Rose colored glasses: raises $12.5 million to sell prescription eyewear online
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Photo Credit: GlassesUSA

At present, only 3 percent of prescription glasses are purchased online. The company’s funders are predicting that number will magnify

If you’re like the 64 percent of Americans who wear glasses, you likely own one or two pairs that you replace every 2-3 years. That’s because a pair of high quality prescription glasses and frames can set you back $300-400.

But online retailers like hope to change all that. The company, which just announced $12.5 million in Series A financing led by Viola Private Equity, offers 50-60 percent discounts on the offline price of prescription eyewear. And GlassesUSA CEO Daniel Rothman predicts sales will grow like crazy in the next few years.

“Eyeglasses are a $1 billion dollar market in the United States, but currently only 3 percent of the purchases are online, compared to 20 percent for contact lenses. That number is going to grow phenomenally,” Rothman tells Geektime.

By way of comparison, Rothman cites online shoe retailer “Ten years ago, no one bought shoes online. Today, 7-8 percent of shoe purchases are online and Zappos controls 10 percent of that market.”

GlassesUSA, he says, is a leading online eyewear retailer with tens of millions of dollars in revenue per year, and will use its funding to solidify its position to become the Zappos of the eyewear industry, he hopes. The company was founded in 2009 by Rothman, COO Eldad Rothman, and CTO Roy Yamner.

Blurry vision?

But eyeglasses are not like shoes. They’re a higher priced item and highly customized. What if you buy a pair of glasses and you find, to your dismay, that they keep slipping off your nose? Or the prescription is off? Surely your glasses are one item you want to buy in person: Is it possible that the company’s vision of the future is blurry?

Rothman says that customers are drawn to GlassesUSA by the steep discounts, which the company is able to offer through economies of scale, tech streamlining and eliminating the middleman: GlassesUSA has its own in-house optometrist lab, located in Ramat Gan, Israel. But customers stay because of the company’s cutting edge e-commerce site – which features an augmented reality virtual mirror where you can try several different frames on your face – then share the images on social media to get your friends’ feedback. The PD, or distance between your pupils, is part of the prescription from an optometrist, and can just as easily be customized online, says Rothman.

Once an order is placed, Rothman explains that, “We can produce a pair of glasses in four minutes. We get orders at night in Israel — within an hour it’s been manufactured, and within three hours it’s on a plane to the customer.” GlassesUSA currently exports to 90 countries, and the ordering and manufacturing process is largely automated, occurring 24/7. Of the company’s 70 employees, 50 work directly on the e-commerce platform.

The vanity effect

But Rothman believes that GlassesUSA can disrupt the eyewear industry in another way as well.

For instance, you may be surprised to know that in 1930, the average American woman owned a mere nine outfits. Today, with the rise of fast fashion and online shopping, the average woman purchases 60 new clothing items each year.

In other words, instead of spending less on clothes, their cheapness has led us simply to buy more.

Rothman thinks that glasses are also about to be transformed from a practical medical device to a fashion accessory. In the age of the selfie, his prediction may be correct.

“The optical industry has not undergone a major change in decades,” Rothman said in a statement. “We believe the optical industry is being disrupted in a similar way … glasses will no longer be an expensive medical product purchased every two years, but a fashion accessory purchased seamlessly online in a variety of colors and styles, just like shoes or any other accessory.”

Asked about his competition, namely companies like Warby Parker, Rothman says that Warby Parker is a niche site that caters to New Yorkers in their 30’s while other discount sites sell $7-8 glasses from China.

GlassesUSA, by contrast, sells everything, from sunglasses to bifocals to children’s glasses to designer frames and its own in-house brand, he says.

But if he is right, and prescription eyewear is truly ready for its e-commerce breakout, then competition notwithstanding, there’s probably room enough for everyone.

As Ayal Shiran, Partner at Viola Private Equity put it in a statement, “GlassesUSA operates in a rapidly growing market that is ripe for disruption. This is Viola PE’s first investment out of our second fund and the first investment in the e-commerce market, an area that we are following carefully. We support GlassesUSA’s founding team in their goal of making GlassesUSA the market leader in this fast-growing multibillion dollar space.”

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Simona Weinglass

About Simona Weinglass

I’m an old-school journalist who recently decided to pivot into high-tech. I work in high-tech marketing as well as print and broadcast media covering politics, business culture and everything in between.

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