eCommerce Insiders

Best E-Commerce Websites: What Retailers Can Learn from Warby Parker

Warby Parker – the online eyewear manufacturer and retailer – inspire gushes of admiration and that thrilling sense of entrepreneurial success – amongst their legions of online followers.

In a David-and-Goliath ecommerce startup story, four New York college graduates took on an industry monopoly to recreate how eyeglasses are priced and sold to the masses. Recognizing that almost all eyewear is manufactured by the one Italian company and then sold at 500%+ markups via opticians, Warby Parker’s founders built a business with independent eyewear manufacture, sourced materials, designed the eyewear and – at the center of their business model – built an online retail presence to sell directly to customers.

Within three weeks of their website launch, they had achieved their first-year sales goals and have since gone on to raise $50 million in investor funding.

Who can learn most from the Warby Parker model?

All online businesses are looking to improve conversion rate optimization. While the Warby Parker business model straddles both product creation and manufacturing as well as online sales, there are many other types of online retailers who can benefit from insights into what made Warby Parker one of the best e-commerce websites of today.

Anyone running an ecommerce website can gain insights from Warby Parker, but especially:

  • Brands that are producing a product and selling it online
  • Online fashion retail
  • Online retailers focused on consumers aged 18 – 45 years

Branding and PR

1. Tell your brand story from the get-go

The Warby Parker name and story behind its creation sum up the whole brand philosophy. Based on a mix of Jack Kerouac characters, the name resonates the brand’s story and personality.

On their website, they explain why they looked to Jack Kerouac for inspiration when selecting a business name:

With this simple branding exercise of naming their website and business, they have successfully summed up their whole ethos and created a strong connection with their target market audience. The name and story behind Warby Parker suggest:

  • an independent streak
  • American classicism/vintage style
  • a creative/curious mindset.

These are key elements in how the Warby Parker brand is seeking to position itself in the online market.

While some online retailers have chosen brand names with a domain name URL that matches a keyword in their industry, the power of doing this to gain high search results is expected to diminish. Google continues to phase out exact domain names as a favorable search criteria, instead giving more power to well-reputed brands in each industry.

How this is useful

  • Think through the story you are telling your online audience about your business.
  • Create something memorable by choosing a name that resonates your ethos and your target customer’s interests.
  • Use popular culture as an inspiration.

2. Be consistent

Warby Parker extends this naming motif throughout their product range. Each pair of glasses is named after a vintage American literary character, for example. In addition, the site has a consistent use of color, fonts and layout which helps reinforce its position as one of the best ecommerce websites in the eyes of the customers. For the most part, the site uses liberal use of white space to create an uncluttered look, and restricts color use to crisp shades of gray, charcoal hues and a splash of light blue. Only the photos of the glasses and photos of people wearing the glasses are presented in full-color.

To maintain this consistency, Warby Parker uses tools including a style guide booklet that is given to anyone involved in the website design and maintenance, and the business invests time in training new designers in understanding the online look and style.

This has helped the brand build trust amongst their online audience. Unconsciously, customers viewing the website tend to feel that it is a more reputable, stable operation as it maintains a consistency across all its pages. This sends signals to a customer that they can be trusted with online transactions, returns policies, and the like, much more so than a site with different font headings, page layouts and writing tones.

How this is useful

  • Create a style and branding guide and page templates for your ecommerce website so that you can maintain a consistent brand image. This should include copies of your logo, the color palette you want to use for your website, font sizes and types for headings, subheadings and various copy sections (product descriptions, captions, side bars, etc).
  • As you grow, document your “brand story” and make sure each page in some way references or draws the reader back to an understanding of your unique selling point.
  • Use this brand story to check that all copy fits the voice and personality of your business.

Product range

3. Tie-in to trends

Ecommerce websites need to be running promotions and special deals fairly regularly to appeal to those customers who are considering purchase, but just need that extra reason to get them to take their shopping cart to the checkout.

Using holiday seasons is a given in all types of retail, but clever retailers are tapping into the zeitgeist of cultural trends to connect with their target audience.

best ecommerce websites - warby parkerRecently, for example, the first Warby Parker home page slider has a promotion for a limited edition 1920s glasses design selection, coinciding with the global release of The Great Gatsby. While not specifically referencing the movie, the website has managed to tap into growing interest in vintage design, a 1920s aesthetic, literary culture and a youthful party audience looking for unique fashion accessories.

How this is useful

  • Look for cultural trends that your target market are talking about and try and tie-in promotions around some of the best of these, in addition to having promotions for holidays (like Thanksgiving) or large events (like the Olympics).
  • Create specific sales pages with curated items or particular products that match this trend and have a slider link from your home page.

Ecommerce platform

4. Manage your platform

According to Brian Magdia, Online Media Manager for Warby Parker, the ecommerce site was built using Netsuite’s ecommerce platform. In November 2012, Warby Parker moved their platform to Magento.

How this is useful

  • Be prepared to upgrade your systems as you grow. For example, you may start out as a WordPress site with plug-ins for various ecommerce functionality. As your ecommerce business attracts more customers and continues to grow, you may need to look at upgrading your site to a dedicated ecommerce platform provider.
  • Get to know your options and read Ecommerce Insiders regularly to learn more about each platform and cloud-based app solution.

5. Create flow

On the Warby Parker website, there is a clearly increasing product detail flow as readers drill down further into the product catalog.

Best Ecommerce websites Warby Parker3

  • At the top level, readers can choose between frames for prescription lenses or as clear-lens fashion accessories.
  • At the product category level, readers can see the full range of products available. By clicking on a specific frame, readers get detailed product information.
  • On the product page, a purchasing side-bar moves with the screen, so as you roll-down for more information, you can always see how to immediately purchase the item.
  • At the bottom of each product page are recommendations for three similar frames that encourages shoppers to keep browsing if they don’t want to immediately buy the selection they have navigated to.

How this is useful

  • Make it easy for customers to browse your products by offering catalog pages that let readers scan a range of your merchandise at the same time.
  • Create specific product pages for each item in your inventory and consider using widgets or design elements that will allow shoppers to click and buy from wherever they are on the webpage, without having to scroll to the bottom or back up to the top.
  • Reduce dead-ends in your ecommerce website and make sure that you encourage browsers to move to another of your product pages if the item is not exactly what they are looking for.

Customer experience

6. Know your audience

Warby Parker’s main target market could be described as “hipsters”: young, fashion-conscious, digital natives with a strong social conscience and independent spirit and a hint of rebellion. One of the reasons why Warby Parker is ranked amongst the best e-commerce websites is because it plays to this audience throughout its consistent branding. On a deeper level, Warby Parker also aligns its’ business values with those of the audience. A philanthropic venture initiated by the company gives a free pair of eyeglasses to the not-for-profit VisionSpring for every pair sold. Warby Parker also strives to be a quality workplace employer and has a zero carbon emissions policy.

How this is useful

  • Many target markets want to know that their purchases are being made with a socially responsible business. Digital natives, millenials, and Generation X-ers are particularly interested in making sure they are buying from businesses who also give back to their community. Luxury buyers are also more interested in buying goods with some ecological credential or social value.
  • Make sure you share any details of how your business has contributed to your local community or to a social justice or environmental cause.

7. Answer your audience

As Warby Parker has grown in profit, it has reinvested this money into creating new ecommerce experiences that heighten the customer experience.

But at the heart of it, their customer response commitments are just as important as their try-at-home policy and having an online tool where you can upload a photo of your face and have the different designer eyeglasses photoshopped in.

Warby Parker have a commitment to answering every phone call, email, Facebook post and tweet. This online business knows that the customer engagement experience is the central way to build trust, brand loyalty and reputation.

How this is useful

  • Make sure you have ways for your customers to contact you – via Twitter, Facebook, email, phone or other online format – visibly displayed on your website.
  • Make a commitment to respond to all queries within a given time frame, and aim to give exemplary customer service.
  • Brainstorm ideas for how you can help customers see your products in their hands: short videos, interactive tabs that let you see each product in the full range of color options, swatch kits and lookbooks… the list is limited only by your imagination.

Will You Be Ranked One of the Best E-Commerce Websites of Tomorrow?

You don’t need to be manufacturing your product from scratch or taking on an industry heavyweight like warby Parker has done to build a successful online retail business. Learn from the success stories like Warby Parker and you can build your own audience and offer a rewarding online experience, that leads to increased sales.

If you have an online retail business you would like to have profiled in our vendors section, please contact us for an interview, or let us know which websites you would like to see profiled in the comments below.

Mark Boyd is a freelance writer based in Barcelona, focusing on the ways we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly for Programmable Web

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