Clearly, seeing is believing! Physicality from Eyewear

Clearly is a direct-to-consumer online vision care retailer operating in North America, Europe, and Australia. Its products include made-to-order prescription eyewear (glasses and sunglasses), contact lenses and vision care accessories. Headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, the company was founded in 2000 as Coastal Contacts by brother-sister duo Roger and Michaela Hardy and currently has 600+ employees.

Clearly began as an online contact lens distributor and moved into the eyeglasses market in 2008. They source parts from manufacturers globally but assemble and ship from their own facilities. In January 2012, Clearly shipped over 80K prescription eyeglasses, setting a record for online sales in any one month. In 2012, the company had sold more than $1.2B online in retail eyewear since inception and had served more than 5M customers.

In 2014, Clearly was acquired by French lens manufacturer Essilor, and in 2018 Essilor subsequently merged with Italian eyewear giant Luxottica Group, whose other brands include LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Ray-Ban and Oakley.

Clearly is an excellent example of analog resistance to digital solutions. Valued at $95B (2016), the global eyewear market is huge and growing ($115B in 2017, projected at $165B by 2022). Although growing (3.2% in 2013 to 4.2% in 2016), online channels capture only a fraction of the market.

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Although this digital option presents a significant benefit in its affordability, the traditional, analog in-store shopping experience has successfully resisted the online model with its tangibility and excitability.

Indeed, through its physicality the in-store eyewear retail experience seems superior and preferable to customers, offering feelings and a psycho-emotional connection that aren’t easily reproduced online. Shopping in-store offers the opportunity to quickly and easily try on and compare multiple glasses of various styles (shapes, sizes, colors), brands, and materials. It satisfies a desire to touch and hold and gives customers confidence once the “right” pair is found to fit. Similar to clothing, customers feel good having identified eyewear that is comfortable, functional, and hopefully fashionable.

Clearly could implement these strategies to capture greater market share:

  1. Highlight the key benefits of shopping online: affordability (savings from retail stores result in lower prices), convenience (direct shipping to customers vs. store delivery with pickup) and variety (stores limited by inventory vs. full lines available online).
  2. Promote aspects of the digital experience that are superior to in-store, such as “virtual try-on” (upload photo to preview all products on one’s face)
  3. Promote luxury brands available for purchase. While Clearly has its own house brands, it may capture more share by appealing to customers who prefer recognizable and established names.
  4. Promote made-to-order product features. Paired with affordable pricing, prescription glasses can be transformed from vision care solutions into fashion accessories. Wearers can have many pairs, for every look and occasion. Glasses let customers stand out with a sense of uniqueness and personal style.
  5. Operate a physical retail store to sell select products and offer customer support. This will validate Clearly as a “real” retailer selling tangible products, and reassure customers who remain apprehensive of online shopping.
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