Warby Parker's New Store Delivers Your Glasses Via Pneumatic Tube

March 19, 2014

Much like Warby Parker's flagship SoHo store, its new Upper East Side location has the feel of a luxurious, smartly curated book lover's den. You can browse frames, get an eye exam, or flip through books from independent presses and magazines geared toward the smart set like n+1 and The Paris Review. The new twist? Your glasses will now be delivered to you via the old-timey magic of pneumatic tubes.

Pneumatic tubes, best remembered from 1980s bank drive-throughs or Augustus Gloop being sucked away to the fudge room in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, may seem like throwback technology for a company that singlehandedly defined a new category in online retail. But, says Warby Parker cofounder Neil Blumenthal, they are perfect for the brand's sixth physical location--and it's not just a charming gimmick.

The new space is made up of three floors: a basement for inventory, a main retail and exam space on the first floor, and a mezzanine, which also displays glasses and houses an exam space. The question for Warby Parker was, how do you efficiently move inventory between the floors while keeping display areas clutter-free?

"We didn't want to store inventory to take up valuable sales space," says Blumenthal, who added that they also explored using a hand-cranked dumbwaiter, which turned out to be too slow. "Pneumatic tubes were fun, and the most effective way to do it. Sometimes you don't need the newest technology to create the best customer experience."

Of course, there's new tech driving the old, in a custom point-of-sale system created just for this store, which opens March 22. Sales associates input model information into the system before a customer makes a purchase. It sends an alert to the basement inventory area, where an employee selects the correct frames, puts them in a cartridge, and sends the cartridge whooshing up the pneumatic tube (built for the store by Zip Pneumatics) to the sales floor. (If you're pitying this basement-dwelling taskmaster, Blumenthal assures us he will have a variety of other non-tube responsibilities.) You can then walk out with nonprescription glasses of shades; prescription lenses are available a few days later.

The new shop, at 82nd and Lexington on New York's Upper East Side, is a soaring space that, until two years ago, was home to the iconic Lascoff Drugs, which operated there for more than a century and retained much of its original detail, like checkered terrazzo floors and cathedral-style windows.

In this historic context, the pneumatic tubes begin to make sense from a design and branding perspective.

"Details build brands, and details are what define customer experiences," says Blumenthal. "Customer satisfaction is a leading indicator, and it's related to happiness. That always comes down to the details, when you walk into a store and look at it, and you're like, 'Wow, this is just beautiful,' and you smile."