We talked to Megan Wang, Head of Supply (China) at Tophatter, a discovery auction marketplace for mobile shoppers. She shares her insights on trends in the eCommerce industry, how to make customers happy, the use of data, and a general overview of Tophatter’s mobile shopping experience.
What is the purpose and vision of Tophatter?
We are a discovery mobile shopping experience. Our mission is to be the fastest, most entertaining marketplace around the globe. For 2016 and 2017, a lot of our focus is on global expansion on both the supply and demand side.
Our marketplace started with mostly supply in the US. In 2016, we started expanding into China, which is what our team at XNode is doing. In 2017, we’ll continue to expand globally and plan to launch new consumer apps across other languages, including Spanish and European countries.
How did the concept come into existence?
Our co-founders are good friends from Stanford University, and early on they were always excited to learn more about consumer behavior, data & analysis. As they continued through a variety of iterations and products, they realized Tophatter had the potential to scale.
While they may not come from ecommerce, with their technical background, passion for innovation and excitement for data, they started Tophatter - an engaging shopping experience.
"Our mission is to be the fastest, most entertaining marketplace around the globe"
How does Tophatter use data?
In the eCommerce industry, it’s all about data - answering questions such as how do we offer the best consumer experience, from sale to post-purchase? What does the customer want to buy? Can we even go so far as to predict what customers want before they even know? We use data to create a personalized shopping experience for consumers.
What is Tophatter’s business model?
We are a marketplace platform. We connect sellers and buyers around the world. We’ve built an infrastructure for successful transactions by driving traffic, creating an engaging app experience and providing both seller and customer support.
For the consumer, we deliver a discovery shopping experience. Customers don’t come to Tophatter to purchase something they are looking to find. Instead, they come to be delighted to find something entirely new.
On the supply side, the most exciting part is our quick turnover. We can move inventory really quickly and we use our data insights to merchandise product in a way that appeals to consumers needs.
"Customers don’t come to Tophatter to purchase something they are looking to find. Instead, they come to be delighted to find something entirely new."
Why did you choose 90 second auctions?
The auction concept is really interesting - it’s in real-time and unique because each auction event is different, and customers may not see the same items again. When an item comes up for auction, customers are actively bidding on it. It’s dynamic and engaging; it’s similar to a gaming experience.
Why did Tophatter decide to move to China last year?
Our team in China is focused on expanding our supply from this region. China is the largest manufacturer and has global supply chains. As we expand on the consumer side as well, China can provide logistics and solutions to reach all of these customers.
Additionally, China has deep inventory so we can offer more variety to the customer. The industry is established too, so our concept resonated with suppliers - especially our ability to move inventory fast. We definitely have big plans for our team here.
"China has deep inventory so we can offer more variety to the customer. The industry is established too, so our concept resonated with suppliers "
Do you have a Chinese competitor so far?
There may be one out there, but we aren’t particularly aware of anyone specific. We aren’t looking at China as a consumer market right now. I do think that the appetite for online shopping is huge here, but right now we’re focused on growing our supply base.
How about worldwide? Who are your main competitors?
I’d say that ecommerce is not a winner take all industry. The online shopping space is huge. The focus isn’t on taking market share away. It’s more about how do we grow the industry as whole and how can we each offer our own unique experience to consumers.
I’d say there are other auction marketplace concepts but with different business models, where one has to pre-purchase bids. For us, we’re an old school auction - the customer joins the live auction, bids and pays for what they win. I have a hard time putting a name to anyone doing the same thing that we’re doing.
How do you make it a satisfying user experience?
In the world of online shopping, there are so many options - the consumer experience can get overwhelming. What we do is we simplify it. When a customer comes to Tophatter, we’re going to show you an item that we think you’ll like to buy within the first few seconds. It’s about the simplicity and speed of purchase - come to the app, find something that you like and buy it!
In terms of the post-purchase experience, it’s about setting the right expectations - this boils down to making sure listings are accurate, products are genuine, delivery is fast and we track all of these closely. When a customer receives their product, we want them to be happy. We are responsible for showing the consumer the best possible experience.
"What we do is we simplify it, we’re going to show you an item that we think you’ll like to buy within the first few seconds."
As a marketplace, how do you control what the supplier is sending?
We set the right expectations for suppliers and we are strict when it comes to following our policies and regulations. We want to make sure that the product is up to our standards - we want to make customers happy and we want them to be excited about coming back to purchase again. There’s a lot of effort on our end that goes into ensuring that when an item arrives, it is exactly what the customer thought it would be. If it isn’t, then we’ll take any necessary action to rectify that.
What is the most difficult part of your journey - is it getting customers, engagement or to retain buyers?
These are all equally important parts of the experience. At any point in the process, something could fail from driving enough traffic to match supply, by ensuring that customers convert successfully and make purchases. We aren’t perfect, but we’re always working to get better.
How do you deal with customer service issues for brand image?
We have two types of customer service: 1) sellers interact directly with customers and 2) our own internal customer support team. What we’ve done in the past year is to streamline our support and ensure that our content and quality for every interaction is high. It’s easy to have miscommunication, especially when you have sellers around the globe and consumers that speak different languages.
Our streamlined process allows customers to simply click on issue areas and we’ve provided easy response mechanisms for sellers. It reduces confusion, increases efficiency and also produces data so we can figure out larger key issues. We also keep track of the ticket close rates & quality ratings for the supplier as well. It’s important for them to also provide the best front line customer support.
On the branding side, we just brought on a VP of Branding. Our focus will be on ensuring that what you see on Tophatter is high quality and a wonderful experience. Most of the work is on the transaction experience itself, but we also want to make sure we’re available to address any questions consumers might have, whether it’s through email, social media, etc.
What is the future of auctions in eCommerce?
For the industry, I think when we talk about the customer purchase experience, it’s more about the future of flash sales and predicting what a customer wants to purchase. That’s the experience that people can relate to - it’s more about being able to show customers what we think they want, and for us to get it right.
"The customer purchase experience, it’s more about the future of flash sales and predicting what a customer wants to purchase."
Did you build an AI system for evaluating consumer needs and demands?
I guess in some ways it’s similar to AI in the sense that we’re always getting smarter when it comes to recommending products to consumers. Those 5 or even 30 products on the front page of Tophatter are there because we think you’ll want to purchase them and we do all of this in real-time.
Is there an average of items you have to put on the front page or does it depend on the traffic?
We are constantly working to ensure a balance between supply and demand. When you go to the app and see 5 or 30 products, there’s a reason. It’s possible that the demand we anticipated in that moment was more or less than it was 1 hour ago, and so we’re always working to find balance.
What is your target audience?
Our consumers are women who love discovering new products and enjoy the thrill of winning great deals. We’re focused on that discovery experience but while also offering value & discounts to our customers. It’s the price point and products that we have which attract people the most. We sell products across the fast moving consumer goods categories such as Jewelry, Electronics, Home, Kitchen, Apparel, Accessories, etc. We also have branded products as well, which resonate with our customer base. We want to be able to offer a mix of product that excites customers and keeps them coming back.
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