Years back when my sister got her first pair of glasses, it was out of sheer necessity. Going through that cumbersome process of choosing a frame, getting the lenses fixed, picking it up from the store – A boring necessity!
Something unusual happened a few days back. My sister picked up a pair from Lenskart. Now why is that unusual, you may ask. She is just picking up a pair of glasses she requires in a hassle-free manner. This goes a step ahead. She did this out of pure indulgence! “It was fun!,” she said.
This is the power of branding which Lenskart excelled at. It made eyewear fun and took it beyond its usage for sole medical purpose. The company started as a simple online retailer of contact lenses a decade back and kept enlarging its vision over the years to disrupt the eyewear industry.
Entering a Jumbled Market
Delhi-based Peyush Bansal had the ideal job at Microsoft in the United States. His decision to return in 2007 to pursue entrepreneurial dreams was not taken very well by his family and friends, who expressed their doubts. However, the IIM Bengaluru-graduate took the business plunge and started his first venture – searchmycampus.com, a classified site for students looking for accommodation, internships, books, part-time jobs, carpool and other facilities.
Following this, he ventured into e-commerce and launched online shopping portal Flyrr which exclusively sold eyewear in the US.
Though this business was doing well, Basal faced the problem of shipments and warehousing in the US as the order picked up. At the same time, the opportunity in e-commerce was growing in India, attracting investments. The time was right. In 2010, Bansal founded Valyoo Technologies, the parent company of Lenskart, in India and started selling contact lenses online. He was joined by his co-founders Amit Chaudhary and Sumeet Kapahi.
By the first half of 2011, eye-glasses and sunglasses were included as well.
During these years, the eyewear industry was quite unorganised in India. There were only 10,000 optometrists against the demand for 40,000 while 50% of people needing glasses did not wear one due to lack of access. There was a room for disruption as the disposable income was rising and people were becoming more and more concerned about their eye health.
Besides, the demand for coloured contact lenses rose in 2015 which resulted in entry of new players offering such trend-driven products at reasonable price points.
The average spend on a good pair of spectacles was on a rise due to growing interest in branded products, especially among millennials, which led to the boom. It was the perfect time for Lenskart to make an entry, given the parallel rise of e-commerce. This led to the inception of online eyewear retailers such as Lenskart.com, GKB Opticals and others and the sector started to experience a new wave of innovation and competition to take on traditional retailers. Amongst all, Lenskart has been able to carve a unique brand identity for itself.
The demand for coloured contact lenses rose in 2015 which resulted in entry of new players offering such trend-driven products at reasonable price points.
Making Everyone “Look Good, Feel Good”
Conventionally, eyewear is purchased from a physical store, but Lenskart has been on a mission to change this monotonous game since 2010. The company invaded a market at the time when eyewear was viewed solely as a medical solution. Over the years, Lenskart has managed to change the way eyewear is perceived. It brought in a completely new segment of customers who did not buy an eyewear for medical purposes, but as a fashion accessory. The company made eyewear “cool”.
The brand attempted to present eyewear as a category that makes people look attractive. The communication was also maintained in the same tone and the advertisements/ campaigns revolved around the same. This was coupled with the brand’s discount strategy to increase user base.
Bansal had mentioned that Lenskart campaigns have been about looking good, having fun besides understanding the impact of different pairs of glasses on a person’s face. In terms of branding, the first step was to make eyeglasses a fun accessory and the second was to make the product a fashion purchase.
In a smart move, the brand built an image primarily around “how spectacles don’t have to be a bad thing and not worn out of compulsion”.
The company faced a huge challenge in persuading clients to use the internet store as a substitute for traditional shopping. The company had to break people’s preconceived ideas about eyewear and create faith in them that they sell high-quality products at lower cost than their brick-and-mortar competitors. Second, the company also had to spread awareness around eye care and vision testing.
It introduced a first-of-its-kind ‘home eye checkup’. This offering for its potential consumers helped Lenskart create brand know-how, credibility and word-of-mouth marketing. It further offered the customer a choice of five frames from its website and the company will send someone for a free trial.
The team also started visiting companies and giving free-check up to employees and spreading awareness besides partnering with doctors.
From Digital to Brick-and-Mortar
Lenskart began as an online retailer and expanded into the conventional brick-and-mortar model in 2015, focusing on a larger segment of the market. Going offline improved the brand’s visibility dramatically and added to the trust factor which is a struggle for online businesses. This added to the company’s competitive advantage as well.
It implemented an omni channel distribution approach, which unified the in-store and online shopping experiences. Lenskart has not only established itself as a strong online player but also strengthened its retail presence with 730 brick-and-mortar stores located in 175 cities.
In order to place itself as a mass product and cater the Tier 2, 3 and 4 market, the company came up with Lenskart Lite – a low-cost franchise model which aims to create micro-entrepreneurs who invest a certain amount in a Lenskart franchise. This follows a small format store, with a simple yet appealing design.
Their business strategy is simple: provide a high-quality product at an affordable price. Pricing plays an important role in brand image. Lenskart uses value-based pricing, which means that goods are sold according to how much value they provide to consumers. Depending on the needs of the consumer, services are offered in the value or luxury segments.
Due to a B2C model, Lenskart is able to bypass a certain marginal cost in the supply chain, resulting in a 50% drop in the price of spectacles which the company is able to pass on to its customer in the form of low prices.
The company introduced Aqualens, everyday contact lenses that may be readily discarded. The company wanted to brand contacts as inexpensive and less complex eyewear alternatives and hence introduced this product, costing Rs 40, a pair.
Besides pricing, the company has strengthened its logistics and after-sales support for better customer retention. It has curated a ‘no-questions-asked’ return policy while the return rates are among the lowest in the industry, at around 4%. This further boosts the brand image.
A ‘Fashion Accessory’
Lenskart has done two things smart—craft its identity as a mass market brand and reposition spectacles as a fashion accessory and not just prescription wear. The objective is to increase the number of occasions of purchase and the per person consumption rate of the product.
The customers today check out the latest trends and style on the platform prior to making a purchase decision. It created an ‘endless aisle’, which provides consumers with an infinite number of choices from which to choose, leading to higher customer satisfaction. This is accompanied by in-house designers and stylists who are upbeat with the latest trends and are able deliver what their target audience looks for.
Bansal once mentioned that the company wanted to convey that selecting a pair of glasses is no different from choosing a pair of shoes or apparel!
Now since fashion and style is synonymous to Bollywood in the country, choosing the brand ambassador from the industry was the obvious choice for Lenskart, which got actress Katrina Kaif on board in 2017 and curated a series of campaigns. They created a communication of ‘vast range of trendy eyewear styles which compliment everyday looks’.
They started placing ‘trendy eyewear’ and ‘everyday look’ together to further boost conversions and popped up with varieties like – Cat eyes, round, tortoise, metals, pop colors, transparent, sporty, retro and others. The narrative was to ‘provide Indians an access to high-quality trendy and stylish glasses at affordable prices without compromising on the style quotient’.
In a bid to further connect with the millennials, who have been the major catalyst in the expansion of the eyewear market, Lenskart brought in comedian and influencer Bhuvan Bam in 2019.
Lenskart has not only established itself as a strong online player but also strengthened its retail presence with 730 brick-and-mortar stores located in 175 cities.
Marketing: Making the Right ‘Contacts’
The brand follows an aggressive marketing strategy where it offers its first-time customers their first frame free of cost. (A smart technique to bring users on the platform).
Back when Lenskart had started out, the main objective of the company’s marketing strategy was to change people’s mindset and get them to accept online stores as an alternative way of purchasing. Hence, the initial strategy was based around gaining trust and confidence. It started by establishing communication with people who had shown interest but did not transact due to lack of trust. The company built an open communication channel and started conversations around the product where customers were able to share views, express their thoughts in the process and be virtually engaged rather than just blankly informing them about the product.
This made the brand more human.
Over the years, Lenskart introduced strategies like – Free home eye checkup, emails campaigns/marketing (partnership with netCore), promotional schemes like Paytm vouchers, offline and online ads, digital marketing and brand associations.
It uses the power of data to understand its customers and engage with them and hence partnered with SaaS-based mobile marketing company CleverTap to build rich user profiles using real-time data and send/create more targeted campaigns.
Making Shopping Interactive: Use of Tech
Digital world comes with its shortcomings. The biggest one being the customers’ inability to touch, feel and try out the product.
This led to the evolution of Lenskart’s ‘3D Try-On’ function, which allows users to try glasses on realistic 3D replicas of themselves. This not only makes the purchase process easier but also keeps the customer engaged besides adding the element of ‘style and fun’. Besides this, AI-powered facial mapping and frame recommendation features add on to the
The technology enables the customers to share their framed faces with friends and family and initiate a conversation around their choice. This is part of the whole ‘making the shopping interactive’ experience that Lenskart provides.
Lenskart is up against both offline and online competitors like GKB Opticals, Coolwinks, Specsmakers, Deals4Opticals, Lensbazaar, Vision Express and Titan Eyeplus. At the same time, it is competing with e-commerce behemoths like Amazon and Flipkart.
However, amongst all, Lenskart has managed to create a ‘brand recall’ with its quirky campaigns (digital), offline reach (omnipresent channel), customer engagement (3D Try-On, free check up, glasses etc), price points, product variety and associations. Most importantly, it has managed to retain its position as one of the top eyewear brands in the organised market.
A Clear ‘Vision’
The flagship retail entity – Lenskart Solutions Pvt Ltd – turned profitable in FY20 with a profit of Rs 18 crore on revenues of Rs 964 crore.
Lenskart entered the unicorn club in 2020, after raising $231 Million from SoftBank Vision Fund II, Lightbulb Ltd as part of its Series G funding round. The company has raised $459.6 Million to date, the recent one being a $95 Million investment from global investment firm KKR via a secondary stake acquisition.
With this latest development, the company is looking forward to scale its operations overseas and enhance its digital offerings to augment customers’ virtual and omni-store experience.