JINS Brings Eyewear Robots to First U.S. Store / by Elaine Chan

Mark Albertson

SF Technology Examiner

On April 10th, the Japanese eyewear-maker JINS will open its first U.S. store in San Francisco, featuring more than 1,200 different styles and robotic technology that generates a pair of prescription glasses in under 30 minutes. But the big news may be coming later this year, when the company plans to start selling smart eyewear to a tech-savvy public.

The company previewed its new store, which is located next to a cable car line and the popular Union Square shopping district, for the media yesterday. According to Lilian Wouters, marketing manager for JINS, the firm decided to open its first store in San Francisco because the city “has a history of being a starting point for paradigm shifting organizations.”

The paradigms JINS hopes to shift in their favor revolve around the “big three” major factors to gain market share inside the hyper-competitive eyewear industry: speed, simplicity, and price. The company believes that through a mix of technology and the ability to satisfy consumer tastes for fashion, they can successfully compete in the U.S. with Walmart, LensCrafters, and major online retailers such as Warby Parker.

“Our brand vision is to magnify people’s lives,” said Wouters.

The robotic technology used by JINS allows them to generate newly-installed eye frames in less than a half hour, and they claim the ability to deliver 63 pairs of glasses in sixty minutes. Customers hand their prescription and choice of eyeglass frames to a store attendant, who selects the proper lenses and then places the entire set in a small, red container.

The container then travels along a conveyor belt system where various robots assemble the glasses, ending in a finished product that is fitted to the customer by another attendant at the end.

JINS has been in business since 2001 and they currently operate 330 stores in Japan and China (including one drive-through). The first U.S. store is offering price points ranging from $60 to $120 per pair.

While the company’s first foray into the U.S. market this week will likely attract early customer interest, the real action may take place later this fall. That’s when JINS is expected to announce delivery of the JINS MEME, smart glasses that could become the natural next evolution from Google’s interesting, yet disappointing Glass product.

JINS revealed prototype models of MEME at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last January. Unlike Google Glass, JINS MEME actually looks like a normal pair of glasses, which would be expected since the company sells five million of them per year.

The smart eyewear includes sensors hidden in the eyeglass nose pads that can measure calories burned and energy levels, much like popular fitness wristbands are doing today. Sensors in the glass frame itself allow users to synch gathered information to their smartphone. The makers of JINS MEME also claim it can analyze subtle eye movements that identify and report meaningful events happening in the wearer’s body.

Company officials would not commit to a date when the MEME will become available, but JINS has provided a software development kit for developers interested in building applications for the new product as part of a competition.

In today’s fully commercialized online world where virtually anything can be bought with a few keystrokes, the mere opening of a brick-and-mortar retail outlet is news by itself. JINS said they have research which shows that three quarters of consumers still prefer to buy their glasses in a store and, starting this weekend, they will find out if U.S. customers feel the same way.