Tophatter uses a fun cartoon-like interface that functions as a virtual auction. At any given time, there are auctions running in multiple categories. Each auction is held in an elegantly appointed virtual room. A virtual auctioneer stands at a podium with a crowd of virtual bidders assembled in front. The virtual seller stands to the auctioneer's right facing the crowd. When you set up an account, you have the opportunity to create and dress your own avatar, who represents you at auctions. (Since I view this as a sport, I dressed my avatar in a white t-shirt and running shorts!)
When you're ready to play...uh, I mean SHOP, choose the auction category you want to attend from the drop down list at the center top. Naturally there are more categories available during prime shopping hours than at 3 a.m. but you will have less competition in the room at 3 a.m. When you enter the room, your avatar will be standing in an orange circle at the back of the crowd. The item up for auction will be shown at the top center of the screen. Whoever has the top bid at the moment will have a black top hat on their head. The hat moves around from bidder to bidder as new bids are made. A chat window to the right keeps track of the running commentary from the auctioneer, the seller and anyone else in the room who wants to contribute. On the left is a list of the upcoming items. You can click on any item in this list to read more about it, see when it's going to be up for bidding, etc. Since it does take some time to run each auction, you may not want to wait around if your item is #25 on the list. In that case, you can set a reminder that will e-mail or text you two minutes before the item goes on the block.
The bidding process is extremely simple. Once your avatar is in the room, you're able to bid. The big green bid button at the top shows the current price. If you want to bid, click on the green button and the auctioneer will acknowledge your bid by saying "Cheryl is the new high bidder with $20" or whatever. If you win an item, a payment window pops up immediately. Since I sometimes want to bid on the next item too, I often close that window and wait to make payment until I am through shopping.
Almost anyone can sell on Tophatter but they do have a few stable "partners" who form the bedrock of the Tophatter community right now. Most notable among these is Coach Handbags & Accessories. The Coach auctions get really competitive and are fun to watch. If you're persistent (and up in the middle of the night), you just might score an authentic Coach bag for a fraction of its retail price.
Since all sorts of things are auctioned on Tophatter, I thought I'd just show you a few items from some of the categories that I frequent--home goods, jewelry, accessories and cosmetics. Some of these were purchased at unbelievable discounts; others were more the result of a bidding frenzy than good judgment.
The first item is a set of Egyptian cotton towels in a gorgeous jade color that matches my bathroom perfectly. If you've priced these in retail store, you know how expensive they are. (A set of similar quality towels is around $152 full retail at Macy's). There was a lot of competition for this set, but I won them for $40.
Next is something I didn't know I needed; now I can't live without it--a Big Boss hot water dispenser. This thing dispenses boiling water in NINE seconds! No more excruciatingly long waits for the tea kettle to do its job. The crowd must have been asleep, because I snagged this little gem for $12 + $8 shipping. I use this for tea and instant cappuccino mixes.
There is a lot of really pretty costume jewelry on Tophatter. The origins may be dubious but you'll usually get a nice piece for the price paid. This 18K white gold plated teardrop crystal necklace fell into my lap for just $10 + $6 shipping. It arrived in an adorable little gift box. (The picture really doesn't do justice to how sparkly this is.) To my surprise (and probably also the seller's), the box also included a cute little pair of white snowball earrings. They are a bit hard to see and I suspect the seller didn't even notice they were there since they weren't mentioned during the auction. They don't match the necklace but they're really sparkly and cute and will go with anything.
Another beautiful piece of jewelry is this gorgeous 36" lapis lazuli necklace that retails for $49.99. The Tophatter auction price was $10.
My very first Tophatter purchase was this white wooden birdhouse. It is hand made, very good quality and can be used outdoors as a real bird house or indoors for home decor. At $13 + $8 S/H, I thought I got a great deal but found out later that the same thing was available on eBay for a bit less. Since then, the eBay price has gone up, so I'm o.k. with what I paid.
I like to hang out in the kitchenware auctions. The best deal I've scored on Tophatter to date is this Calphalon Contemporary 2.5 qt. Stainless Sauce Pan. I bid on this because of the see through lid, not because I need another pot. For the $16 + $8 S/H I paid, I wasn't expecting much, so was pleasantly shocked at the high quality of this pot which retails for $99.
Probably the only kitchen item I didn't own was a Dutch oven. Thanks to Tophatter, the heaviest item in my kitchen is now this enameled cast iron 8 quart Dutch oven by Cook's Tradition. This is a BEAST that weighs 20 pounds and retails for $145. There was quite a bit of competition on this one but I finally won at $44 plus $9 S&H.
The description did not mention the two little covered rubber ramekins that arrived inside the Dutch oven. If anyone can tell me what they are used for, I'd be grateful!
I'll admit I bid on this blush duo from bhCosmetics because it was so darn cute! Apparently I wasn't the only susceptible bidder as there was intense competition. Against my better judgment, I finally won at $11 + $5 S&H. Well, I should have done my homework. This is available on eBay for $8-10 total and is on sale on the bhCosmetics website for $4.95 right now. I consider it tuition paid in the College of Life....just glad this didn't happen on a more expensive item. And it IS one heckuva great looking full size blush duo!
Vera Bradley is one of the partners that you'll see on Tophatter from time to time. Those auctions are fun to observe since there is a lot of action on every item. For me, the prices usually go much too high. However, I stumbled across an auction from a private seller for this Vera Bradley quilted tote in Bali Blue. Although it is used, it is in immaculate like new condition and the auction closed at $21 + $8 S/H. I am not certain, but I believe this retails for around $86 brand new.
Well, there's much more to explore on Tophatter. I just wanted to show you some hits and one miss as well as a range of items you might find. As I mentioned at the top, this is a fun and addictive shopping site so be sure to set your spending limit before you get started. One caveat....if you're considering bidding on something and if there's time, check the eBay price (or other relevant sites) first. Sometimes the item is available at a fixed price that is much lower than the price reached during a bidding frenzy on Tophatter. If you look ahead at upcoming items, you should have plenty of time to do your research.
Enjoy the fun atmosphere on Tophatter and don't blame me for the avalanche of great stuff that will arrive in your mailbox!