Zenni Optical

Michael Tchong

A conversation about innovation inevitably sparks visions of Apple, AirBnB or Uber. However, there are many unsung heroes who practice the art of efficiency innovation extremely well. In prescription eyewear retailing, Zenni Optical has carved a sterling reputation for itself.

While many think of Warby Parker when discussing eyeglasses innovation, if you want to save a bundle and receive your new pair of frames extremely fast, no one does it better than San Rafael, Calif.-based Zenni:

  • Virtual modeling – Like most optical e-merchants, Zenni uses a combination of photo uploads and virtual modeling to judge the looks of frames. It’s not as cool as Glasses.com’s iPad app, but it’s functional.
  • Fast eye fashion – Customers who opt to pay $19 for express shipping are promised shipping in “6-8 business days.” But in practice, eyeglasses can be received as quickly as three business days, flown all the way from China. That’s a delivery performance even Apple can’t match, especially considering this process involves a custom prescription.
  • Pricing – Zenni charges as little as $7 for a pair of frames and as little as $28 for progressive bi-focals, resulting in a pair of prescription eyeglasses with prices that are simply unheard of in optometric circles. This low pricing is possible because Zenni operates its own 248,000-square-feet manufacturing facility.

Part of the reason why eyewear retailing is ripe for disruption is due to the fact that just one company, Luxottica of Italy, dominates much of the U.S. retail market. Luxottica CEO Andrea Guerra claimed in a 2012 CBS interview that half a billion people were wearing its glasses, which is equal to a 12% share of 4.2 billion wearers.

Zenni was founded in 2003 by CEO Tibor Láczay and COO Julia Zhen as 19dollareyeglasses.com. As The New York Times reports, its most expensive titanium frames ($46) would have cost $250 or more if made in Italy by a designer company.

We’ve seen the future and it’s 20/20.

Zenni Optical Inc.

Website: http://www.zennioptical.com
Year (of first major innovation): 2003
Innovations: Prescription eyewear
Innovation Types: Product, Distribution