Either the best or the worst thing possible has happened to impulsive shoppers in America: a new e-commerce site called Drop ‘Til You Shop has managed to turn online shopping into a nail-biting, multiplayer game of Deal or No Deal.
At its core, Drop ‘Til You Shop is like an online clearance rack, offering up products that would otherwise wind up buried in sales bins at bricks-and-mortar retailers and take months to clear out.
But instead of throwing a bunch of deals up at once and giving users a certain time limit to purchase them (a la Groupon or eBay), the site posts just three deals at a time and gives shoppers mere seconds to snap them up while the price drops before their eyes. There’s just one catch — you’re competing against other shoppers to purchase products at the same time.
“The site is driven by the fact that any one user is affecting everyone else’s experience live, no matter what they’re doing on the site,” says Nick Rosenthal, CEO and co-founder. “It really is a multiplayer game.”
Here’s how it works:
When you visit the site, three products are featured front and center — a set of dishes, christmas ornaments, a Starbucks gift card. Each is affixed with a price ticker that starts at the item’s suggested retail price and ticks down cent by cent until a shopper decides to “freeze” the deal and claim it. The buyer then has 3 minutes (counted down by a giant clock at checkout, naturally) to pay up before it gets released back on the site.
Items are featured for less than 60 seconds but once someone freezes them, a banner appears telling you the deal is gone. But you won’t have too long to mope. Within a few seconds, another deal will have popped up in its place and the game will begin all over again. It’s like shopping in a slot machine. And because the site is only working with a handful of retailers so far, we saw many repeat items turn up throughout a three-hour sale.
Shoppers can see a preview of the next three upcoming deals, but there’s no way to browse the entire site’s inventory. That also means there’s little time to research a product first to be sure you’re getting a deal. They stagger the deals so that new deals show up at least every 45 seconds.
“The key thing for us is to keep the site ticking over quickly enough that it doesn’t get stale or boring,” Rosenthal says.
The gamification of shopping
The idea behind Drop Til You Shop isn’t entirely new. Retailers have long used the power of “BUY NOW!” and “SALE ENDS SOON” signage in hopes of spurring shoppers to action. And eBay and the bevy of daily deals sites both put definitive deadlines to the availability of each product to encourage people to act sooner rather than later.
And like the addictive set-up of Drop Til You Shop, penny-auction site Deal Dash uses the clock in its favor as well. Deal Dash starts bids on hundreds of products at $0.00 and lets users bid on them one cent at a time (bids cost 60 cents a pop). If no new bids are placed in a certain amount of time, the highest bidder walks away with the prize.
If you don’t mind the stress that comes with shopping under a buzzer, these sites can be excellent ways to score deals on stuff you may have purchased anyway — just browse with caution. As much as the site gives users a shot at scoring great deals, the thrill of playing the game could easily send impulse shoppers down a rabbit hole of needless spending. Once you’ve frozen a deal, you have only three minutes to pay, so
Luckily, the site is running two three-hour sales per day for now (9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 9 p.m. to 12 a.m.), which leaves less time to make decisions you may later regret.
Getting in the game
Rosenthal knows a thing or two about getting shoppers into the game of shopping. He was formerly a producer at the Home Shopping Network in his native Sydney, Australia, and has also worked in the entertainment industry producing infomercials. He and partner David Stein have raised more than $1.25 million in capital and set up shop in New York City.
After running soft demos over several months, Rosenthal and Stein officially launched the site on Dec. 3. If all goes well, they eventually hope to sell their Drop 'Til You Shop technology to retailers to use natively on their own sites.
The focus of this month’s offerings are holiday gifts, with sales on everything from jewelry and kids’ toys to iPads and Amazon gift cards cycling through. They merchandise the site themselves and use an algorithm to decide how low they’ll go on a particular product. Browsing this morning, we saw a $300 iPad Mini go as low as $170 before the deal disappeared.
“Really the most exciting part of eBay is the last 30 seconds of bidding,” says Rosenthal. “We’re really allowing users to have that experience all the time.”
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