Vision Direct, part of the SmartBuyGlasses Optical Group, has been revolutionising the eyewear industry for the past 18 years.

One of Australia’s premier online eyewear retailers has a global presence with headquarters in Hong Kong and over 80,000 products from more than 200 brands to choose from, including Ray-Ban, Oakley, Gucci, and Prada, as well as its unique SmartBuy Collection.

Sydney-based Vision Direct co-founder, Doron Kalinko sat down with Retailbiz to share insights into the technological innovations that have set new standards in the industry from a virtual try-on feature and lens scanner app to telehealth advancements that are changing how consumers approach vision care.

“While we started in Australia and it was the first country we focused on, we quickly expanded overseas into many other countries because we had bold ambitions to be a global organisation. We are deep in the e-commerce and optical industry, selling over 200 brands of eyewear, but our core business is prescription glasses and contact lenses, which requires a range of optical services and assisting the customer with their prescription,” Kalinko said.

Breaking barriers for shopping online for prescription glasses

“We find that even today, most people don’t buy glasses online but it’s certainly changing, and we’ve been working to assist customers with that change for many years. One of the barriers to buying glasses online is the ability to try them on, which is why we’ve got technology on our website that allows customers to virtually try on glasses.

“Customers can scan and pre-record their face and as they browse glasses, they can see what they look like on, which is quite game-changing and provides an even better experience than in-store because often when you take your glasses off to try on new glasses in-store, you can’t see yourself that well. Another barrier with shopping for glasses in-store is the limited selection. We’re able to offer an industry-leading product range that spans more than 50,000 SKUs of glasses to try on.”

The virtual try-on feature was first introduced about 10 years ago, but it didn’t take off until during Covid and since then, the technology has been refined and improved significantly to become something that customers can rely on and have come to love, according to Kalinko.

“We also have a tool that allows customers to virtually measure their pupillary distance (PD) – the distance between the centre of each pupil to ensure lenses sit exactly where they should.

“This is complemented by our Prescription Lens Scanner which is a free app that scans your current lenses to reveal your glasses prescription, providing accurate details in under five minutes. When we first started, it was about how are the glasses going to look on my face? Now it’s about how do I get my prescription without going into a store?

“Most recently, we introduced free virtual video consultations with our optical dispensers. Customers can go online and nominate a suitable time for a consultation and have their questions answered.

“Looking ahead, we see online eye tests as the next frontier, and that’s what we’re currently working on and something that’s been in development for many years. We’re excited to see that come to life, which will likely be in the next two to three years.”

From an innovation perspective, Vision Direct leverages its global footprint and understanding of the eyewear landscape around the world.

“Our team culture is also key to our innovative approach. We are focused on our employees’ personal development journey. We want people within our organisation to grow and fast track their careers as much as they can, and in turn, they provide value to the company, and we can provide more opportunities to them.

“We’re a very flat organisation and we encourage a culture of innovation and disruption, no matter who you are or what position you are in. There’s a culture of always questioning ourselves about how we can do better.

“We tap into the ecosystem of our industries, both the e-commerce industry and optical industry. A lot of the technologies that we leverage are core technologies built by other innovative high-tech companies, which we partner with and are often start-ups.

“We’re constantly in the market to continue developing and innovating because intrinsically, we know the barriers and frustrations of our customers and can therefore, respond to these with the right technology solutions.”

Social programs

Vision Direct wants to help make quality eyewear accessible to all and remains committed to its mission of enriching lives through vision care.

“We’re always trying to give back to communities wherever we can through work with NGOs involved in either saving lives or giving those that can’t afford eyewear, glasses or emergency operations that can significantly improve their eyesight, with one of our key partners being World Vision,” Kalinko said.

“On an environmental front, we did a recent collaboration with the WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature). We removed one of the last remaining commercial fishing nets from the Great Barrier Reef and used the material to re-engineer new glasses.”