Can You "Do Good" And Survive As A Company, Too?

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warby-parker-1Photo: Courtesy of Warby Parker.
“Warby Parker: Over 1 Million Served,” displayed placards outside the eyewear brand’s outposts on Wednesday. Okay, that’s an anecdote from our WP fanfic, but it’s rooted in reality — Warby announced that it has allocated 1 million pairs of glasses to people in need through its Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program.

Outlined on its website, the plan begins with shoppers: “You buy a pair of Warby Parker glasses….We tally up the number of glasses sold and make a monthly donation to our nonprofit partners, which covers the cost of sourcing that number of glasses.” The nonprofit then teaches women and men in developing countries to administer eye exams and sell glasses at affordable prices. Do the math, and it means you've collectively bought a million pairs of Warby Parker glasses — 500,000 in the past year, reports Fashionista, noting the brand’s incredible success since its launch in 2010. Co-CEO Dave Gilboa told the site that e-commerce accounts for most of WP’s sales; though he’s been “blown away” by the action at the company’s five freestanding shops. He added that the frames’ cost (about $100 a pop) helps purchasers “think of them as a fashion accessory, and we have seen that…a growing percentage of our customers are buying multiple pairs.” And, “multiple” can be 20 to 30 per annum.

However, self-proclaimed WP super-fan and WIRED staff writer, Marcus Wohlsen, asks, “Is Warby Parker too Good to Last?” Although the company boasts $115 million in venture capital funding, he's concerned about it's viability. “Much more than its charitable donations, I worry about free shipping,” he writes, and complimentary returns when someone receives, say, four shipments of glasses and keeps a single pair (cough, Marcus). “At Amazon, shipping — including unlimited two-day shipping through Amazon Prime — costs the company billions annually,” he continues. “While Amazon appears to be one of the most powerful companies in the world, its profits are slim to none.”

Warby appears to be bucking the norm as a tech-world favorite lacking any tremendous technological achievements and providing “what customers experience as the rare feat of not sucking,” Wohlsen concludes. Couldn’t have said it better myself if I had on my non-prescription smart glasses. (WIRED)