Pott Glasses on its way to becoming Malaysia's first fully online eyewear store

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Pott Glasses is looking at establishing Malaysia's first fully online eyewear retail store, complete with a basic vision test for eyeglass prescriptions, and virtual glasses try-on services powered by augmented reality (AR).

Aw Tai Hau, co-founder of Pott Glasses, explains that there is an urgent need for the retail industry to pivot their businesses online. He also says that stores that rely primarily on offline sales will struggle to survive if they do not transition quickly during the Covid-19 crisis.

"The demand for eyewear is there, but because we are unable to meet customers during Movement Control Order (MCO), we need to pivot in the way we deliver our products and how we deliver the customer experience," says Aw.

"What if the MCO keeps extending? We have four outlets and 13 staff members, so we do incur high operational costs. We can't just wait around and do things that do not generate sales. Our idea is to generate enough sales to cover these expenses."

Pott Glasses is an eyewear retail brand under H&H Optical Sdn Bhd, which also runs its own physical retail stores. It has recently launched an AR-powered virtual try-on service, where customers are able to preview how they look with glasses via a web browser on their phones or computers.

In addition to that, Pott Glasses has also launched a repair service for broken glasses which can be delivered within five hours. Pott Glasses will collect the broken glasses from the customer, have a new copy of the lenses using the same prescriptions, and have a new pair delivered through a delivery partner.

Despite introducing these new features and services, Aw explains that it is difficult to establish a full-fledged online purchasing experience for eyewear products due to its physical limitations.

"Customers have two major concerns when purchasing a new pair of glasses. Customers need to have their vision tested to get the latest eyeglass prescription, and they would also like to try out the glasses before committing to the purchase to see how they look," Aw explains.

"That is why offline eyewear outlets exist, and why it is hard to establish a fully online eyewear store prior to the MCO, because these two experience is very difficult to replace through online interactions."

In order to circumvent the concerns regarding eyeglass prescription, Pott Glasses will be launching an online vision test in the upcoming weeks. Customers are able to test their vision by following instructions, such as standing one metre away and covering one eye while answering questions displayed on the screen. 

However, Aw recognises that these self-diagnosed methods do have their own limits and difficulties in terms of accuracy. He assures that these online vision tests are not a new concept and can handle prescriptions for a power of up to 300.

"There is a company called Warby Parker in the US, the pioneer of the full-fledged online eyewear retail store space. But eventually, it also had to open physical stores in neighbourhood areas, not just one outlet, but hundreds of them," says Aw.

"It is the biggest player in the online eyewear retail space, and even it cannot change consumer behaviour. So who are we to do something more ambitious? So instead of forcing customers to change, it is better for us to adjust the way we operate our business, and bring as many features online as possible, within our own capacity."

Aw explains that the eyewear industry has taken a huge hit during the Covid-19 crisis, but many industry peers have taken a different approach in dealing with the crisis. He says many of his peers are now offering post-MCO vouchers, one-plus-one promotions, and are prioritising contact lenses sales.

"In fact, we tried selling contact lenses as well, but it turned into a price war really quickly, and there is no profit margin on such a product. Calculating the marketing costs, the revenue from contact lenses just barely broke even when factoring in the marketing costs, so it is not the ideal way for our business to grow in the long-run," says Aw.

Aw recognises that Pott Glasses’ aggressive approach in pivoting its business models does come with its own risks. He admits that his customers might be overwhelmed by the multitude of new features being offered on the platform.

However, Aw highlights that doing nothing poses a greater risk. At least by exhausting every alternative, the company will have a fighting chance.

"It is not just about selling vouchers to get customers to purchase products after the MCO. It is really about planning ahead, so the business can be more resilient even if MCO were to be reimplemented," says Aw.