All Aboard the Warby Parker Marketing Train … er, Bus

Posted by on November 5, 2012 in | 47 comments

This weekend I took Caroline and Charlie on their first Patco train ride into Philly. We didn’t have a very clear itinerary in mind. The mission was simply to get out of the house for a few hours, so Ana, who was post-call, could get some shut eye.

After a thrilling, bench-seat-thumping ride into the city, we found ourselves wandering over to the Warby Parker Class Trip bus parked on Rittenhouse. Not exactly the most kid-friendly destination, but my startup fanboy curiosity got the better of me. Why, I’ve been wondering, would an ecommerce giant like Warby Parker need to do a mobile road show?

I’m a huge fan of Warby Parker. On a meta level, I’m inspired by their bold choice to take on eyewear monopolist Luxottica with $95-flat-fee pricing. I’m crazy about their at-home trial program — from the selection of 5 frames online to the sensual unboxing of their silk-box mailers. In terms of UX, I’m not sure any e-commerce retailer comes close. And their virtual try-on service, where you can model a pair of specs using your webcam, is nifty. Oh yeah, the glasses themselves are pretty sharp, too.

But despite all my enthusiasm, and two batches of at-home trials, I couldn’t pull the trigger on a pair. Yes, the frames are stylish, but uh, maybe a bit too much. It took a bricks and mortar store with the full Warby Parker line on display (Art in the Age, in Old City Philadelphia) for me to finally fall in love with one of their frames.

So for this reason alone, I was already pre-sold on having real showrooms for WP. But why throw wheels on it and travel from city to city for the Warby Parker Class Trip? Turns out creating a showroom like this in high-traffic spots like Rittenhouse Square becomes a kind of spectacle. The bus was packed — a good thing, especially when Caroline and Charlie started roughhousing with the specs. They had a photo booth for momentos (and reminders of which frames you should buy). And hey, no rent!

Warby Parker isn’t the only e-retailer pulling a clever online-to-offline-to-online magic trick. Walking back along Chestnut, I passed by another Philly startup that’s crushing it: Kembrel. Not only is Kembrel one of the best currators of flash-sale accessories and clothes, but they made the smart move to locate cheap, unrented storefront space to set up quasi pop-up shops. A great way to get out the word on their business, but also a physical spot to house their inventory. I’m not all that familiar with the in’s and out’s of their business, but I believe they handle fulfillment right out of the Chestnut Street store.

Lately we’ve been taking to the streets to promote SnipSnap offline, too. We started at the Cherry Hill Mall, handing out coupon bundle cards — “$200 in coupons for stores at this mall! Scan this code to import them.”

So far 25% of the people we hand these cards to download the app and import the bundle. That’s our highest conversion rate of any marketing tactic … by far. Of course, our poor intern was also kicked out of the mall one time, so we may need to revise the strategy soon. Kiosks? Giveaways?

Whatever we end up doing, I just hope we can be 1/2 as effective at creating a spectacle (and indoctrinating evangelists) as Warby Parker and its bus.


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