I Went Through the North Focals Fitting Process
Despite probably needing them at this point in my life, given all of the staring I’ve done at computer and smartphone screens, I don’t wear glasses. If I did, and I had to go through the fitting process, my only hope is that it would be as painless, as simple, and as quick as the process to get fitted for North’s Focals smart glasses.
North, which opened its first U.S.-based showroom in Brooklyn this past November, very much puts the customer first in its shopping experience, which is a breath of fresh air in an industry that otherwise likes to flood the market with product and hope that consumers will flock to them. Instead, North is taking a much more grassroots approach with their rollout, operating just two flagship locations at the moment—the Brooklyn one and another in Toronto—along with a pop-up showroom experience that kicked off in mid-February out on the West Coast.
“Eyewear is incredibly personal. When you buy glasses you’re weighing a combination of fit and personal expression to find the perfect pair for you. That process is very much at odds with how consumer electronics are built and sold today,” Stephen Lake, co-founder and CEO of North, told us in an interview back in October, ahead of the Brooklyn store opening. “Others have tried and failed to create smart glasses people love because they built a computer to wear on your face and made them glasses as an afterthought. We did it the other way around. We designed Focals to be glasses first and invented new technology that we could conceal inside.”
To be clear, Focals are a tech product at heart. A micro projection system next to the right frame supplies the user with all of their necessary notifications throughout the day, and you can access a litany of apps, games, and even Amazon Alexa. But in going through the fitting process, you kind of lose sense of that fact that these are a piece of technology—in a good way.
The North feature wall
The moment you walk into the boutique shop along Brooklyn’s Court Street, you’re greeted by a team of North professionals ready and eager to assist you. The shop itself is almost a perfect representation of the smart glasses that are displayed within. There’s very little in the shop that screams “tech.” There are glass displays that are intended to mimic the notification system of the Focals, but that’s really it. Elegantly designed shelves hang from the ceiling and hold various display units while a giant feature wall with the North name grabs your attention the second you walk in the door.
Once the user is ready to get fitted, the North team gets you set up with an account, and walks you up to the second floor of the store where the real magic happens. As un-techie as the first floor was, the upstairs of this smart glasses showroom is almost the exact opposite. North has a collection of 3D scanning booths, and inside of each an 11-camera system is used to capture a peculiar-looking representation of the user. In grabbing that 3D rendering, the way Brooklyn store lead Adrian Garbutt explained it to me, the system is able to slap over 1,000 pairs of glasses on you in a matter of seconds. All of that data is sent to North’s mothership up in Canada where they can get to work on building and designing Focals with that perfect fit. Additionally, they’ll check your ring size for the included Loop accessory that allows you to navigate the Focals UI.
In all, the in-booth portion of the fitting took a couple of minutes, between getting the explanation of what was going to happen, trying the Loop rings on, getting situated for the 3D scan, and completing the actual scan.
Inside the North Focals 3D scanning booth
Before the fitting process is complete, though, the North associate moves you over to a sort of try-on area. There, they’ll narrow down some of the finer details with you, getting your opinion on the style of fit you prefer (relative to the width and shape of the glasses), prescription lens details if you need or want to include them, and your color option (black, a black-to-gray fade, and tortoise). They’ll also offer you a little tutorial with a working Focals demo unit.
If you factor out the time I spent peppering Garbutt and his team with questions about the glasses, the process, and other parts of the business, the whole fitting experience lasted probably a good 20 to 30 minutes. It could take more or less time depending on how inquisitive (or picky) the customer is throughout the process. But that’s, again, what makes the process so unique in this space—it’s entirely driven by the customer.
The only disheartening thing about the Focals fitting is that, at the end, you learn that the lead time on getting the glasses is between eight and 10 weeks. Though I’d prefer to walk out of the store with them on, I understand the challenges in having that perfect fit on hand. If you want the perfect smart glasses, you have to be willing to be patient as a customer—and willing to return to Brooklyn or Toronto.
Walking through the Focals fitting experience, from end to end, I left pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t sure what to expect walking into the store, but you leave feeling like you made a connection with the team. They provide a style of white-glove service that you just can’t find at other brand-level retail shops, which makes the entire process enjoyable and actually quite fun. The only hope, then, is that Focals end up being enough of a success that they’re able to bring this style of shopping to more corners of the country.