an iPhone; just intuitively, that didn't resonate … For us, the problem was that buying glasses was too expensive and not fun."

Back in 2009/10, when the firm was starting out, it was equally clear that the web was an underutilised channel, yielding less than 1% of category sales.

Warby Parker aimed to exploit this gap by creating an ecommerce site for its deliberately small – but stylish – collection of glasses.

"Category after category was moving online," Blumenthal said. "So we thought, 'Of course: eyewear as a category is going to eventually be sold online. Whoever does that is going to make a tonne of money.'"

Unsurprisingly for an established sector with a long purchase cycle, the company faced an extremely powerful market leader in the form of Luxottica, which owns several leading brands and makes others under licence.

Luxottica also runs thousands of stores across the US under several different banners. That has not stopped Warby Parker moving beyond its digital origins, as it has opened branded stores in New York, Los Angeles and Boston.

Data sourced from Warc