How Kits is becoming a one-stop-shop for eye-care

From the C-Suite newsletter: The company will soon launch online exams as it invests in the virtual customer experience.

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Kits, a two-year-old eyewear company led in part by the founder of Coastal Contacts, has seen interest pique in its online platform since March. But rather than seek new customers through a paid campaign, the Vancouver-based company is reinvesting in its customer experience.

As of this month, the online retailer and eyewear and contacts brand says it’s on track to surpass $100 million revenue in 2020. Though it won’t disclose specifics regarding profitability, co-founder and COO Joseph Thompson says the business has seen “consistent 100% year-over-year growth.”

As a DTC ecommerce company, Kits has benefited from nationwide lockdowns as a result of the pandemic. The company has seen a “double-benefit,” according to Thompson, with increased traffic and higher conversion rates in the first six months of the year versus the previous six.

“Typically, when site traffic increases it’s common to see conversion decrease,” he says. “But this year we are seeing substantial site traffic increases, combined with an increase on site conversion to the highest levels we have ever experienced.”

It’s indicative of a wider trend across the eyewear category, whose continued overall growth has been hampered by COVID-19-related business closures. Statista estimates category-wide revenue in Canada will drop to $4 billion this year, down from $4.3 billion last year. Per capita spending on the category will be roughly $107 this year, down from $115 in 2019. The industry is not expected to recover until at least 2022, according to various figures compiled by Statista.

KITS 2But Euromonitor International notes a “notable shift” towards e-commerce in the second quarter of 2020 in response to physical distancing measures. “With the dominant distribution channel of optical stores operating limited hours for many stores, mainly offering emergency-only services for consultations, an increasing number of consumers looked to online retailers as a way to find competitive pricing and a safer more convenient option for purchasing eyewear.”

Whereas some brands may use that boost as an opportunity to acquire more customers through increased media spend, Kits is doubling down on customer experience – at least for now – leveraging what it sees as its chief point of difference.

Kits was founded in 2018 by Thompson and co-founders Roger Hardy and Sabrina Liak, who saw an opportunity to make the eyewear category more convenient and accessible.

Roughly 75% of North American adults require contact lenses or glasses on a daily basis. “But in many ways, [the category is] still a mess for customers to shop,” Thompson says. “In part, that’s because customers are often going to many different places for their eye-care needs.”

“We thought it would be great if there was one place where customers could get everything they need for eyecare,” he says.

In 2019, it acquired Vancouver-based LD Vision Group, whose family of brands achieved sales of $50 million in 2018. LD Vision had developed proprietary technology that enabled customers to conduct their own eye tests (and obtain a prescription) online across 34 U.S. states. Hardy has previously described the self-eye-test offering as “a bit of a game changer,” adding that “the technology platform these guys have is one of the best-kept secrets in the industry.”

Online optical exams aren’t yet available in Canada, but Kits intends to be the first company to bring them here this fall.

Today, Kits claims to offer one of the largest online selections of eyeglasses, sunglasses and contact lenses – including its own Kits branded products – at affordable prices (in the $100 to $150 range) and that it fulfils orders faster than competitors.

To facilitate order processing, it recently opened a fulfillment centre in Richmond, B.C., as well as its own optical lab earlier this year. Kits now boasts being able to deliver most orders within one to two days. According to its website, 80% of orders are processed within 24 hours.

It also now offers new customers a free pair of prescription, Kits-branded glasses, says Thompson, who is confident that customers will be wooed by the fast and convenient experience it offers.

While still a relatively young company, part of its success to date can be attributed to the experience of its founders and leadership team.

In the early 2000s, Hardy founded Coastal Contacts, which operated the Clearly Contacts brand in Canada, the Coastal Contacts brand in the U.S. and the Lensway brand in Europe – achieving more than $1 billion in aggregate sales before being sold to French eyewear conglomerate Essilor for $430 million in 2014. More recently, Hardy was an investor and board member of sunglasses brand PriveRevaux.com, which was acquired by Italy’s Safilo Group in February.

Thompson is new to eyewear, but previously spent more than a decade at P&G, ran retail categories at Amazon and served as CMO of home improvement company BuildDirect Technologies. He held the CMO title at Kits before Rob Long, who led Dyson Canada’s direct-to-consumer division before taking over from Thompson in January and who was part of Coastal Contacts’ marketing leadership team.

To date, the company has invested little in marketing – mostly digital and social ads – relying largely on customer reviews to tell its story.

But over the next year, Thompson says it will be investing more heavily in “telling the story of the Kits eye-care experience more broadly, particularly in Canada, where we see a lot of opportunity to serve customers with more convenience and great value.”