August 10, 2010, 1:13 PM

New site brings eyewear into focus mails sample frames to shoppers’ homes.

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Prescription eyewear provider Web Vision Centers Inc. has launched Shoppers select up to four eyeglass frames, which are then mailed to their homes or offices to evaluate for up to seven days free of charge. Shoppers mail the sample frames back to in a prepaid box.

“A lot of consumers want to feel and touch a product before purchase. We’re helping them get comfortable with the idea of buying eyewear online,” says Bob Main, co-founder of Web Vision Centers.

Shoppers secure the trial with a credit card but do not pay if the frames are returned. If the due date passes, shoppers receive an e-mail or phone call urging them to return the frames. In testing different versions of the site for almost a year, Main says less than 1% of shoppers fail to return the frames and that the conversion rate among shoppers who test frames exceeds 50%. Shoppers also can opt to keep a frame and be charged for it if they want to have lenses made elsewhere.

Main, formerly a senior vice president at and, says the benefit of testing frames at home is that consumers can gather the opinions of friends and family about their looks. He considers the site’s main competitors to be opticians and chain eye-care centers like LensCrafters.

Main says the challenge is building awareness among consumers that prescription eyewear can be purchased online. “It’s really a new category. It is wide open for people to come in and dominate it,” he says.

Less than 3% of prescription eyewear is sold online, according to a recent Vision Council Internet Influence Study conducted among 14,000 recent purchasers of eyewear. In the same survey, however, nearly 15% of respondents indicated that they may use the Internet for future eyewear purchases. “The Internet is a big part of the optical industry’s future. We’re just not sure how big,” says Steve Kodey of the Vision Council. 

Web Vision Centers is focused on adding more frames to its inventory and building that awareness. A virtual mirror function—where shoppers can upload photos of themselves and apply frames to those images—should be live within the next 30 days.

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