Warby Parker Can't Find The Right Mobile POS System, So It's Building Its Own

Now that online eyeglasses retailer Warby Parker is starting to open brick-and-mortar stores, the company has made an unusual decision: It's building its own mobile point-of-sale system, according to All Things D.

After meeting with 30 different mobile POS vendors, the retailer concluded it would require heavy customization. "Even though we felt like we found the best vendor, we realized it just wasn't going to be a long-term tech partner for us, and the only way we were going to be able to get what we needed was to build it ourselves," said Kyle Ashley, Warby's director of retail.

Some of the biggest pain points had to do specifically with the eyeglasses business: Warby wanted to charge a customer when the glasses ship, not when they're first ordered, and wanted the ability to attach prescription information to the payment data. The retailer also wanted to aggregate CRM information in the POS app, including the ability to print out selections from that information for customers to take away.

While a self-built mobile POS is unusual, Warby is also attacking development in an unusual way: The prototypes use Google Nexus tablets, but the final version will use either an iPod Touch or an iPad Mini. And while the first cut of the software is built on top of Warby's e-commerce software, the retailer will eventually go to a third-party app developer for the production version.

There's plenty of argument in the IT world over buy-versus-build, and most retailers have opted for packaged mobile POS systems, under the theory that it's a standard retail function. The downside of that thinking is that you get exactly what everyone else has—there's no possibility of a competitive advantage—and you'll have to adjust your business processes to the off-the-shelf package you buy. If you've built your brand on customer service, that's either crippling for in-store associates (who are constantly working around the canned system's limitations) or an endless nightmare for IT (because of endless customization requirements).

Warby's Kyle Ashley calculates that its custom system's cost will end up a wash compared to a packaged product within two years. The chain might miss that target, but one thing is certain: It will end up knowing a lot more about mobile POS—and all its attendant technical, security and legal hassles—than the vast majority of retailers.

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