By Jack M. Germain
Jul 21, 2021 5:00 AM PT
A new e-commerce trend catching on as the pandemic stranglehold on consumer access to brick-and-mortar stores loosens is converging shopping with playing games as a source of entertainment.
One good example is startup Tophatter. This retail discovery marketplace where shoppers go to spend time, rather than to save time, is what its CEO Ashvin Kumar, calls the “anti-Amazon.”
The E-Commerce Times spoke with Kumar to discuss the driving factors pushing the popularity of this new-style gamified marketplace and how it works.
Tophatter’s appeal is more than offering shoppers steep discounts on a large inventory of available products. The entertainment factor is gamifying the shopping experience.
The platform connects shoppers to thousands of sellers globally. This enables them to browse millions of items and engage in real-time, lightning-fast auctions. Tophatter gives consumers a choice in their shopping experience. They can participate in auctions or browse for items that catch their fancy.
That is where the discovery incentive kicks in.
Different From Amazon
Unlike shopping on platforms like Amazon, where shoppers typically know what they want to buy and simply browse for the best buying option, Tophatter’s audience is on a treasure hunt of sorts. They look for products that surprise them and can also participate in real-time auctions for some products as well as buy others directly.
Tophatter shoppers can do both approaches with or without the game-playing angle. But playing games while shopping is what keeps consumers visiting the platform to look for deals.
By design, this marketplace has no search bar to browse for specific products. That is intentional, and it’s working, noted Kumar.
Tophatter borrowed the gamification concept from popular Asia-based digital marketplaces. A few months ago, Kumar added the first integrated games. The novel approach is receiving high praise from often-returning consumers.
“We have seen the average number of hours spent on the app double since launching our mini games. The app is live in multiple countries, but our largest shopping base is still centered in the U.S.,” Kumar reported.
The Tophatter platform puts a unique spin on the shopping-game-playing convergence. But he expects to see similar pairings become more commonplace on U.S.-based digital shopping sites. The concept is already growing rapidly globally.
Game To Shop
The name of the game is mobile discovery shopping. Tophatter combines digital marketplaces, gaming, and discovery retail.
This platform is not for all shoppers. However, it is a big hit so far with consumers who want to be entertained and excited by surprise products while they shop in spurts throughout the day, while otherwise sitting around in their cars, homes, and anyplace else.
“Consumers are eager to find convenient, fun ways to pass the time, whether they are at home or waiting to pick up their kids from school or soccer practice. From the time we launched, Tophatter has allowed anyone to easily browse and bid on the go — with the added layer of gamification, we are providing a retail process that goes beyond quick checkout to enable a wholly entertaining experience,” Kumar explained.
He launched Tophatter with CTO Chris Estreich in January 2012. Goodwater Capital, August Capital, and others have invested $35 million so far. The company is based in San Francisco and Shanghai.
The gamified marketplace seems destined to grow. Tophatter is showing the way, with more than 35 million customers worldwide and a 26 percent increase in C2C sellers on its platform as of May.
Two factors seem inevitable. One, more people are flocking to shopping experiences that double as entertainment. Two, more retailers will eventually bring the gaming element to their retail offering.
Two new mini games are currently integrated into Tophatter’s gamified shopping experience.
Quests is a set of daily and weekly challenges where customers can earn points by completing tasks while shopping. These tasks include viewing products and placing bids. Treasure Spin is a digital wheel that visitors earn points, cards and other items
Game-playing shoppers cash in their points in the online Card Store. They earn three types of cards that elevate their e-commerce experience or unlock other features within the app.
“Based on how Tophatter shoppers have responded since the launch of our integrated games a few months ago, we can tell there is growing appetite for retail gamification in the U.S. We are excited to explore the possibilities in this category and continue to improve and enhance the shopping experience for our customers,” Kumar said.
Stacking the Deck
Visitors to Tophatter can scroll through available products without playing the games. But doing so has them missing out on fun and discounts. Using the marketplace has no signup fees or enrollment charges.
Engaging the games gives players a chance to win cards that provide discounts on purchased items that are already deeply discounted in some cases. The cards include:
- “Win Skins” to adjust the look and feel of virtual auctions, adding special effects to bidders’ screens such as fireworks or dancing animals.
- “Functional Cards” can change the function of an auction when played. These functions allow users to place a last-minute bid on an item without resetting the clock to secure a near-guaranteed purchase.
- “Credit Cards” are redeemable for $0.50 to $5.00 off a purchase.
- “Mystery Packs” which include a mix of three-to-five cards. They can include a $5 or $20 “Credit Card.”
Tophatter’s concept of shopping on a discovery marketplace differs from other sales platforms.
Most retail marketplaces are designed to benefit shoppers who already have a purchase in mind, according to Kumar. They visit the site for a certain item, and in most cases that is what they will end up purchasing.
“Discovery marketplaces like Tophatter give people an opportunity to go beyond their shopping lists to easily explore for and find new, unexpected items just by scrolling,” he added.
Shoppers who bid on an auction item only pay if they win the bid. Auctions are held in real time. Otherwise, visitors can buy a product they discover outright simply with a click on the Buy Button.
Fulfillment and Marketing Differs Too
Vendors on Tophatter do not send their products to a central warehouse for distribution. Instead, they handle their own warehousing and fulfillment.
“Sellers set their own shipping prices with guidance from us on what resonates with shoppers the most,” said Kumar.
Another difference from other digital marketplaces is the quantities a seller has available. Some Tophatter sellers may include a special offer, available before checkout, to let shoppers get another, identical item at a special price.
“To repeat a purchase, buyers can click the item title on the My Orders page to see if more items are available to buy now,” he said.