If there’s anything we’ve become more reliant on in the past year with the pandemic, it’s online shopping. But when it comes to things like buying a new pair of glasses, many of us are still used to going to a brick-and-mortar shop, finding our favorite frames and placing an order for our prescription.
That said, in recent years, online eyecare companies are making it possible to purchase everything we need from the comfort of our own homes. The vision care market which was valued at $125.16 billion in 2018 is projected to reach $192.85 billion by 2026, according to Fortune Business Insights.
One company in the game is LA-based startup Lensabl. They launched the business in 2015 and started offering replacement lenses for the frames you already own. From there, they added frames, contacts and even online vision tests for those in need of a new prescription.
“Lensabl is your one-stop shop for all things optical online, you can really think of us as the online version of an optical retail store,” said co-founder and CEO Andy Bilinsky. “We sell lenses, we sell frames, we sell contacts, we do an online vision test, we’ve got a variety of cool features that really emulate an in store experience as best as possible.”
Bilinsky adds that the motivation to start the company came after his partner and co-founder Mike Rahimzadeh saw the success of Warby Parker, an online retailer of prescription glasses.
“The narrative with Warby Parker was: why buy a frame at the doctor for five times the price when you could buy it only for a fifth ?” Bilinsky said. “They were raising a lot of money and becoming very popular, selling high-end frames with prescription lenses for under 100 bucks. That resonated with us really well.”
After seeing how Warby Parker operated, Bilinsky founded the eyewear brand Ivory Mason in 2011 and started out by selling frames, leaving people to figure out how to get their lenses replaced.
Lensabl came into the picture only once Bilinsky and Rahimzadeh sold Ivory Mason in 2015. The goal was to cut out the middleman and make it easier to order prescription lenses for any frame at a fraction of the cost offered by doctors and traditional optical retailers.
So, they built a platform that allows customers to send in their frames and get new lenses from one of their lab partners. Lenses start at about $77.
“If you have a 20-year-old frame that you love and need new lenses for it for any particular reason, we can make them,” Bilinsky said. “This process involves coming to our site, uploading your prescription and selecting the lenses you want. We then send you a box, you send your frames into our lab and we make the new lenses the same way that you’d get them from another vendor anywhere else.”
Since then, Lensabl has also added eye exams to their services, ones that people can take directly on their website lensabl.com. While it’s not an FDA approved service, Bilinsky explained that they work with ophthalmologists to have new prescriptions approved for customers.
“The pandemic really forced people to have to look for online solutions, because a lot of eyewear stores and doctor’s offices had to close down,” Bilinsky said. “So, while the online penetration of this market is still relatively slow because of the nature of the product, I think going forward we’re going to see that expedite because of all the great functionality and tools that exist online.”
And while educating people on the benefits of online vision care is still a hurdle, Bilinsky adds that Lensabl experienced substantial growth during the pandemic from people who were googling how to get a new pair of prescription glasses, without having to go to a retail store.
That growth has now been followed up by a new service called Lensabl+, a vision benefits platform that offers plans for those without an employer-sponsored option. The plans are sold direct-to-consumer and fully redeemable online.
“While most people think of their vision plan that you might get from an employer as insurance, it’s truly just a benefit program. It gives you access to a network of doctors, discounts for products and services,” Bilinsky said. “So, knowing that individuals are spending more time at home, that digital is becoming a much larger part of their purchase behavior, even in our space, it behooved us to figure out a way that we could put together a more transparent, far less expensive offering that included all of the products and services our customers need.”
The plans can be customized to each individual’s needs and start at about $8/a month for glasses and $22/a month for glasses and contact lenses.
Over the past year, Bilinsky said they’ve raised $5 million from investors to support Lensabl+. Moving forward, the goal for them is to partner with employers who want to use their platform to offer eyecare benefits to their employees.
As for what’s next ? Bilinsky said that right now they’re focused on making sure their platform creates a better experience for the end user.
“We believe that people should be able to see, and it should not break the bank,” he said. “And some of that has to happen from anywhere at any time, at the best price. So, as long as we continue focusing on that goal, I think from a business perspective, we’re going to be in a really good spot.”