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Warby Parker’s Prescription Check app lets you skip the eye doctor

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Warby Parker wants to get you the right prescription glasses without forcing you to get an in-person eye test. It’s now testing its new Prescription Check app that uses your phone and computer in tandem to administer a 20-minute series of eye tests, which are then reviewed by a doctor who makes the final call on your prescription. This could let Warby Parker sell people prescription glasses on impulse rather than hoping customers come back once they get their prescription the old-fashioned way.

For now, Warby Parker says only people between the ages of 18 and 40 in California, Florida, New York and Virginia who already have Warby Parker glasses are eligible for the test. And initially Warby Parker will only confirm that someone’s existing prescription is still right, before allowing the app to give users updated prescriptions in the future.

Eventually Warby Parker could roll out Prescription Check more widely to let new customers from a wider range of places get hooked up. Though one important thing to note is that Warby Parker stresses that people still need regular eye exams to check for medical conditions, so you can’t ditch the eye doctor entirely. Inc. mentioned the new feature in a profile of the startup yesterday.

Without Prescription Check, Warby Parker users had to either find a doctor on their own to get a prescription, or come in to one of the startup’s roughly 50 retail locations that are mostly just in big cities. Prescription Check’s technology works extremely similarly to startup Opternative, which has raised $9.5 million and been doing online eye tests since 2014. However, it’s met regulatory pushback from optometrist and ophthalmologist organizations trying to protect their in-store eye test businesses.

The Prescription Check test sees users stand back from their computer screen that displays the vision tests while reading instructions off the phone they’re holding. The phone’s camera can measure a credit card placed in the corner of the computer screen to determine the distance and screen size so the tests are configured properly.

A source says that Warby Parker has been working on the Prescription Check idea for a long time and considered both building and buying the necessary technology. Now Warby Parker appears to have built it on its own. “We’ve been exploring vision technology for a long time” a Warby Parker spokesperson tells me. “We weren’t able to find existing technology with a user experience that met our standards so we decided to build it ourselves.” Specifically, Warby Parker has patented a way to measure the distance to your screen with your phone’s camera rather than having to measure with your feet or another way like Opternative does.

With Warby Parker already focused on sales over the internet, the Prescription Check app and technology could give it another edge over retail stores. The whole point of e-commerce is to take away the hassle, and few things are more disruptive to an online shopping experience than having to make a doctor’s appointment first.

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