Sift raises $540K to turn your inbox into a personal shopper

By Richard Nieva , written on January 31, 2013

From The News Desk

What’s better than mobile shopping? Mobile shopping while also tackling something monotonous and annoying. Like spam email. Ecommerce company Sift creates a personal shopping catalog for users based on the contents of their email, all the while also de-cluttering their inboxes.

The company takes all that information from promotional email from brands, order confirmations, and all that other spam that your subscribed to, and aggregates the buying opportunities into a shopping catalog experience on the iPad. Then, after crawling your inbox and culling the shopping deals, users can opt to have those emails put directly into a Sift folder. Then voila! Cleaner inbox. (Okay, the folder transfer isn’t exactly the pinnacle of innovation, but it’s a nice touch. CEO Saurin Shah says cleaning up the clutter is just a bonus anyway.)

Today Sift made two announcements: the close of a $540,000 seed round from Tandem and personal investors like Shawn Wang, cofounder of Baidu, and Deep Nishar, senior vice president of product at LinkedIn. The company also announced the addition of John Deyto as Sift’s director of creative and user experience. Deyto previously held stints at Yahoo, where he launched an environmental portal, and LinkedIn, where he helped design a new vertical for college students.

When a customer signs up for Sift, he or she has the option to link it to a Gmail, Yahoo or AOL account. A user can opt not to connect to an inbox, but that really defeats the whole value add of the company. Customers who don’t link can choose what shopping listings they see by selecting merchants from a list of about 2,000.

Shah makes an interesting point comparing the company to Facebook – admirable because the comparison is probably not very en vogue right now. But he mentions email as being the premier way to share photos a decade ago – people attaching photos to emails, even though email probably wasn’t created with that as its primary function. Then MySpace and Facebook and now Instagram came along and became superior photo sharing experiences. In the same way, he claims email wasn’t made for shopping – which, in some ways, might be debatable – and he hopes Sift can relieve the inbox of that duty.

Sift certainly isn’t the first company to create a shopping catalog for the iPad. CoffeeTable has already done it, and that one has a robust awards and badge system attached to it. But the personalization of a catalog curated based on one’s inbox is a nifty variation on the theme.

Still, it looks like there can be shortcomings. Shah insists the service is for a general audience, and not just a high-volume shopper. But it’s hard to imagine a compelling catalog generated from a user who just doesn’t subscribe to many brand’s email listings. There may be those who shop prolifically online, but just choose to remain off those lists, and that seems like a missed opportunity for the company. I imagine my catalog would be fairly boring, with little more than listings from my college bookstore trying to sell me sweatshirts. But Shah insists that there is more than enough spam to populate a catalog for any user, saying that on average, people receive about 9,000 marketing emails a year.

Now if it could get rid of all of my other spam, we might be onto something else.