My vision prescription changed recently, and I was in the market to buy some new glasses. I was intrigued by the potential for buying glasses online, both for convenience and price. But, I had no idea what it meant to purchase glasses online. I had only ever bought glasses in a physical store, trying them on in front of a mirror while receiving semi-helpful guidance from a store employee. And, there are countless online retailers to consider (and yes, even Amazon has some options). Where does one start?
Knowing so little about buying glasses online, I started visiting a bunch of different online eyeglass vendors’ websites. As I browsed their sites, I started cataloging what they highlighted as features. For example, some vendors were keen to advertise their try-on-at-home program, where you are sent frames to try on at home before deciding on a pair to buy. Others touted low prices, while still others advertised their frames’ quality or designer pedigree.
Once I figured out the landscape of features, I set to work. My wife makes fun of me for it, but whenever I research making a new purchase I build a spreadsheet to organize my information. In this case, my spreadsheet had 14 rows and 9 columns. Each row was an online vendor. Each column was a question I was trying to answer. Questions included the following:
- What’s the price range for the glasses this vendor offers?
- What’s the return policy for this vendor?
- Does this vendor offer a try-at-home option?
- How stylish are this vendors’ frame options?
- Any other perks from this vendor?
Then, I started sorting my spreadsheet, ranking the best answers to the top. I landed on a few of my top vendors based on what I thought the most important questions were. Then, and only then, I started actively shopping for glasses.
The key to figuring out what glasses to buy wasn’t flipping endlessly through pictures of frames until I spotted one I liked and then clicked on a buy button. With that technique, I may have picked a nice looking pair of glasses that fit terribly from a vendor with a bad return policy, and ended up dissatisfied. Instead, I identified what was important to me first and then figured out who could give me what I valued most. And I did so by identifying what questions mattered the most to me.
The Right Questions
Imagine we’re building a new online eyeglasses company. If we just took a bricks-and-mortar shop, cataloged its inventory, and put it online, we’d most likely fail. Why? After all, we’ve taken an existing product (a glasses shop) and added a feature (a buy button online). Incremental improvement is better, right?
Here’s why that idea would likely fail:
- Not understanding what customers value: people who are interested in buying glasses online probably don’t value the same things as people interested in buying glasses in a store. For example, people buying online are probably motivated more by convenience and price, while those buying in person are probably motivated more by personal service and the ability to do quick, in-person adjustments and returns.
- Asking the wrong questions: if you ask people visiting an eyeglass store what problems they see, they may say “needs better hours” or “needs more employees to serve me without waiting”, as they think about how to incrementally improve the existing experience. The focus should be on what customers want, not on how to improve what already exists.
- Not understanding what’s possible: a storefront is a decades-old, fairly refined way of selling glasses. Customers or shop employees probably won’t think of things like a try-at-home program (the glasses are right there, try them on!) or a way to find glasses by entering dimensions of your current glasses and clicking “find similar” (just scan the store for similar frames, or ask a store employee!).
Instead, we should talk to people who are buying glasses, understand what they like and don’t like, show them some ideas about buying glasses online, and watch and listen to their reactions. As we amass more and more information, we can start figuring out the questions to ask (is a super easy return policy important? what’s the most you’d pay? are designer brands important? what do you think of this crazy augmented reality prototype for trying glasses on?).
Once you have your questions, you still have to decide which ones are most important to your target customers. Once you have that, you’re on your way to figuring out how to deliver something to make customers happy.
And yes, go ahead and make that giant spreadsheet to organize your thoughts. I won’t criticize.