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Uncovet Knows More About Style Trends and Your Friends Than You Do

By Michael Carney , written on June 12, 2012

From The News Desk

There are "me too" companies, and then there are those that on the surface look friendly and familiar but behind the scenes are a new and different beast entirely. The founders of the intelligent, social, curated style marketplace Uncovet are hoping they’re the latter.

Launching today out of private beta, Los Angeles-based Uncovet leverages the things we know about our friends to reimagine the way people discover fashion and home design items. The site also uses data science to understand user tastes and deliver on-trend items.

Uncovet’s team of tastemakers select each product based not only on their knowledge of industry trends but also using data feeds from Pinterest, Svpply, and fashion blogs that paint a picture of popular trends. The company then delivers daily emails with personalized collections of “on trend” style items based on a given theme. One day might be nautical, the next bohemian or vintage. The items are offered at a fixed discount and are only available for four days.

It would be easy to write this company off as another "me too" social ecommerce marketplace, but the collection of people behind it make that a fool’s bet. Uncovet was founded by former Myspace creative director Heather Lipner, who in her spare time is an interior decorator, in partnership with Mike Jones and Peter Pham’s Science technology studio.

While the company sounds interesting, it certainly faces an uphill climb ahead. Its most obvious problem is curated marketplace and daily deal fatigue. No matter how good their product recommendations are, it seems that many consumers have grown saturated with deal emails or, worse, have lost faith in the space entirely. Secondarily, the nature of their social and style graph approach means that the product will get better as time goes on, but at the beginning may appear less personalized and thus less impressive.

Uncovet is using a variety of social tools and gaming mechanics to drive and target growth. Lipner says that her company uses a “style graph” to tap into Facebook to make recommendations on which friends users should share specific products. These product recommendations are based on Uncovet’s understanding of each friend’s individual style and taste as compiled through their past purchases on the site, and brand and product "Likes" and "Shares" on Facebook.

The company relies on a principle it calls influence-based commerce, empowering users to leverage their social network popularity to improve membership status. The site offers additional discounts and bonuses it calls Inner Circle Benefits. Based on the number of recommendations and invites sent and accepted, users ascend in status within the site from “friend,” to “best friend,” to “best friend forever.”

The first promotion occurs when 10 friends join and earns the referrer a $30 credit. The second, which requires 20 friends to join, earns a five percent discount on all future purchases. The final super-referrer status requires 40 friends to join and results in an eight percent discount on all purchases.

Additionally, users get even better deals and special bonuses when they share items across Pinterest, Svpply, Twitter, and Facebook. The company’s “lifestyle graph analysis” helps customers know where and with whom to share to improve their chances of getting better deals. (This is all well and good, and I know the principles are sound, but can we please stop naming things X-graph? Please?)

Within the site, a live feed resembling Facebook’s ticker stream shouts out remaining product quantities, recent buyer endorsements and shares, membership level jumps, style tips, and guest curation from influential bloggers. When I first heard this, it sounded like the chaos of the NYSE trading floor, but in practice, it’s far more subtle.

I asked Lipner how her company was different than Fab or other curated marketplaces. She says, “First, editorially, we are focused on ‘on-trend.’ We know what people are looking for at any given moment across the web and that’s what we deliver. No one else is doing that, to my knowledge. Second, the other curated marketplaces don’t use offer social recommendation engine like we do.”

Uncovet, which has been in development for six months, currently has 10 employees, including former Myspace SVP of engineering Allen Hurf as CTO. The company has not raised outside financing beyond the unspecified contributions of Science.

One thing working in Uncovet’s favor is its friend-to-friend marketing model. Sites like Gilt Groupe and Fab have been built on incentivizing current customers to market on behalf of the company. The principle can dramatically alter the cost of customer acquisitions.

I would imagine that customer acquisition will be the least of Uncovet’s worries. More likely, the company will live or die on its ability to keep them engaged and buying from the site after the initial luster has faded.

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[Image Credit TheprophecyOfFashionista]