Lots of online eyewear retailers offer to send you a selection of frames to try on at home before you buy, a model made popular by Warby Parker in the U.S. and GlassesDirect in Europe. However, although sending you the exact same frame as you intend to purchase has largely solved the conversion problem selling eyewear online creates, it can be pretty costly.

Not only is there the cost of delivery, including returning the frames, but it also requires a lot of extra stock to be held. That was the problem faced by Italian eyewear startup Quattrocento, so its founders came up with a potentially ingenious alternative: the paper try-on.

Specifically, Quattrocento is offering customers the ability to have up to 5 pairs of replica frames made of cardboard sent to your home or office, designed to let you experience how the frames will fit (and, to a limited extent, look) before purchasing the actual product.

I had the opportunity to try a prototype of the idea about a year ago and I can say it works really well. And from a business point of view, the advantages of paper try-ons include the low cost of manufacture and delivery, and they don’t need to be posted back. In this way it might be considered a very clever marketing tool, since a customer can hold on to them indefinitely and share with friends.

The potential downside is, of course, that they might not convert as well as the real thing. I’m told that in Quattrocento’s early testing the conversion rate sits at 12 per cent, compared to some industry figures of around 37 per cent or more for real frames. That might seem like quite a big difference but, as explained above, it’s like comparing apples with oranges.

“We have spoken with industry experts that know our competitors and they are impressed by these KPIs,” says Quattrocento co-founder Eugenio Pugliese. “We invented this new kind of trial, which is more engaging and smart. Since we ship paper glasses, we do not need to have huge inventory, the cost of shipping is as we ship a letter, and we do not need the cost of logistics and [additional] customer care”.

Pugliese says he came up with the idea after he received a call from a customer asking about the measurements of a particular pair of Quattrocento glasses. “At a certain point he told me he printed a picture of the frame from our website. So I said to myself, ‘why not make a paper model?’”.

Of course, it would need to be made of quality paper, “with a certain grammature, thick, plastified,” and then be able to be sent to the customer so that the paper model can act as a proxy of how well the frame will fit their face. And, thus, the paper try-on was born.



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