Canadian online retailer, Clearly.com.au, is targeting a new market in low cost fashion optical wear with the launch of its first Australian bricks and mortar store on Sydney’s George St. Clearly, formerly known as Clearly Contacts, has been trading online in Australia for five years, but is making large strides into the the local market with plans for flagship stores in each capital city. A second store for the region will open on Queen St in New Zealand in April, with a Melbourne store expec
ted in the second half of 2014. Clearly’s MD Australia and New Zealand, Geoff Henshaw, says that although the optical market in Australia is highly competitive, customers are being under served on a number of levels. “Prices here extremely high – they’re high in a number of different categories and optical is one of those,” Henshaw said. “The whole optical experience in Australia appears to be a very clinical one, it’s men in lab coats making what is ultimately a fashion recommendation. “With the reality of Australia being far removed from some of the bigger commerce centres, sometimes there’s a lack of choice. “It felt like with those things we have a really big opportunity to focus on the market in a really differentiated way,” he said of the decision to open physical stores. The 80sqm store is part of the fashion forward Ivy complex, and plays up to both passing CBD worker traffic as well as the night time crowd visiting restaurants and bars surrounding the store. Designed by retail specialists, The General Store, by day, the store uses a custom scent and specialised warm lighting to relax customers away from the bustle of the city. Come night time, the store turns into a disco, with dimmed lights, a spinning mirrored disco ball, booming custom soundtrack, and light show. The central feature of the store, which also serves as a visual merchandising display is an oversized abstract disco ball, with frames housed within the individual mirrored boxes that make up the ball. “Our fitout is pretty unconventional,” says Henshaw. “If you view your store as a marketing tool, then it should be nocturnal. “If you view it as a marketing tool, the costs for that fall out of the marketing budget. It changes the dynamics of how that could work,” he says. The store by night Embracing omni-channel “One of the things we didn’t want to do was undermine our online model. “The number one barrier people have to purchasing glasses online is they can’t try them on. A lot of different optical players launch home try on programs – this is a home try on program that’s instore. “Customers can go in, try on a pair of frames, and within the store walk over to a bank of iMac screens and order those glasses online and have them shipped to their home or office. “The other piece is it allows the store to not hold inventory, so it really acknowledges showrooming.” Customer service is paramount to the model, with stylists rather than shop assistants employed to help customers with selections, and staff also able to assist with online ordering – breaking down the barriers and introducing those unfamiliar to the process of ordering online. While the aim of Clearly is to target the low cost fashion market, the store also has an inhouse optometrist for eye testing, using state of the art optometry equipment. The George St store stocks around 700 frames across prescription glasses and sunglasses, including brands such as Ray Bans, and four of its own vertically manufactured labels. Around 3000 products can be found online at Clearly.com.au. International presence Outside of Australia, Clearly is part of the Canadian Coastal Contacts group, which this week was purchased by French optical giant, Essilor, for US$430 million. Coastal Contacts began as an online business in 1999, founded by Canadian Roger Hardy. Listed on the Nasdaq, it sells optical products in more than 150 countries, including its main markets of Canada, the US, Japan, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand. It has optical labs and distribution centres in Vancouver, Washington State, Stockholm, and Sydney. The first bricks and mortar store opened in Sweden two years ago, where there are now seven, with three opened in Canada last year.