Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review of Tophatter Auction Site to sell art

Thinking of trying Tophatter, the real-time live auction site to sell art or crafts or vintage or ..... ?  I did and I loved it.  It has the potential to be a major player in online selling, not so much because there's anything unique being sold, but because it's FUN!  It's live and it moves fast.  Here's my review of Tophatter.

Remember bidding wars on Ebay?  This is better.  All bidders sign up ahead, go into a virtual auction room with a real-time "auctioneer" and one by one, items come up and are bid for.  Minimum bids set by sellers must be half of the retail, and there's plenty of time to look at the items before they actually hit the auction block. 

Each buyer has an icon...at this time it's a clumsy cartoon of men or women distinguishable only by color... and bid, real time, on the item.  I watched for a while before I sold, and what fun!  It was fun to see what each item sold for, fun to see if it sold!  They have chat live during the auctions, which means you can ask questions of the seller (if they are there) live, or chat amongst yourselves.  Did I say it's fun?  I saw sellers wait til an item almost hit the final gavel, then offer a freebie in, some samples, for instance, and the bidding  started all over again.

The other word I hear describing Tophatter is that it is addicting, and it is.  Now, what's for sale there?  They have separate auctions for like lots.  For instance, there's Health and Beauty auctions, Art Auctions, Pet (related item) auctions, jewelry auctions, supplies auctions, vintage auctions and daily bazaars where anything goes.

You can go in and out of auctions, if nothing in line to sell at the jewelry auction strikes your fancy, go to the art auction for a while.  And you can browse days ahead at upcoming auctions and have Tophatter send you a text message when it's about to be auctioned, so you don't have to watch the whole auction...but you'll WANT to!

Sellers can talk about their product or item, describe nuances, answer questions, talk it up, all live during the auction.

So you get it, it's a live auction, with live buyers and sellers and an auctioneer, online, and loads of fun.  Do buyers get deals?  Do sellers make money?

Go watch!  I saw some incredible deals, but mostly I saw fabulous wares I never saw before going for near retail.  I also saw some one of a kinds go way over the expected price.  I also saw no sales on items.

Most of the auctions I watched sold relatively inexpensive items, under $50.  As it grows, I expect to see that change and pricier items sell.  Ebay had its day as an auction site and (stupidly, imo) moved away from it and lost the fun and the momentum of competition that auctions bring at any price point.  Tophatter is stepping up to not only compete with Ebay, but with Etsy and the other Etsy-wannabe sites.

The Nuts and Bolts:  Both buyers and sellers need a paypal account to sell, and the actual transactions for an item, the payment and the payment of the seller's fees to Tophatter, are handled on paypal, not through Tophatter.  There is an active feedback portion.  The fees to sell, as of the date of this blog post, is 10% or $1, whichever is highest.  So not good for $5 items. 

To control fraud, both buyers and sellers are on a probationary period while the transactions all take place on 3 items.  The buyer paying, the seller shipping and paying the Tophatter fee and I think leaving feedback, as well.

To set  up an auction of your item...called a "lot" here, is pretty simple, after signup, it's a one page affair with small photos needed and a good description, along with retail price and what you want to start the bidding at (half or less of the retail).  After you list, you need to schedule your auction.  There's a list of the types of auctions and you just choose what is relevent.  They choose the time and it's getting crowded as this fun site grows.  You can edit your item and reschedule your date and time.  You don't get to choose date and time, but if you know, for instance, that you cannot be around on Tuesday, you can reschedule it for a later date.

My personal experience as a seller was that I sold a small portrait commission, my first time out.  I did not attend my auction because I had a computer glitch on my end during the auction, and I think I would have sold it for higher if I had.  But it did sell, for a nice percentage of my retail price and I'm definitely doing it again.  My buyer is also a first timer at Tophatter and we are working on her portrait commission now.  She paid within hours, I was billed by Tophatter and paid them, now all that's left is for me to finish her pet portrait and mail to her.

I don't think I'm going to do portrait commissions, only because my prices for them are the same everywhere I sell...at my etsy custom portrait shop, the gallery I show at in Philadelphia, and from my portrait website, and I want to keep my custom portrait prices consistent.  So I am going to do already done work in the future.  I did that for a while on ebay and it was so much fun, gave me a ton of confidence (I was just starting out) and I sold at amazing prices when there were bidding wars.  There's a LOT of bidding wars at Tophatter.

Remember when ebay was fun?  This is way more fun.  Tophatter is growing and I suspect that as it grows, it will get less clunky (the avatars customizable, for instance), faster ability to get into an auction, and will have a variety of auctions all the time, etc.  As a seller, at the least it is exposure with no upfront fee, and at the best, a nice sales platform. 

Anyone who's ever bid at a real life auction has experienced the decision to stop bidding at $40 and before you know it, you bid $42...then $46..then $55.... this has all that momentum and fun and is available when you feel like it!  And you don't have to tie anything on the roof of your car!

Your experiences with Tophatter?  Love to hear it.


Anonymous said...

On the Creative Breakroom forum, several people mentioned how distracting the bubble comments are, especially when they have nothing to do with the item for sale.

Lots of them appear to be people asking questions about how to sell.

Sometimes the bubbles of extraneous conversation covered the auctioneer and the seller's comments and answers to questions. Perhaps Tophatter needs to ask people to only discuss the item? Or only have the bubbles be about the item and other conversation in the scroll below?

Robin said...

It's against Tophatter etiquette to chat about anything except the item up for bid during an auction, but obviously violated a lot.

I asked them via twitter if the auctioneer could remind everyone that during bidding, all chat should be about the item.

The chat is great since the Seller can answer questions, point out features and talk the item up.

Anonymous said...

My main problem with it is that any negative feedback you leave is only visible to the seller and the Tophat administrators. Buyers are completely ignorant of any problem sellers. For instance, I had a very bad experience with a seller who refused to deal with me via email, and when I reported it to Tophatter? NOTHING HAPPENED. The customer support rep agreed with me that it was wrong, but oh well, I guess future buyers are just out of luck.

Anonymous said...

It has been really difficult getting my items listed to be bid on. It is very heavily weighted towards some sellers where the auction really doesn't have a good rounded variety of items for sale. It would be better to offer more of a variety, something for everyone rather than a whole auction on two or three sellers or similar items. Perhaps "invite" one or two sellers from crocheted, glass, soap or candle makers.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I have sold two items on tophatter. I have yet to recieve any feedback on either one, which is bad because that is how they go by how many items you can put on and how often. I think the talking in the auction rooms should be kept to the item being auction and not other subjects, I found it pretty distracting. I have been trying to list another item for several days now, and it is telling me they are full. All in all...I got fare price for my items, and it is fast and exciting. I am sure it will get better with time.

Robin said...

Thanks for the comments about your experiences. I think it is having growing pains, but all in all, it's a nice alternative.

I think the more feedback we can give them, the better. I haven't been back for a while because I've been busy and this is like my last priority, but I am giving it another go.

Anonymous said...

Having a hard time getting my items listed. Told there are more sellers than auction slots yet I am always seeing the same items in auctions, which doesn' make sense to me unless they have select sellers. Had great experience with two of three purchases but will move on since so many duplications.

Robin said...

I am having no problems getting listed but that might be because I have sold everything I've listed there.

I am trying an aceo pet portrait today (May 30), as a loss leader. It will definitely be a bargain unless it gets bid up very high.

But, I am on "standby", which apparently is a new thing since I've been there, and someone has to bid the minimum in advance.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Philips said...

Customers are absolutely uninformed of any problem suppliers.
Best Auction Site

Anonymous said...

Tophatter is really bad for sellers as there is no seller protection and I mean none and ever sense Charlie was hired just over 2 months ago in charge of Trust and Safety he has made even worse for sellers I quit selling on there over two weeks ago and am glad I did!! I have heard of them suspending even there top sellers recently over random crazy reasons that even there staff have broke while selling items. Tophatter also requires sellers have personal photos of an item yet when they sell an item they just use stock photos in addition tophatter not tophatter sellers but tophatter as had several complaints of selling non authentic items, yet they are suspending there sellers for this violation all over there sellers lounge, I am glad to be back to just ebay, hopefully another good live auction website comes around as is a great idea and concept and was good the first two years they were around were you could pay 50 dollars and have a featured auction, however now it is horrible and the owners seem to not care that several sellers large and small have complained about Charlie's policies maybe eventually they will figure it out and can him before he gets rid of all of there seller's its like he justifying his job or something by suspending seller's, I closed my account before anything like that could happen to me or just quit using it, once they get seller protections in place allow sellers to dispute negative feedback especially when a buyer leaves negative feedback for item never received and tracking shows received hello tophatter that's a no brainer remove it oh wait Charlie is the new boss.

Anonymous said...

Also tophater's commission rates are crazy as high as 30 percent if you are a partner seller and 20 percent in some categories and 15% in all others and they wonder why sellers there d not have the highest quality items paying those kinds of fees are nuts only liquidator sellers can make money there as any other seller there profit is 20-25% and with no seller protections in place a matter of time before they sink just like other business's there owners have filed bankruptcy on as they just don't make smart decisions which is to bad as this is actually a good concept they need to let paypal do there job as a payment processor as tophatter is not and if they want to act like one then become one I feel bad for some of there sellers as they are stuck with tophatter being the only platform they sell on and hate how things are but are stuck takes time to get going on another platform and lots of patience as you are limited to how many items you can sell being new on ebay, poor guys hopefully someone else comes out with something very similar soon which I know will happen and will probably be a group of there former sellers that do it and because they know hot to treat sellers and buyers alike they will be successful.