DITTO Launches Online Eyewear Boutique With $3M in Funding

A new Mountain View startup founded by Kate Endress, ex-Google Engineer Sergey Surkov and ex-Nokia engineer Dmitry Kornilov called DITTO (no, not the one recently acquired by Groupon) is launching its online eyewear retail site to the public today, alongside the announcement of a $3 million seed funding round led by August Capital. DITTO isn’t the first startup to venture into online eyeglasses sales, but it does bring a unique twist to the table, thanks to a 3D virtual try-on tool that uses a shopper’s webcam to provide them with a close approximation to how pairs of glasses will actually look like on their faces.

DITTO, as mentioned, isn’t first to sell glasses online, and even virtual try-ons have been done before by companies like Coastal.com, the Vancouver-based parent company of ClearlyContacts.ca, Lensway.com and many other localized international online discount eyewear retailers. But DITTO takes a cue from augmented reality tech to put the glasses on your actual face for virtual fittings, allowing users to see what frames look like on their face head-on, and as they turn their neck from side-to-side.

Endress, also DITTO’s CEO, told BetaKit in an interview that the try-on process, like the rest of the site, is designed to be as simple as possible, in order to help provide online shoppers with a glasses buying experience that avoids the traditional pitfalls of buying such a highly specialized and customizable item online. She thinks DITTO goes beyond existing options like Costal’s brands and Warby Parker in this regard.

“We view DITTO as an experience,” she said. “So you come to the site, you get a site that’s clean and easy to understand, you get a curated collection of the brands you love, you get to create a ‘DITTO’ [what the company calls it’s virtual models] and try glasses on to see that they actually fit.” DITTO also offers social sharing options, which Endress says helps complete the experience by providing a way to “try on” products with friends and loved ones.

DITTO also provides a list of frames from popular designers, including Ray-Ban, Derek Lam and Vera Wang, and Endress said more partnerships are already in the works and should come online in the next few months. Warby Parker offers only in-house design, so it has to sell both the process of shopping online and its own brand, too.

The site doesn’t only face challenges from outside, however. There’s also the fact that the tool used to create a user’s DITTO is Flash-based, which means that users can’t use iPads or mobile devices to create their virtual model or view frames. Endress says iPhone and iPad apps are on the way, however, and the team is working to make sure DITTOs, once recorded, will be available to all platforms. Creation will likely still be handled via the web using Flash, but since Endress said a DITTO is intended to be a create-once, use-repeatedly tool like a Facebook profile pic, she doesn’t see that as much of a barrier.

Another potential technical barrier for shoppers is that DITTO is only currently compatible with the most modern browsers. The site’s design and simple philosophy are clearly aimed at the general buying public, and attracting shoppers away from brick-and-mortar eyeglass stores will depend on them being able to use the DITTO tools to begin with. Endress says that’s a primary engineering focus for the team, however, who are constantly working on adding support for older browsers, too.

DITTO’s pricing ranges from $110 to $1,800 for frames, which also include lenses with anti-reflective and anti-scratch coatings for free. Customers who want to add ultra-thin high index lenses for strong prescriptions will have to add a $50 surcharge to their order, but DITTO’s model is still more all-in than Coastal’s, and on par with Warby Parker, which offers the added incentive of social good through its buy-one, give-one program. DITTO is also U.S.-only for the time being, but Endress said their are plans for international expansion in the works.

Like most online eyeglass shops, DITTO also offers no-hassle returns, even for glasses with prescriptions, which is basically a must when dealing with this kind of product. The major differences it provides come down to its video-based virtual try-on tool, and a focus on designers that are more up-market than most of its competitor offerings. Its real potential lies in its ability to lure customers away from brick-and-mortar stores, rather than from existing online options. But with the worldwide eyeglasses market set to hit $95.66 billion by 2015 according to a recent report, there’s room for everyone to grow, so long as the value proposition makes sense to potential shoppers.

Endress also hinted at the possibility that DITTO could move beyond eyeglasses, though it would be far in the future. “We started with eyewear because we really thought the pain point was there, and certainly we feel there’s room to grow in this space, so we’re staying pretty focused out of the gate,” she said. “That said, we do acknowledge that this idea of solving fit online extends into other retail categories, so we’ll just have to see at what point that makes sense for us.”

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