Nearly a decade after Warby Parker disrupted the sleepy world of prescription eyewear, it’s expanding into a new category: contact lenses. Today, Warby Parker is launching Scout, a brand of daily contacts. You can now stop by a Warby Parker store to get an optical exam, a new pair of glasses, and a three-month supply of lenses in one fell swoop.
The move makes a lot of sense for Warby Parker, which launched in 2010 with $95 frames (including prescription lenses) and an innovative free Home Try-On program to make it easy for customers to select the right frames. The company expanded into sunglasses and children’s eyeglasses, and then began rolling out comprehensive eye exam services at its brick and mortar stores. Earlier this year, Warby Parker debuted an iOS app called Virtual Try-On that allows customers to see how different frame styles look on their faces, using Apple’s AR technology.
Scout is the first new brand that Warby Parker has launched since its founding and could be an important area of growth in the years to come. The company has a valuation of $1.75 billion and has raised nearly $300 million in funding.
Neil Blumenthal, Warby Parker’s cofounder and co-CEO, says that the company’s internal research revealed that many customers wear both contacts and glasses on a regular basis, which meant that they had to visit different eye doctors and eyewear stores to meet all their vision needs. Releasing contact lenses seemed like the natural next step for Warby Parker. “Our goal has always been to give our customers the most seamless, consumer-centric experience possible when it comes to buying vision products,” he says. “Historically, shopping for optical products hasn’t been a particularly fun experience for customers, and our mission has always been to change that.”
To make these contact lenses, Warby Parker has partnered with a Japanese manufacturer that uses Centraform technology, which makes for smoother edges that you’re less likely to feel on your eye. A three-month’s supply of contacts (a 90-day pack) costs $110, or less than $1.25 a day, which is about on par with other daily contact brands like Bausch + Lomb and Hubble, a direct-to-consumer contact lens brand that launched in 2016. But in addition to Scout, Warby Parker will also sell a variety of other contact lens brands, since some customers are comfortable with a particular brand.
Unsurprisingly for a brand that invests heavily in branding and packaging, the Warby Parker team developed unique packaging for Scout. The lenses come in a flat pack that takes up less space than traditional contact blister packs and uses almost 80% less packaging. And no matter how you open the Scout pack, the outer surface of the lens will face up, reducing the need to touch the inner surface. “We liked this design because it’s much more hygienic,” says Blumenthal. “It means your finger never actually makes contact with the part of the contact that touches your eye.”
Moving into the contact lens market may prove to be a smart business strategy for the nearly decade-old company. While customers buy new glasses every few years, they will need to come back to the Warby Parker website regularly to stock up on new lenses, increasing their lifelong value to the company. Scout might also attract some customers who have never shopped at Warby Parker before. “When we thought about scaling as a business, we focused on going deep into the optical category, rather than entering different categories like, say, fashion or watches,” Blumenthal says. “We believe in slow, steady growth.”