It’s been almost four years since eBay shut down its live auction service that incorporated real auction houses with online bidding. The marketplace wanted to focus on creating a retail-like experience. Live auctions didn’t fit within that vision.
Since eBay retired the gavel in late 2008, auction houses and online auction sites have been left to evolve virtual live bidding for themselves. Although eBay—the granddaddy of online auction sites—ended live auctions on its site, there’s still plenty of demand for this type of bidding.
“The live online auction industry is quite large, and, honestly, it’s difficult to put a size on it because it’s a moving target,” says Dana Kaufman, communications director at Proxibid, one of the top online auction sites.
Proving there is life outside of eBay
Two of eBay’s original auction-house partners, LiveAuctioneers and iCollector, continue to each bring more than 1,000 global auction houses under their umbrellas and into your living room. Their clients place upcoming auction items in the sites’ catalogues, making real-time auctions available for bidders who can’t be there in person.For sellers who have an item or two worth selling, LiveAuctioneers can connect you with auction houses
Each auction house has its own set of payment rules and usually they don’t accept PayPal. They are likely to charge tax and a “buyer’s premium,” which is a percentage of the winning bid, so you are expected to read the item page carefully.
Bidders find everything from estate to fine art sales across the globe, and online sellers can even utilize the sites to research selling prices. For sellers who think they have an item or two worth selling through one of the auction houses, LiveAuctioneers offers a service to connect you to their clients for consignment opportunities.
Among the many online auction sites is Proxibid, which offers access to both live and timed auctions.
“We started as a marketing and technology firm for auction companies,” the website states. “Our beginning as an add-on for auction companies wanting to bring their auctions online has served us well. We’ve developed relationships with more than 2,500 auction companies and hundreds of thousands of bidders worldwide.”
Proxibid has a large volume of farm, commercial and equipment auctions, but buyers can find every other type of auction under the sun there as well. Again, each auction company has its own set of payment rules, so watch for taxes, shipping and buyer’s premiums. To sell on Proxibid, you must submit an application and pay auction fees, which is usually why auction houses recoup their costs by charging a buyer’s premium.
A venue for smaller auction sellers
Perhaps for the small business or the new online seller, a good online auction site to try is Outbid. It’s a free service that allows sellers to host their own live auctions. The seller becomes the auctioneer and is responsible for inviting bidders and enticing RSVPs. The site is integrated with Facebook, making auctions easily shareable with social connections. The idea is to invite your friends or Facebook fans, and they’ll invite their friends, and so on.
Since it’s a relatively new platform, Outbid hasn’t yet built a large audience, but it’s risk-free because there are no fees. Plus, as with any live auction, the experience doesn’t last days, only minutes. Payments are transacted through PayPal, and you don’t have to be present to host the auction.
Social auctions appeal to younger crowd“Buyers and sellers don’t always just want to transact—sometimes they’d like to establish real dialogue and relationships with each other”
Most online auction sites attract Internet users between the ages of 45 and 65, but another of the Internet’s newest auction houses draws a large crowd of users between the ages of 25 and 45, mostly female.
Tophatter offers an entertainment and life-like experience by incorporating avatars, chat and virtual auction rooms.
“We believe that buyers and sellers don’t always just want to transact—sometimes they’d like to establish real dialogue and relationships with each other,” the website states.
You don’t have to be a certified auctioneer to sell on the site—which makes the platform more friendly to small businesses—but sellers pay up to $5 per scheduled item, and between 5 percent and 13 percent of the gross sale, not to mention PayPal’s usual processing fee.
To buy or sell on Tophatter, all you need to do is set up a free profile and link it to your PayPal account. On auction day, buyers and sellers enter the auction room and use the chat feature to mingle while the auction proceeds. If the seller is present when his or her item is on the block, his or her avatar is moved to the front of the virtual auction room and bidders can ask relevant questions.
A majority of the sales on Tophatter are jewelry and craft supplies, which possibly explains the high number of female users. Tophatter is a community-friendly platform. It makes every effort to interact regularly through Facebook, town hall meetings and its blog. Instant live chat with staff is available on the auction site, plus there are community “hosts” available in the virtual auction rooms. Tophatter also allows you to host your own community auction if you like, but it’s up to you to advertise and draw in the bidders.
Still room for alternatives
eBay is still one of the 10 most-visited sites on the Internet in the U.S., but that isn’t stopping brick-and-mortar auction houses from placing their mark on the Web. LiveAuctioneers stays in the competition with Web traffic beyond the others mentioned, while fledgling Outbid is still struggling to increase its audience.
But size and longevity don’t necessarily win the day. While Proxibid has been around at least a decade longer than Tophatter, it ranks comparatively lower in Web traffic. Complaints about Proxibid often revolve around the platform’s customer service and the reliability of an auction house. That’s why some users suggest you start slowly with Proxibid until you figure out which auction houses are trustworthy.
Despite eBay’s stronghold in the online marketplace, online auction sites are proving there’s still a place for “the real deal.” It’s just a matter of fine-tuning costs and reliability, and tapping into just what it is that grabs buyers and makes them stay.