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How Warby Parker Learned to Love Good Old-Fashioned Retail Stores

"We were never so dogmatic to say, 'No bricks and mortar, ever!'"

Max Jeffrey for Re/code

For its first three years of life, Warby Parker sold prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses, and it only did so online. Inspired by shoe seller Zappos, it pitched itself as a customer service-driven answer to the allegedly overpriced lenses sold in stores by competitors like Luxottica.

But as Warby Parker co-CEOs Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal explained on the latest episode of Re/code Decode, this week guest-hosted by Re/code Senior Commerce Editor Jason Del Rey, early online success didn’t mean they had to stay online forever. Since 2013, the company has opened 27 retail stores, with 20 more on the way; it calls these outlets “highly profitable,” and also credits them with driving additional online sales.

“We can’t be married to a particular mode of selling,” Blumenthal said. “We were never so dogmatic to say, ‘No bricks and mortar, ever!'”

“We thought it would be okay if it broke even,” Gilboa said of the first permanent store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. “But since that store has opened and since every store has opened, we’ve been blown away.”

Gilboa added that the stores work because consumers don’t think of offline vs. online shopping as discrete worlds, the way people in the industry do. Instead, they latch on to brands such as Warby Parker and seek them out wherever is most convenient.

Max Jeffrey for Re/code

On the new podcast, he and Blumenthal also discussed how the Internet has made it easier to understand that “the eyewear industry is kind of messed up,” why they’re not planning to go public anytime soon and the evolving nature of online commerce.

“E-commerce was desktop commerce, and then mobile commerce,” Blumenthal said. “We know in a couple years, it’s not going to be just mobile. It might be VR.”

For more about the future of e-commerce, don’t miss Jason Del Rey’s Code/Commerce Series event, May 17 in Las Vegas:

Listen to or download the episode in the audio player above, or click here to subscribe to Re/code Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher on iTunes; you can also find Re/code Decode on TuneIn, Stitcher and Clammr.

Next Monday, Kara Swisher will be back to interview Khosla Ventures partner Keith Rabois. And on Thursday, don’t miss Re/code Media with Peter Kafka. This week, Peter talks to New York Times Magazine staff writer Jenna Wortham. Click here to subscribe to Re/code Media on iTunes.

Kara will return this Friday on Too Embarrassed to Ask, her podcast with Lauren Goode of The Verge. Click here to subscribe to Too Embarrassed to Ask on iTunes right now. And you should also check out Re/code Replay, an archive of audio content from our events and interviews by Kara Swisher, Walt Mossberg, Peter Kafka, Ina Fried and more. To subscribe to that, click right here.

You can follow @Recode on Twitter for the latest on upcoming guests.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on iTunes — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara. You can also suggest guests for the show on Twitter, and we’ll do our best to nab them for a Red Chair interview.

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