ToVieFor: Entertainment Shopping Meets High Fashion (With Cheap Handbags Galore!)

“Entertainment Shopping” is one of the more controversial genres of startups emerging on the web. The basic premise: you pay for a chance to get something at far cheaper than it normally sells for, but there’s a risk that you’ll come away with nothing. It’s part gambling, part bargain hunting and it’s proved to be very popular, with sites like Swoopo leading the charge and other sites bringing the model to hotels and other verticals. And today, TechCrunch Disrupt Finalist ToVieFor is bringing entertainment shopping to a new market: high fashion.

If you like Gilt Groupe (a site that offers high-fashion items in fire-sales), this should be right up your alley. Log onto the site, and you’ll see an array of high-end handbags and accessories being sold off at a potentially steep discount. If you want to buy one (or at least, a chance to buy one), you need to buy some ToVieFor credits, which run 99 cents and are cheaper in bulk. And then you can get down to business.

Jump into a ToVieFor sale — it costs you one to five credits to join one — and you’ll see whatever handbag or accessory you clicked on featured front-and-center. It is featured with a suggested retail price, which begins to drop. As it continues to drop, you can hit the ‘buy’ button to nab it at the price that’s currently being displayed. It’s a bit like a game of chicken — the site only sells a finite number of each item, so if you wait too long for the price to drop even further, you’ll miss out. And even if you don’t wind up buying the item, you’re still out those credits.

To help allay any frustration about missing out on a sale the site will often offer users, namely those who bid on many sales, some discounts, incentives and gift cards for the same brand if they’ve missed out on an item.

ToVieFor can offer these goods at significantly below retail price because it makes money off of these credits (a similar model is used by other entertainment shopping sites). And brands benefit from this because ToVieFor gives them a new marketing channel to connect with customers — you might not get that Rebecca Minkoff or Louis Vuitton purse at 60% off, but the company can email you a coupon for 20% off.

ToVieFor’s model isn’t totally novel, but the site looks well done. The success of Gilt proves that consumers are hungry for deals on fashion, and ToVieFor’s addictive model could well harness it. That said, the site is going to have to figure out the balance between making money and leaving users frustrated, and it needs to make sure it keeps premium fashion brands on board.

DD: How do you get to the women that buy this high quality clothes.

A: Similar way to Gilt Groupe, targetting women in New York city, those women are our friends. Start there, give incentives to invite friends.

JS: Have you done any trials? If friends are vying for the same thing and all show up to party wearing the same thing…

A: Very much in the way sample sale sites made discounts into entertainment, part of the reason it worked was that it was very exclusive. We may only have five handbags available and 500 people playing…

LL: How are you making sure you get high-end fasion?

A: We work directly with brands. Position it as very high-end. The price point is typically a 300-800 dollar bag. For brands it’s a marketing ploy. If they sell 50 bags at a discount they may sell 5,000 more at full price later.