Thursday, 18 October 2012

Tophatter: A Review


Tophatter is one of the latest online “trends”.  Another “live auction” website, where you can sell anything! Sounds too good to be true? Well it is. Where should I start with all the problems?

1)      Viewing the site. You must be a member to view ANYTHING on Tophatter. If you share your internet with anyone you will need facebook to sign up. I am hearing reports that some people are being forced to connect with facebook anyway just to use the website. Let’s say you see an advert for Tophatter somewhere on the internet, for a pair of Tiffany earrings you have always wanted. So you click the link, only to be faced with “Sign up to join  Tophatter. Sign Up Using Facebook.” This is the main way to become a member, with your facebook. If someone hasn’t created a Tophatter account with the same IP address as yourself, you may be allowed to sign up with your email, but it’s not common. There isn’t even a way to contact them, to see that information you need to be signed in. If you do have facebook, and click it to sign in, Tophatter will link your accounts, and post everything you look at on Tophatter onto your facebook wall, where everyone on your friends list can see it. You need to manually disconnect them. Also the website is not mobile-friendly.

2)      Verifying your account. To be able to sell anything on Tophatter, you have to give them your Credit Card details, or verify yourself with PayPal, giving Tophatter your full name (as it appears on PayPal), and your address. What do you need to be a buyer? Nothing, not even a PayPal account. Many people are being taken for a ride by Non-Paying Bidders, but that is a whole issue to come later. Tophatter also want you to link to Twitter, Pinterest, your website, Etsy shop and anything else online!

3)      The fees. If your item sell you have to pay Tophatter “a percent commission fee (based on the winning bid amount), with a minimum fee of $1” (taken from Tophatter.com FAQ). BUT also, some auctions are different: “Some auctions have flat fees implemented which means there is no percent commission, but the flat fee is owed if the item is auctioned off, regardless of whether it sells.” Taken from the same FAQ. If selling in a Community Auction (one that is set up by a user, not a TH-run auction) there are even more different fees. 5% of the final item price, with no minimum fee. So it seems like a Community Auction (commonly called CA) is the way to go? Well not really, the auction doesn’t get featured on the main page unless the host (in this case, a host is the creator of the community auction) pays Tophatter $50 in advance. Only 100 items can be “sold” in these auctions. Not everything sells though, usually quite a bit doesn’t sell, or fetch much money. You have to pay your fees before they reach $50, otherwise you can’t list anything.

4)      Bullying. Now you wouldn’t expect bullying on a selling place would you? Well Tophatter have it. It ranges from stalking, abuse of the mute button, harassment via email and telephone to buying items to spite a seller and leaving negative feedback just to ruin someone’s statistics and earnings. There have been many reports and well-known incidents of personal attacks, threats, and even threats on someone’s life. Witch-hunts for people on facebook who some sellers believe to be staff in disguise. This is orchestrated by people in their little cliques, ganging up on sellers who aren’t in their little circle. In a second they can have a large group of them report you in chat, landing you with a mute, either 24hours long or permanent. Attacked, stalked and victimised, many people have left Tophatter to sell elsewhere, some try to fight it, writing to as many people as possible at Tophatter, asking for an explanation as to how they received 60 reports in one night. Someone once got muted when they said “hi” because there were people in the auction room out to get them. Poor people.

5)      Poor staff attitudes, wow this is a biggie. Both the paid staff and the volunteer “hosts” have a bad case of biggus headdus. Say one thing wrong and they bite your head off, usually with a mute. What if one of them says something wrong that is against the rules? Nothing, they laugh it off. The same as if they sell something incorrectly, no big deal when it is staff, or Tophatter’s favourite little angels who can do no wrong, but if it is anyone else? BAM! Muted. Or permanently suspended in a few people’s cases. One seller followed the rules that Tophatter set her, how to title her “adult-themed” item, but people weren’t having it and she got banned. Then one of Tophatter’s crew listed a very similar item with a very similar name, they were not forced to adhere to the restrictions, Tophatter staff even promoted it, something else that is against the rules. There used to be a few hosts, they were lovely people, but they were treated badly by staff, and almost all of those hosts have stopped hosting, who knows if they still visit Tophatter. Everyone is expected to help Tophatter staff to do their jobs, reporting items that are in the wrong category, reporting users that are breaking the rules, but there it gets out of hand.

6)      Item authenticity. There are lots of fake items on Tophatter, such as fake Tiffany earrings for $5, fake Coach bags for $20, items being listed as .925 solid sterling silver when they are plated and worth less than $1 per necklace. Add to that you have people with fake profiles, generating fake bids for their own items so that they get more money. And staff sell, under a different profile, which is not allowed, but still it happens. There is a chat box on Tophatter, where people come to chat, gossip, talk up items or talk down items. This is where the mutes occur, where people spill their fake sob stories, like their grandmother died recently (3rd time this season she’s done that, how inconsiderate of my gramgram to die 3 times). They have cancer so can’t ship anything this week, but will still list items for sale. Or they suddenly have no money, so they can’t afford to buy anything else, except that item that they really need. And yet they can advance lots of items. But not the ordinary seller, oh no. Sometimes you can’t advance people’s items if you’ve already advanced X amount of times. But it seems those “pets” get to do it. Tophatter says if you want to buy more from that person go to their store. Well, what if Tophatter is the only place they sell? If it isn’t why are Tophatter so willing to lose sales? I’m sure the sellers would rather you bought from their shops, saving them money in fees, allowing them to earn more money.

7)      Speaking of no money, there are lots of non-Paying Bidders around, and bad sellers who pretend to ship and never do. So what buyer protection does Tophatter have? “If a buyer doesn’t pay you, please report them with negative feedback.  Buyers with negative feedback for non-payment risk being banned from future auctions. *DO NOT* ship a buyer their items until you receive payment; this includes waiting for an eCheck to clear.” That’s it. If anything goes wrong, take it up with PayPal, as long as you are within the 45day limit of the paid item. If someone hasn’t paid, there is nothing you can do about it. Oh and if the item is custom or perishable, don’t bother filing a claim or dispute with PayPal, as a buyer, you aren’t covered. However if it doesn’t arrive you may be covered, but check PayPal’s policy.

8)      Feedback. You can only read a sample of positive feedback (a maximum of 3), that the seller chooses to display. Only the seller can see his or her own negative or neutral feedback, which every other buying site does. In fact, every other site will show you ALL feedback. To top it off, some buyers and sellers will use the feedback to blame, bully and extort things from the other person. They won’t contact to resolve any issues, they will just leave negative feedback and complain until the cows come home!
This is becoming quite a big list! Not much left, I promise!

9)      “Priority” sellers. Tophatter say they use an algorithm to determine who can list however many items. This can change, even if nothing has happened, one day you may have priority status, but fail to sell enough items at a high enough price and you will be bumped back down to standard. How do they work this out? Well they say: “Factors that have a positive impact on a seller’s statistics include:
1. A high percentage of successful sales per items listed
2. A high number of average bids and average bidders per lot auctioned
3. High final sale prices (both in real $ value and in final % of retail price)
4. Positive feedback from buyers
 Factors that may have a negative impact on a seller’s statistics include:
1. A low percentage of successful sales per items listed
2. A low number of average bids and average bidders per lot auctioned
3. Posting misleading items, including items with inflated retail prices, misleading images, or incorrect descriptions
4. Negative feedback from buyers.“ 
     And now Tophatter have even more privileges for their special sellers, they can have up to 50 items that are marked as not shipped before they face any consequences. For the standard Joe Public it is between 1 and 5. To become this privileged, you have to be a “trusted” seller, just sell lots of items for well over your low starting price and over the fake retail price. Have your friends or alternate personalities sing your praises wherever possible.

On top of all this, you have the normal problems associated with buying online: missing packages, bad seller attitudes, feedback extortion. My advice? Stick to Outbid, Etsy, Folksy, Ebay, Storenvy etc, they are much better. Still want to use Tophatter? Do so at your own risk. Only buy genuine handmade from there, anything else, check online. If it looks too good to be true (like a $4000 ring for $20) then it definitely is. All the decent, reputable sellers have other shops where they sell, go look for them.

1 comment:

  1. I thank you so much for posting this. It is SO much worse now. They constantly are adding MORE RULES and MORE FEES. NOW the CA hosts have to pay for getting their auction to the front page and NOW they have to pay for advertizing too and how many ppl are in the room they charge the host for that too. I wish I knew where a new market was that is like TH used to be when they first started. It used to be for small businesses and Handmade items and now it is so far from that. I pay OVER $100 in fees a week just to try and make enough money to help put food on the table and TH does not care. They are GREEDY and Heartless and have left behind the ones who helped build them up which were the small businesses and Craftsmen. Th will NOT listen or hear anyone out and if you so much a peep something negative about them on the site, they will mute you. I will be reporting them to the BBB soon and to everyone who will listen about How they treat their sellers. There should be a law about price gouging with their fees and all the bullying that goes on in there.

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