This post was originally published on Medium on December 18th, 2016.
After avidly following the Spectacles vending machine releases on spectacles.com/map I saw news about the placement of a long term vending machine in New York City. Without much of a plan, I strolled up to the location of the vending machine at 5 E 59th St, New York, NY 10022 and decided to figure it out when I got there.
I arrived around 2PM on Monday, November 28th. The first thing I saw was the big, yellow Spectacles logo. As I approached the building I saw the inevitable line I had read so much about. The store didn’t open for two hours, but the line was already wrapping around multiple city blocks. I walked past the first ~30 people in line, looking for someone to talk to and pick their brain about how to obtain a pair.
Introduce my new friend Darryle. Darryle is a 29 year old New York native who stumbled upon the line one day unemployed and began coming back every single day to make a few hundred dollars. Darryle and I talked for a half an hour about how to obtain a pair, the line, and the Spectacles product itself. Darryle explained to me that he has been in line since 8AM this morning, which is about the time he arrives everyday. He explains that the first big group of people are a Chinese ‘family’ that works together and sells them on the streets around the building. The rest mostly are working for line waiting apps such as Same Old Line Dudes.
Regarding the actual release, Darryle informed me that SnapChat limited the vending machine to about 500 pairs per day from this location. They also allowed two Spectacles per person, so only the first 250 people in line are able to obtain Spectacles. And the line reached that number every weekday by approximately 9AM. Thus, a minimum of a 7 hour wait was required to obtain a pair of SnapChat Spectacles the traditional way. SnapChat employees were very organized in their handling of the line. They handed out wristbands at different times in the day and would later not allow anyone to enter the store without displaying every color wristband handed out that day. This air-tight monitoring of the line had not always been the case Darryle informed me. At first he said, they were not prepared for the masses and many people cut the line. Now-a-days they had it under complete control.
At this point I thought I was too late for a pair of Spectacles on this day, but was still enamored with the entire buzz surrounding the store and in the line. It was nothing short of electric. Darryle, some neighboring line waiters, and I engaged in a long discussion about the Spectacles themselves, the infinite use cases, and the future of recording our lives/memories. A fellow line-sitter showed off a pair of her new headphones that doubled as both headphones and external speakers. Everyone knew we were in the midst of something new and important. Their was a serious demand for something different and new. Something a bit more personal and emotional. A la the original iPod or iPhone.
Anyways, in this conversation Darryle made me aware that he did not actually work for a line waiting company, but simply would strike up deals with people face-to-face and ask for a cash tip on top of the credit card purchase. He said he had one ‘spot’ still up for sale today and offered it to me, which I happily accepted. He explained that he needed my credit card to use on the machine, but would give me his license as collateral. Somewhat risky, but he seemed like a great guy, so I did it anyways. We agreed on a $100 tip on top of the $145 price of the Spectacles. Somewhat steep, but I thought it was fair considering Darryle had casually mentioned things such as, “I haven’t drank water all day to avoid going to the bathroom.”
After wrapping up the conversation, I hung out at Starbucks for an hour only to return eagerly at 3:45PM to witness the commotion that was the opening of the store and the ensuing transactions between line waiters and people like me who were waiting for them to come out. More SnapChat employees had arrived by now sporting all black attire featuring fitted jeans, tight black t-shirts, big black puffy jackets, and expensive boots that retailed for around $500. All 5 employees were dressed the same.
All of this was causing a bit of a scene in a busy Manhattan area and dozens of people stopped outside the store to take pictures, ask questions, and figure out what this product was that was generating this level of interest. Over-and-over again SnapChat employees described the product to passer-by’s as sunglasses that record first person video. Their job for the most part was line maintenance though, so they responded to questions quickly and abruptly. I thought SnapChat missed an opportunity to set up a Spectacles information booth or at least some sort of handout for these people to understand the product a bit more. I found myself explaining the product to many people and answering more questions because I had nothing better to do and enjoyed the conversations.
At 4PM they began letting groups of ~20 in at a time and soon after they began coming out. For the first half hour members of the large Chinese group came out and would exchange them among one another with those who spoke better English essentially auctioning them on the street nearby the Spectacles store. I was offered one for $200 and gawked at the slim, $55 markup for 10+ hours of waiting in line.
Around this time an older women around 45 years old approached me and asked me what all the commotion was about. I explained the concept for the 5th or 6th time that afternoon and she immediately saw the value. She described to me that she had two teenage sons who were on the SnapChat app religiously. As I’m talking to this women, multiple of the Chinese sellers offered the $200 price once again. In an instance the women asked me, “Is that a good price? Should I get them? Will they like it?” I respond assertively. “Yes. Yes! YES!!.” She then grabbed her wallet, took out $400 cash, bought two, thanked me, and went on with her day. I was a bit jealous she got two pairs for cheaper than me and so quickly, but enjoyed the whole exchange nonetheless.
I even jumped on one of the Chinese sellers offer for another $200 pair that I’m gifting to my 17 year old younger sister next week for Christmas. I anticipate the best big brother award soon after. Soon after, Darryle exited the store, we exchanged credit card for license back and we want on with our lives. I thanked him for helping me out and he thanked me for waiting patiently.
- If you want a pair of SnapChat Spectacles go to the location at 4:05PM with $200 cash. You will be able to get a pair within minutes.
- The Spectacles release was a combination of Apple and Supreme. From Supreme, SnapChat utilized their limited release strategy and the all black, designer-only ‘uniform’ their employees wore. From Apple, SnapChat utilized their focus on design, marketing, packaging and ease-of-setup.
- SnapChat has an equal understanding both the technologist and the hype beast; two very different, but emerging and influential personas in the millennial world.
- SnapChat’s decision to base themselves in Los Angeles, through small offices scattered throughout the Venice neighborhood is genius. Employers such as Google and FaceBook sponsor subsidized housing for their employees who often live with their co-workers and take the company owned bus two and from work. The result, an extremely limited experience of the world or culture at large. SnapChat employees, on the other hand, are forced into the outside world for apartments, food, and commuting each and everyday.