Disruptive e-commerce start-up Glasses Direct recently bagged £3m in funding to continue its assault on high street opticians, ramp up its staff and expand internationally. 

Here, we ask new marketing director Phil Gates about how it got on the map… 

GlassesDirect.co.uk homepage


Can you give us a brief overview of your online marketing strategy, and which areas you intend to focus on most this year?

2008 for Glassesdirect.co.uk is all about online. We’ve recruited a great new marketing team, reviewed our agency roster and set the strategy for the year – all in the space of eight weeks.

With new entrants to the market each month we’re focused on maintaining our position as the largest online optician and working every online angle, testing and rolling out as we go.

Customers buying their prescription glasses online do require a leap of faith; faith that the public demonstrated when moving to buying insurance online not so many years ago, rather than being told what policy they should have by a broker.

The world of having your hand held and being told what to buy is over as many customers prefer being in control.

They know what they want and where to get it and my job is to ensure, when choosing glasses, they continue to make Glasses Direct their first online choice.


How has your marketing strategy changed as the site has become more established?

Our customers have been very helpful; they tell us what they like and what we could do better and we take all that on board.

They also recommend us willingly by forwarding on our emails to friends and relatives – the best form of marketing!

So we take that on board and develop it further by testing new creative, messages, price points, product ranges and calls to action – online routes to market allow us to do all of that very quickly.

We’re still very much at an early stage but awareness of our offering is the name of the game. 

The customers we attract love our products, prices and customer service and we just need to get the message out there.


Any online marketing tips for e-commerce start-ups?

Get your measurements in place first. It’s a pain, as you want to get out there and start seeing results, but I believe if you can’t measure it don’t do it!

It sounds so simple, yet every day I see campaigns that should and should not work, yet there is no way to measure them so the marketer behind them will never know.


When you’re a new site and ramping up sales, how do you manage your PPC and affiliate marketing to make sure you are not cannibalising other channels?

Any start-up needs to have complete control of its costs. If you’re measuring and you know your costs of acquisition, cannibalisation can also be regarded as driving efficiency.

This only becomes an issue when you’re a larger company and your management force you to work in old skool silos of sales channels rather than as a team all pulling in the same direction.

From my experience, as long as you’re customer-focused rather than product or channel-focused there are no internal sensitivities to be overcome.


Have you learned any do’s and don’ts when it comes to incentivising affiliates?

This can be a very long list…


1. Respond super-quickly to application requests.
2. Respond quickly to creative or offer requests, such as a request for a site specific discount code.
3. Offer affiliate-specific quality creative in many different sizes and change it regularly.
4. Create new customer-facing offers as often as possible. That’s super important.
5. Work with the affiliates on site-specific content.
6. Offer incentives such as high commission rate bonuses, access to top tier level and give targets.
7. Listen to what they’re telling you about the market.


1. Miss an opportunity with an affiliate site which is small today but might grow tomorrow.
2. Work with too many networks.
3. Approve low quality affiliates as it will reflect on the brand.
4. Shy away from providing a keyword policy even if you only restrict brand name bidding.
5. Just leave your affiliate program and expect it to grow.
6. Miss an opportunity to network with your affiliates.


What are the benefits of using more than one affiliate network?

Many of the major lifestyle or consumer affiliates are signed with one large affiliate network and one super-targeted affiliate network.

By using more than one affiliate network ,Glasses Direct will receive maximum exposure across lifestyle and consumer websites.


There seem to be quite a lot of other sites bidding on your brand. Is this related to your affiliate programme and is it a problem?

The Glasses Direct brand name isn’t trademarked unfortunately.

Affiliates that are signed with the Glasses Direct affiliate programme are instructed not to bid on the Glasses Direct brand name, however affiliates from other networks are outside our control.

If our main high street competitors continue to bid on us we may consider allowing Glasses Direct affiliates to bid on Glasses Direct, pushing competitors further down the rankings.

But there are many ways to approach this without the search engines being the only winner.

Google search for GlassesDirect


Why did you choose to go down the VC route last year? How do you intend to use the funding to move the business forward?

The business required a cash injection to enable the establishment of a senior management team to handle growth.

This process also brought wider business skills to the company via non executive directors who will advise on the continued expansion of the brand at home and overseas. 


You’ve talked in the past about partnerships with retailers. Can you say how they would work and whether it’s still in the plan?

Traditional high street retailers are a natural partner for many online businesses as they look to diversify into the online space with new categories.

We’re always looking at new opportunities to work with partners, learning more about their businesses and offering what we know best – how to make and sell custom-made high quality prescription glasses delivered direct to the customer for a fraction of the high street price.

With 21m pairs of glasses sold in the UK in 2007, the opportunity is huge.