Try Then Buy: Overcoming the Virtual Divide

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One of the biggest challenges of selling eyeglasses online is the fact that the shopper is not there in person to try them on. This dilemma was summed up by Kate Endress, co-founder and CEO of Ditto Technologies Inc., when she launched the online optical retailing site, Ditto.com: “Buying online hasn’t been a viable option because of one big question: Do they fit?”

Dr. Marc Weinstein, CEO of 39DollarGlasses.com made a similar observation: “One of the greatest challenges an online eyeglass store has to face is helping the new customer overcome any anxiety they may have about buying their eyeglasses online.”

In response, optical retailing websites have developed both high tech as well as low tech ways around this. While some sites have instituted sophisticated virtual try-on technologies that enable users to upload their pictures to see how they will look in selected frames, others employ a very basic technique—simply sending frames to the buyer.

 
 Rivet & Sway’s packaging is designed to inspire and motivate its customer base of busy women.

At-Home Try-On

These at-home try-on programs are employed by a wide variety of online optical retailers. Some simply state that because they offer free shipping on all orders and all returns that this effectively functions as an at-home try-on system.

Others offer more official at-home try-on policies. Glasses.com’s “Try Before You Buy” program states, “Choose any five frames and we’ll send them to you absolutely free. Try them out for seven fun-filled days, and don’t worry, the shipping is on us.” Warby Parker also lets shoppers select five pairs they’d like to try on and mails them out for free. The potential customer has five days to try them on, get feedback from Warby Parker on Facebook and mail them back, also for free. Benji Frank’sTry 5 Program also allows customers to try out their selected five pairs of eyeglasses for five days at no cost.

Rivet & Sway’s CEO John Lusk told Vision Monday that in an effort to appeal to its demographic of busy women, the packaging it sends with its at-home try-on program was designed to “inspire and motivate women.” The campaign has been so successful that the company’s packaging is a finalist in Consolidated Graphics’ Encore Awards, which honors print and packaging design. In addition, Rivet & Sway also makes an effort to provide speedy delivery, relying on two-day FedEx both for shipping and returns.

VTO: Virtual Try-On
Considering the fact that the platform online optical retailers are using is itself inherently technologically advanced, it’s no surprise that a number of them offer their customers the opportunity to virtually try on frames right on the website without ever physically touching the product. While some present a two-dimensional image, more sophisticated systems enable customers to view frames on their face in three dimensions.

“We have a patented, virtual try-on technology that allows users to try on over 100,000 frames,” Mark Agnew, CEO of Eyeglasses.com told Vision Monday. “The unique and patented aspect of our VTO is that the frames are scaled to the user’s head (after they have input their PD). So if a frame is too big, the user will see that.” He backs that up with a flexible return policy. “We have a 30-day, no hassle, no restock fee return policy on frames. You can order up to three frames and return them all for a full refund,” said Agnew.

The TruFit online try-on technology at 39DollarGlasses.com also makes it possible for a shopper to see exactly how the frames are going to look and fit on their face before they make their purchasing decision. “Our new TrueFit Technology makes it possible for the shopper to upload a picture of themselves to our website so they can see exactly what our frames look like on their unique face, and this is important because each face is uniquely different,” said Dr. Marc Weinstein, CEO of 39DollarGlasses.com. This tool also allows users to input their pupillary distance, after which the program automatically resizes the frames so users can see exactly how the frames are going to look and fit on their faces.

EyeFly.com describes its virtual try-on program in three steps: “1) hover over a product of your choice and click Try Online; 2) virtually try on your pick by uploading a photo, using one of our models, or using your webcam to take a new snapshot of yourself; 3) send your favorites to your friends.”

GlassesUSA.com offers the Virtual Optician that enables online shoppers to find frames by frame features, frame measurements or even by the customer’s own personality. After the first two self-explanatory categories, the Virtual Optician asks, “What’s your frame personality?” followed by, “In order to choose the right frame to fit your face, you also need to consider that the frame should fit your personality!” It then offers a personality quiz that accounts for a person’s interests and hobbies to determine which frames will best fit their face and personality.


Ditto.com’s 3D virtual fitting technology allows consumers to record a short video with their webcam to create a 3D virtual self (or “ditto”).
3D VTO

While many virtual try-on technologies only allow users to see their faces and selected frames in two dimensions, head on, more advanced systems provide a three-dimensional view. Launched last year, Ditto Technologies Inc. even incorporates this capability into its name. Ditto.com’s 3D virtual fitting technology allows consumers to record a short video with their webcam to create a 3D virtual self (or “ditto”). Users can then try on eyewear in 180-degree virtual views.


 FittingBox enables internet users to virtually see eyewear on their face in high definition on their own photo or in real time through a webcam.
Using augmented reality technology, FittingBox, which is based in France but serves its North American customers through Jobson Healthcare Information, enables internet users to virtually see eyewear on their face in high definition, on their own photo or in real time through a webcam, viewing not only how a particular frame looks head on but also from the sides as well. Called FitPhoto and FitLive, these virtual try-on solutions transform the user’s screen into a virtual mirror. Through a long-term strategic partnership, Jobson is FittingBox’s authorized sales agent to promote, sell and distribute FittingBox virtual try-on solutions in North America.

With FittingBox’s advanced technology and Jobson’s Frames Data group, the two companies will create together the world’s largest database of 360-degree views of eyewear frames to showcase products in digital environments and help increase eyewear sales across all channels.

FittingBox has more than 700 clients around the world, including well-known eyewear brands, leading optical retailers, e-business websites and opticians. Among the North American websites on which the FittingBox technology is available live are WarbyParker.com, EyeFly.com, Eyeconic.com and Fluttereyewear.com.

 
 To get a PD measurement, customers place a compact disc under their chin, take a photo capturing a full headshot, and then e-mail the image to FramesDirect.com.
Face Recognition Tool

Measuring pupillary distance has proven to be one of the stumbling blocks for obtaining accurate measurements for online eyeglasses sales. FramesDirect’s new face recognition tool overcomes that hurdle. Most sites require that the customer input their own PD along with the prescription that they get from their optician.

“There was a huge need for this technology because many customers wanted to purchase prescription eyeglasses and prescription sunglasses, but they didn’t have the appropriate pupil distance measurements to complete their order online, and it was a hassle to get the data,” said Dr. Dhavid Cooper, CEO and co-founder. “Many times, the information is omitted from the prescription, current tools require a simulated PD-ruler, and we receive approximately one out of 10 prescriptions without a PD.”

To get a PD measurement, customers place a compact disc under their chin, take a photo capturing a full headshot, and then e-mail the image to FramesDirect.com.

Talk to a Real Person
To further assist customers, some websites offer real people who act as personal consultants to enhance the online shopping experience. Ritzy is Rivet & Sway’s personal stylist. Women can fill out a questionnaire and submit photos to Ritzy to schedule an appointment, which can be conducted either by telephone, e-mail, instant message chat, on Skype or with FaceTime.

“She’ll recommend the best frame for your face shape, a color and style for a particular occasion, and if we don’t have a frame or style in our collection, we’ll send her examples of other frames,” CEO John Lusk told Vision Monday. “Our ultimate goal is to make a woman more beautiful and brassy. It keeps her coming back to us. Given that we are laser focused on personalization, there’s no way we would consider automating this type of service.”

Benji Frank Eyewear also offers a real person to help consult with purchasing decisions with a recently implemented service called LiveChat. With a simple click, customers can communicate with a representative formally between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. but also any time someone is in the office, which often falls outside of that time range. Co-founder Mohsin Momin told Vision Monday that this provides the “best customer service” because consumers are able to get their questions answered quickly and efficiently without putting in much effort. This allows for virtual online shopping for many hours throughout the day while still providing that personal touch.