Neil Blumenthal, Co-CEO, co-founder, Warby Parker

The eyewear maker’s co-chief talks about retail and design

Warby Parker gets a lot of attention for being a pioneer in e-commerce, in this case with eyewear. Do you like shopping?
I generally do like shopping. However, a lot of my shopping experiences suck, and so we’ve tried to learn from those.

What are some of the mediocrities in retail?
There’s not always a ton of thoughtfulness. You might enter a store, and the associate doesn’t acknowledge you. Or they acknowledge you too much, and being a typical native New Yorker, sometimes I don’t want to be talked to.

Is design central to what you’re doing at Warby Parker?
Absolutely. The glasses are just a piece of the entire experience. We design experiences. We train our team to be emotionally aware. When you walk into our flagship store, it’s not about, “Hey, buy this pair of glasses at $95.” You’re stepping into this world like the literary life well-lived, one steeped in fun, creativity, and purpose. We have 18-foot-high shelves made to look like book stacks with rolling ladders.

What does the future look like?
The future of retail is the convergence of brick-and-mortar and e-commerce. We plan to roll out new stores and make them digital-ready. In our flagship store, you can book an appointment online to get an eye exam. When you enter the store, we have a digital screen that shows when your appointment is. It’s modeled after a train station board, and every 15 minutes it updates and goes, “Click-click-click-click-click.” We have a photo booth that e-mails you the photos and also prints out two copies for you and a friend. You check out on a tablet.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.