Friday Dec 7, 2012 by Susan Johnston - Contributor, VentureFizz
When Shawn Harris owned ECC Life & Style, a custom clothing company that created suits for clients including Celtics coach Doc Rivers, he noticed a problem with pricing. “One price doesn’t suit them all,” he says. “In my mind, I started to think through a way to price our products that was unbiased and noncompetitive. Nyopoly was born out of these ideals. How can we build a method for the consumer and retailer not to miss a purchase because of price?”
Nyopoly, which stands for name your own price (plus the “oly”), is an online retailer where consumers negotiate the price of each product on a one-to-one basis using patent-pending technology. “Nyopoly is like walking in to a store, grabbing an item off the shelf, and determining your purchase price with the cashier,” says cofounder Joe Shartzer. “It's not an auction, and you're not competing against anyone. It's personal.”
With Shartzer as director of marketing and communication, Harris as CEO, and Upromise alum Tak-Sang Chan as CTO, the North Attleboro-based site originally launched in April. They relaunched the site in November after pivoting the business model. “Our initial model, we thought we could build a marketplace where we would allow other retailers to leverage Nyopoly’s approach,” says Harris. “We [were] targeting brick and mortar retailers to engage with their customer base where it’s not about flat discounting. The consumer would go into the store to actually pick up. Buy online, pick up in store.”
However, as Nyopoly’s five-person team worked through that approach, they realized the return just wasn’t there, so they morphed into a direct seller instead, working with product partners including Versace, BCBG, and Prada. “We also changed the dynamic of how we were actually engaging with consumers,” adds Harris. “The user experience that somebody would have on Nyopoly’s side is that genuine negotiation you would experience in front of somebody. Make an offer, either we accept it or counteroffer.”
Consumer’s low-ball offers are not accepted but reasonable offers receive a counter-offer. Consumers receive Nyopoly Money (the site’s virtual currency, which is redeemable for Nyopoly purchases) when their offer is accepted on the first or second attempt.
The “name your price” concept may seem a bit like Priceline for clothing but Harris and Shartzer are quick to point out a few key differences. First, there’s the one-to-one negotiation. “Our negotiation is between the shopper and Nyopoly as opposed to a Priceline where it’s between the buyer and a number of hotels,” explains Harris.
Transparency is another differentiator. “With Nyopoly, you can see the product and you know exactly what you’re making an offer on,” adds Shartzer.
As for the accepted prices, Harris says “they are in line with what we thought they would be, so very reasonable offers, fair discounts, and people really getting a great deal while Nyopoly still being a business that is financially sound.” He adds that the approach appeals to brands because they aren’t locked into a flat discount across the board as they would be with a flash sale site that advertises a percentage off. “From a brand perspective that can hurt brand equity,” says Harris.
Going forward, Harris hopes to increase the number of products carried on Nyopoly and continue growing it customer base. Adds Shartzer, “our focus is making sure we have the best, latest, trendiest items in fashion for our customer base, really making sure that we have these great designer names and these beautiful on-trend items.”