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Moving Online: Why some of the best products may not be in stores

by Kirk Douglas

A year ago, I did something online that I never thought I would do. I bought a pair of eyeglasses, prescription eyeglasses no less, almost entirely online from start to finish. I’ll explain the “almost” part later. What is important is how the fundamental experience, one which I always thought had to take place in my eye doctor’s office, somehow transcended the limitations of brick-and-mortar confines and made me a patron online.

The idea must have been planted via the onslaught of adverts across the many podcasts I listen to regularly. From men’s razors to eyeglasses, automobile tracking devices to beds, you’d be surprised what interesting wares you can buy online these days, sight unseen of course. The podcast world is audibly plastered with these sponsorships, many of which are very attractive and unique in their offerings.

Technology podcasts in particular seem to have a knack for grabbing advertising dollars from these upstarts geared towards the modern day office person. Perhaps what I really mean is tech-minded folks like myself. After all, how could you be listening to Tech News Today for example, and not have at least some mild affinity for technology at large?

The advertising clearly works. I know, because I keep hearing the same advertisers boasting their products, coming back again and again to the same podcasts and spanning out across new ones as they slowly take hold of a budding market of Internet retail consumers.

There are some recurring products I just can’t help but remember from my countless hours of podcast listening….

S_STREAM

In the mood for home-made fizzy water? Try Soda Stream and make it right at home.

Harry's

How about a great shave? Harry’s can send you well-crafted razors complete with blades on a recurring monthly basis so you never have to go to the grocery store or pharmacy for expensive razors again.

AUTOTMATIC

Want to track down your car? Automatic can not only help you remember where you parked but can finally shed light on why the check-engine light comes on repeatedly.

Casper

Not sleeping so well? Casper’s got ‘the perfect Matress for everyone’ with a 100 night no-risk trial. And if you don’t love it, they’ll pick it up and give you a refund.

Audible

Start your Audible.com membership today for one free audiobook of your choice monthly along with your unlimited access membership.

And on, and on it goes… podcasts are chock-full of ads, often for pretty cool products and services like the ones mentioned. That said, I didn’t realize the marketing would have any effect on me…

It finally caught hold about a year ago when I was in the market for new eyeglasses. My eye doctor had recommended I give my eyes a serious break from contacts now and then, and upon reviewing options at her office I was in a bit of dismay over the prices. Sure, I could swing a nice pair of glasses but I wouldn’t want to spend $500 or more on a pair of designer frames that I might retire in a year or two when they go out of style, so ‘what is a guy to do?’, I thought. The answer was in the countless Warby Parker ads I remembered hearing on John Gruber’s The Talk Show.

WARBY

Warby Parker, quite possibly the most popular of online eyeglass retailers in the digital age, sells their own uniquely crafted frames at affordable prices by cutting out traditional manufacturing channels and designing their glasses in-house. By focusing on these methods and engaging with their customer base directly, they are able to dramatically lower the cost of their eyeglasses, keeping the average single-vision pair between roughly $95-$145 per pair. The pricing is stellar, and it got me thinking about them and other alternatives.

CLASSIC_SPECS

My research last year led me to another company, very similarly priced but even cheaper, called Classic Specs. Ultimately, I chose Classic Specs due to a coupon code that allowed me to get my entire pair of eyeglasses complete with prescription lenses for only $79.

It was the first pair of prescription eyeglasses I had bought in years and I did so almost entirely online. I say almost because the purchasing process included the free ability to have an at home try-on package mailed to me. This kit consisted of 5 frames of my choosing with dummy lenses for me to try on – giving me a near identical shopping experience to what I might find walking around a store. The process was quick, near effortless and took about 6 days from the time I ordered until the time I got my glasses, complete with prescription.

At $79 and the last years worth of compliments from friends and coworkers, it really got me thinking that it’s time to look at getting another pair. Just this evening, I gave Warby Parker a try this time and I’ve got an at home try-on kit already on its way.

Of course, what better time of year than tax time to spend a little money on things like this when they are, after all, rather important and a great value in this case to boot. Next up for consideration is a bed. Yes, a bed.

TUFT_N_NEEDLE

Casper is one of a few upstarts as of late to put themselves out there as an online premium mattress manufacturer. Though their products come very highly reviewed, they are a little bit more expensive than what I’d like to spend so I am looking at an alternative by Tuft & Needle.

One of my best friends bought one in the last 6 months and can’t say enough about his experience. And he’s far from the only one with a glowing endorsement. Amazon.com shows Tuft & Needle’s Queen size Matress as the number one Matress in its price range ($600)with nearly 3,000 reviews, many of which are praising the Matress for its solid construction, comfort, 10 year warranty and equally good customer support.

If you had told me I might buy my next mattress online mere months ago I might have laughed, but there’s something to this I think. See, the last two mattresses I purchased were both within the past 8 years or so. I bought one shortly before moving into my current place and it was causing me so much back pain by the time I moved here I got rid of it for a temporary solution (a hand me down) from a friend. Within a year or two, that one was causing me issues so the second (my current mattress) I bought was new from Macy’s. And although I ordered it online, it was only after being sure to test it thoroughly in my local story before it was shipped. In both cases, I was duped into crappy Matress purchases around the $500-$600 range.

If those were my experiences doing research and seeing products in person, what do I really have to lose with a 100-night trial on a matress I’ll likely purchase sight unseen? Nothing. I have nothing to lose. So far, at least in my experience with eyeglasses, the increase in value, decrease in hassle and the ease with which all is transacted makes any hesitation I might have fade into the background.

Furthermore, As materials are concerned, I saw right away the construction of my eyeglasses and those of comparable styles I’d seen in store don’t appear or feel much different — yet another indicator that these companies are really onto something.

So moving online is is the trend — Moving ideas, products and how we experience them our first time through an online presence is becoming a viable way to browse just like we’d do in a store. Particularly for some products we might have never guessed one could ‘get a feel for’ online.

Leveraging virtual tools, in-home trials and money-back guarantees are shaping up in many ways to look like our future, and if the companies I’ve mentioned are any indicator, it looks promising. As companies cut out unnecessary marketing expenses an processes, create a brand among customers known for quality and support, and entice onlookers with fair pricing and reasonable trial terms we just may find ourselves buying things we never dreamt of online soon.

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