Mobile

Going once, going twice, sold! Tophatter releases rapid-fire live auctions on iPad

Image Credit: Tophatter
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Tophatter turns shopping online into an adrenaline-pumping activity. The company powers a real-time, super fast, peer-to-peer auction platform that does $100,000 in sales a day. It released an iOS app four months ago that doubled its business, and today the company released an iPad app with the hope of doubling it again.

Tophatter creates a virtual auction world. Every buyer and seller has an avatar, and people gather in category-specific rooms to bid on items that strike their fancy. Cofounder and CEO Ashvin Kumar said the company aims to provide an engrossing experience, like a festival, that prioritizes the social element above commerce.

“Most e-commerce sites are glorified product catalogs,” he said during a live demo of the app. “Tophatter creates a real-time interactive experience. We generate an artificial sense of urgency and create an event out of it. This is powerful for conversions.”

Categories include jewelry, fashion, handbags, cosmetics ,etc., and Tophatter recently released an electronics auction. Sellers list items they want to sell and get a specific auction time. When it’s their turn, they go to the front of the room, and buyers will bid on that item in “90-second showdowns.” When the item sells, the next item goes up. You can move between rooms, browse through items that will be for sale later, and set reminders for when particular auctions start.

Tophatter launched on the web in January 2012, but Kumar said the founders conceived of it as a mobile product first because the platform is all about immediacy and acting fast. The experience is fun and can be addicting, he said. People can communicate in chat rooms and ask questions about products. The environment is constantly changing. Mobile phones are good for inspiring quick action, but they are not ideal for product discovery, which is where the iPad app comes in.

“The iPhone app does not provide a very immersive browsing experience” Kumar said. “We spent making the iPad app better with big pictures for each item. It gives users the ability to explore items much more deeply.”

A majority of shopping still happens offline. The web has a seemingly endless array of products available for purchase, and the tide is shifting away from search and towards discovery. Startups are taking a wide range of approaches to online shopping. Polyvore and NastyGal focus on the curation element of e-commerce, while Wanelo’s shopping app presents products that your friends like, and Gilt operates flash sales. A large community has also risen around resale through companies like Poshmark, Threadflip, and TheRealReal.

Tophatter has basically taken one of the earliest e-commerce models — eBay auctions — and brought it into the mobile-first, fast-moving age we now live in. It also draws inspiration from Turntable and Shaker, which create environments where hundreds to thousands of people can come together in virtual worlds.

Tophatter evolved out of Blippy, an early social shopping app that shared information about what you and your friends are buying. Blippy never gained much traction and refocused on reviews. When that didn’t stick, it pivoted yet again to Tophatter, which, with $100,000 in sales a day, seems sticky.

In 2010, Tophatter (then Blippy) raised $3.5 million from August Capital. It is based in Palo Alto and has 20 employees.

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