When the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly halted her study abroad in Rome last March, Bucknell University student Emma Arrighini '21 decided to turn the unexpected return home into an opportunity. She contacted Bucknell’s Center for Career Advancement and staff there suggested she browse the website covintern.com for some career experience.
A psychology and political science double major who is planning to pursue a career in neuromarketing, Arrighini became intrigued by an opportunity on the site posted by students from the University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas at Dallas.
They had developed InStok — a website that located and compared prices of items in short supply during the pandemic (toilet paper, cleaning wipes, etc.) — and they needed help. She emailed them and soon became the fourth member of their team.
Arrighini is now the marketing lead for InStok, where she became a co-founder of a web browser extension called OctoShop, available through Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge. It allows users to check retailers' stock for various items and get notified when they are back in stock. The tool has been popular this holiday season with shoppers trying to find high demand gifts, particularly the elusive PlayStation 5.
"We essentially translated the website’s concept and put it into a Chrome extension [OctoShop] with a lot of added functionalities because as we've seen, e-commerce has grown tremendously since the beginning of COVID," Arrighini says. "On top of that, we were seeing crazy inventory shortages and price gouging. So we all figured why don't we create something that can sit with someone while they're shopping, and give them information along the way."
There have now been more than a million visitors to the InStok website and 85,000 users of the newer OctoShop extension.
Amid the pandemic, Arrighini has yet to meet the other three team members in-person. Instead, they communicate regularly via Discord, a messaging platform gamers use, and Zoom. But as a result of her work, both InStok and OctoShop have received national news attention — most recently in a McClatchy wire story which ran in Miami, Kansas City and Charlotte, N.C., newspapers, among others. As the marketing lead, she tries to interest the news media in providing coverage on these tools. When they do, she does the interviews.
"We started on a really small scale [with OctoShop]. I was doing shows in Louisiana and smaller cities like Myrtle Beach, and that was my summer hobby," she says. "Now most recently, I was live on Boston 25 News, which is a pretty big deal and super exciting."
While the products are gaining in popularity, they haven't become financially lucrative for the developers yet. Arrighini currently calls it a "passion project," although the team is hopeful that they may become profitable, possibly through future sponsorships or even an acquisition.
But regardless, she sees her work being the perfect compliment to her academic and career interests.
"As a political science major, I've always been interested in current events and what’s going on around me. More specifically, how people and societies experience things and how they feel about them and whether their perceptions or opinions are changing, which I think can be attributed to my psychology major," she says. "So we've had the coronavirus, which is this current event, and we have all of these people who are struggling to locate items and purchase them in a safe manner, and this was just the perfect junction of my two interests in the format of marketing, which is something I've always been interested in."
And helping people was ultimately at the heart of OctoShop's development and what drives the team now.
"We were able to help a lot of people, especially parents, who were super excited about finding the PS5, and I think that's been the propelling force behind all of this," Arrighini says. "[The demand and shortage of PS5s] has been crazy, particularly around the holiday season. So just seeing someone say 'Thank you OctoShop, I was able to get a PS5 for retail price for my son for Christmas and I could not be more thankful,' makes this all worthwhile."
Arrighini is optimistic that they'll hit their goal of 100,000 OctoShop users by January, shortly before she returns to Bucknell for her final semester in February.