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Tip or Skip turns online shopping into a game

Mixing elements of Pinterest and The Fancy with elements of online gaming, this new site hopes to take viral to another level.

Tip or Skip

For me, there are no worse time-sucks than social media and online shopping. Online games, however, have never been a problem. Until now.

Tip or Skip, which launched today with $2 million in funding from 500 Startups, John Ason, Corinthian Group, and angel investors, combines a Fancy or Pinterest-like online shopping experience with a game element.

Started by two childhood friends -- Michael Weiksner, a persuasive-technology specialist who has studied under B.J. Fogg, and Nathaniel McNamara, a mobile-commerce specialist -- the site aims to keep shoppers engaged by appealing to their trend-spotting sensibilities. The idea is that if you have an eye for what's popular, you should move up the scoreboard.

They call it "social merchandising," and they think it sets their site apart from the competition.

"It uses the social signals that the community gives, so it feels like a shopping site, but instead of Saks 5th Avenue or some merchant deciding on the products you see, it's the community," Weiksner said.

Very much like when you "pin" or "fancy" an item, the Tip or Skip site -- and its iOS version -- lets users "tip" items that are then posted to a user's personal page and to the Tip or Skip realm. The company hopes to eventually expand the app to other platforms, but for now non-iOS systems will have to access the applike experience through browsers.

People earn points when other users "re-tip" items the original people tipped. When this happens, the original folks earn "sway." The game involves judging a conveyor belt of items. You tip the item if you like it, but "skip" it if you don't.

I quickly discovered that if you run out of sway points, you can't play the game anymore. Which is why I began furiously trying to figure out how to get more sway, like getting my friends to join the game via Facebook. It wasn't pretty.

Tip or Skip

Other than the gaming element, the site is similar to Fancy and Pinterest. Users can post items to their portfolio of goods by grabbing images from other sites, or by taking photos in real life, or Instagram shots, and adding the hashtag "#tip" to the image during upload.

The site's design is similar to Pinterest's but not as slick as The Fancy's.

It was fun to see if I could be a tastemaker -- it felt almost like I was doing something productive, because I could also go buy the things I tipped, since they're bookmarked on my personalized page.

I'm not sure if the game has staying power, though. Not every item listed has pricing info included with the image, and the hashtags are user generated and haphazard, so it makes for a truly social shopping experience. It's fun, but is it practical?

The game's creators say it's fun and practical. The site factors in how much sway a user has and how much sway an item has, in addition to a user's tipping habits. Items with the most sway are introduced to users first, and people can expect that only the best items will float to the top.

That means unpopular items eventually fall into the depths never to be seen again. For example, in a test to try to break the system, a user who had a lot of sway began tipping only things related to poop. He eventually lost his sway.

Weiksner said Tip or Skip can also be used to promote celebrity merchandise or showcase a personal wardrobe. In addition to physical items, the users also tipped luxury vacation spots and inspirational quotes.

"The concept of social merchandising is something that we really want to take to the umpteenth degree," Wieksner said.

Merchants are also on Tip or Skip. McNamara said he thinks the site will help counteract what he calls "showrooming," in which consumers go to a brick and mortar store to check out an item and then go online to purchase it.

Instead, he envisions people using the mobile version of Tip or Skip to identify products tailored to their tastes and then going to the store down the street where the item's photograph was captured.

I don't know how that will eventually play out -- showrooming seems like a tough phenomenon for the app to combat. But what I do know is: I'd like someone to please tip my "Honey Badger Don't Care" T-shirt so I can get more sway and keep playing.