Despite GroupOn's stock price struggles this year, online commerce is a market ripe for disruption. OpenSky is a relatively new e-commerce site that is getting buzz and gaining traction, thanks in part to the presence of celebrities like Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi. OpenSky started off tapping Twitter for inspiration (you "follow" celebrities with similar shopping interests), but lately it's been channeling trendy image-sharing social network Pinterest.
Online retail, a.k.a. e-commerce, is hard. Many startups have tried over the years: from Webvan and Pets.com in the Dot Com era, to Kaboodle and Woot in the Web 2.0 era. Some have succeeded - the biggest example of course being Amazon.com. But most fail, due to a combination of the high offline costs of running a retail operation and the difficulty in getting people to open their wallets online.
OpenSky is going all out to entice you in, with its celebrity accounts and colorful, Pinterest-cloned, design. You also get a $10 credit if you sign up to OpenSky with your Facebook account.
How it Works
When you sign up to OpenSky, you fill out a 5-minute multiple choice questionaire. After that, you're automatically connected to a group of "experts and tastemakers." Presumably this is based on how you answered the questions. These people are a collection of celebrities and wanna-be celebrities, known henceforth as your "shopping team." They get a cut of every sale that happens via their profile.
I ended up auto-following about 65 people - including Martha Stewart, Serena Williams, Alicia Silverstone and a man named Dr. Neal Schultz ("Leading NYC Dermatologist, Creator Of BeautyRx Skincare, And Host Of DermTV"). I had to manually follow Padma, but I had no hesitation in doing that.
Two things stood out during this whole signup process: 1) OpenSky is targeting women users, just like Pinterest did; and 2) this site feels like something Oprah would use and/or promote. In other words, OpenSky is going after the large and lucrative Mommy market.
One curious aspect to OpenSky is that despite marketing itself as a "social shopping" service, there's no way to search for and connect to my Facebook friends - or indeed anyone other than OpenSky's list of celebrities and pseudo-celebrities. I found out about OpenSky through ReadWriteWeb's Community Manager, Robyn Tippins, but I couldn't find her on OpenSky via search or any Facebook connectivity. I eventually managed to find Robyn's profile, after coming across one of her 'likes' by chance (I had clicked through to the Food page on OpenSky and saw her there). But there was no way for me to follow Robyn. Compare that to Pinterest, where you can connect to your Facebook network in a couple of minutes. I found it bizarre that I couldn't follow friends, in a service that claims to be social.
Yikes, Frictionless Sharing!
However, OpenSky is more social with its sharing. In fact it encourages its users to share liberally to Facebook. Far too liberal for my liking, as by default it shared every single thing I browsed onto my Timeline! This is the shopping equivalent of frictionless sharing, the controversial Facebook feature where every song you listen to or newspaper article you click on is shared to Facebook. I quickly turned that feature off.
Tweak The Social
There's no doubt that curated shopping is a compelling experience. I'm a fan of Padma Lakshmi and I'll gladly follow her recommendations on anything to do with cooking. However, OpenSky needs to work on its social components more. Just as I'm interested in Padma's advice on cooking, I'm also interested in what products my friends or people who share similar interests like.
Finally, OpenSky should re-consider the over-sharing to Facebook Timeline. I'm happy to share my likes to Facebook, but I don't want every single OpenSky product I browse to shared (to my Facebook friends: I assure you that I'm not interested in that colorful handbag).
Let us know in the comments if you've used OpenSky or another social shopping app recently.