Selling glasses to gamers with 20/20 vision

Promoting blue-light blocking lenses, Zenni is selling glasses as protection from devices, even for those with perfect vision.
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· 4 min read

It may seem, at first, like a retail sleight of hand, or someone in the corner office practicing the dark arts. It may seem like the answer to a riddle no one asked, a riddle like: How do you sell lawn sprinklers in Seattle? Or snow tires in Florida?

Zenni Optical, the 19-year-old DTC prescription eyewear brand, has looked paradox straight in the eye, and asked: How do you sell glasses to people who don’t wear glasses?

The answer is not out of the blue—it’s squarely in it. Namely, lenses that filter out blue light from phones, tablets, and computer screens, and which some believe help relieve eye strain and sleeplessness.

House of blues. Like many prescription-eyewear stores, both online (like Warby Parker), and brick-and-mortar (like Pearle Vision), Zenni offers blue-light blocking lenses as an add-on feature after customers have selected frames, who pay extra for the feature as they do for lenses that are anti-glare and anti-fog. However, the brand has made a unique effort to sell blue-light blocker lenses, which it calls Blokz, not only as an upgrade for prescription glasses, but also as a reason to buy a pair of their frames in and of itself.

“We’ve often used ‘protection before correction’ as a way to consider using these,” Sean Pate, Zenni’s brand marketing and communications officer, told us. “It’s not a hard sell.”

  • In 2019, Zenni sold 60,804 frames that had no prescription or tint, only Blokz, a 130.2% YoY increase.
  • In 2020, when screen time skyrocketed at the height of the pandemic, Zenni sold 137,194 non-prescription glasses with Blokz, a 126.9% YoY increase.
  • In 2021, as consumers increasingly emerged from their four walls, the number dipped to 92,226—a 33.2% decrease but still 52% higher than the pre-pandemic 2019 total.

Gamer on. Zenni’s primary strategy to promote Blokz is to target gamers, who spend an inordinate amount of time looking at screens, and who also tend to be younger and thus likelier to enjoy 20/20 vision.

  • In 2021, Zenni announced it would be the official eyewear of the Call of Duty League, the sanctioned competitive league for the game.
  • Also in 2021, Zenni announced a paid brand-ambassador deal with James “Clayster” Eubanks, an elite Call of Duty competitor, along with frame styles named for 12 Call of Duty teams.
  • Zenni sets up trade booths regularly at gaming conferences—as many as 10 by the end of 2022 alone, including PAX, TwitchCon, DreamHack, Pate said.

Blinded me with science. As much as blue-light blockers have caught on with consumers, the medical and scientific community has been decidedly less enthusiastic.

  • The American Academy of Ophthalmology does not recommend blue-light blocking lenses due to a “lack of scientific evidence that blue light is damaging to the eyes.”
  • More positive are studies that suggest—in the same vein as tips to power down screens before bedtime—that wearing blue-light blockers in the evening may help you sleep better.
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Pate said in an email that Zenni was “very well aware of the opinion of the AAO, as is the entire industry that is successfully selling and marketing the technology to consumer[s] that testify to their efficacy and support the claims we market.”

B2See. Zenni is also promoting blue-light blocker lenses as part of a B2B program, encouraging companies to buy non-prescription, blue-light blocking glasses for their screen-bound employees as part of a corporate wellness program.

As novel as it may be for Zenni to sell non-prescription frames with blue-light blockers, the majority of frames it sells with Blokz are to prescription-lens wearers who choose it, for $16.95 and up, as an add-on.

  • Zenni expects to sell an estimated 3 million prescription lenses with Blokz in 2022, while the number of non-prescription frames with Blokz is projected to notch up from 92,226 in 2021 to six-figure volumes, according to Pate.

But Pate noted that, even when Zenni is at, say, a gaming conference promoting the glasses to consumers, the message still lands with what he calls Rx–glasses wearers.

“There’s spillover effect to what we’re doing to intrigue the non-Rx wearer and it’s informing the Rx wearer that, ‘Wait, these are something that I could easily add on.’”—AAN

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.