SEEING CLEARLY

Japanese robot-made eyeglasses combine the best of Warby Parker and Lenscrafters

Can glasses become an impulse buy?
Can glasses become an impulse buy?
Image: JINS
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Buying a pair of prescription glasses is cumbersome process. Retail stores often charge hundreds of dollars—not including add-ons like UV coating—and require customers to return days or weeks later to pick up their spectacles.

Japanese eyewear maker JINS wants to change this. An unknown brand in the US, the Tokyo-based company is getting ready to expand outside of Asia and open its first US store this week. The outlet on San Francisco’s Powell Street—the heart of the city’s shopping district—will sell glasses ranging in price from $60 to $120 that take 30 minutes to make. (The price covers the frames, lenses, UV coating, and case; progressive, bifocal, colored, or polarized lenses will cost an additional $60 to $80.)

JINS’s first US store is in San Francisco.
JINS’s first US store is in San Francisco.
Image: JINS

JINS is hoping Americans will start seeing glasses as an impulse buy—maybe something they might pick up to match an outfit.

The company credits its quick turnaround time to Kanna, a robotic conveyer belt-like system that automates the eyewear-making process. In total, JINS produces 5.4 million pairs of glasses a year, or 10 pairs every minute, according to the company.

jins kanna
Its glasses-making robot, Kanna, can produce a pair of spectacles in half an hour
Image: JINS

JINS—which has 329 stores (including a drive through) in Japan and China—isn’t the first company that’s trying to solve the inefficiencies of the prescription-eyewear business. Venture-backed companies like Warby Parker and EyeBuyDirect offer cheaper alternatives to glasses giants like LensCrafters and Luxottica, but they primarily operate online (though Warby Parker has 11 retail locations in the US). Buying glasses, where style and fit are major considerations, is something customers prefer to do in person, which JINS believes gives it an edge over these startups.

JINS hopes to combines the best of Warby Parker—its low price and stylish frames—with the convenience of LensCrafters. The company has plans for further expansion in the US, but corporate planning manager Ryosuke Kimura says the focus for now is San Francisco. It’s a logical market to foray into as the company gets ready for another big US launch this fall: its upcoming smart glasses, Meme, which will track blinking as well as head and eye movements.