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Online Auction Sites for Live Bidding

A sampling of live auction sites provides sellers with eBay alternatives.

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.

Proxibid evolves

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.

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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.

About the author

Sarah Brown
Sarah Brown is a freelance writer who writes about e-commerce and small businesses. She recently graduated from Chico State with a journalism degree and is also a budding online entrepreneur, having launched two Web businesses and her own line of handmade products. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • need-a-good-auction-site

    Tophatter sucks. They have fees fees and more fees. Everyday they seem to find a way to take more money from the sellers. They lie to their members about stats, and are just plain greedy. They used to be fun, now they are just a rip off. They don’t care if their fees are too high and it has cost many sellers sales. Personally my sales went from good to nil after all these fees. Despite the members stating they dont like it, they continue them and add even more. There is no stability since they introduce new fees and rules with little to no warning. $5.00 to list an item with no guarantee it will sell in the 1 minute it is given on the block, especially if the item starting bid is $5 is just outrageous. These new fees are causing less attendence in the auctions resulting in more and more low winning bids or no sales. If the item does not sell, your scheduling rights are impacted by limiting how many items you can list. This went from being free to list and a 10% commission if sold to $5 to list and 13% commission and rising in a matter of weeks. The fees will only go up. Don’t waste your time. The only one making money here is tophatter.

  • I just quit Tophatters. What other auction site offers live auctioneer
    interacting with the bidders? I’m not program savvy, so I’m asking out
    there… Where can I find a Live Online Chat Auction?

    Meaning: I
    want an Ebay/Etsy type of outlet to help with my sales. The ability to
    list items easily and sell in a “store” – list until sold, AND enter
    them into a live auctions similar to Tophatter? I liked tophatter for
    the “real life” feel of an auction, and the rush of live
    bidding/reaction, but I hated the fees (I ended up losing money) and the
    wacked-out policies.

    • Yo_Its_Me

      Bonanza doesn’t officially have auctions, but a lot of sellers have auctions informally, with live chat and the seller chatting up, like “going once, going twice…”. I’s a hoot. Not the best traffic, but it IS growing (was growing faster than eBay at one point, percentage-wise, not numbers-wise). No fees to list, minimal fees when items sell. Need I say more? Oh yeah, they were rated best bootstrapped start up a year or two a go by some big Seattle whooptee do, and they JUST started advertising last year.

  • Mitch

    Give quibids a try, it has been a good experience for me so far. I have won items from the electronics department to random household items such as a cooking pan. The site is set up well and easy to use. Simply put, I recommend giving it a try

  • stacy

    My experience with Tophatter is not as good as you seem to make yours out to be. I have to admit that I joined TH about 6 months ago. In the beginning I loved it and it was an awesome place to be. I recommended it to many. However, in the past 2-3 months things have changed so drastically I only recommend running in the other direction. That 10% commission in Jewelry has now gone to 13% plus you must pay a fee to even be listed into the auction. Those fee’s range from 1.75 – 3.00 per item on top of the commission you owe if your item sells. If it does not sell you are still charged the listing fee. If you sell every auction you can easily rack up $50-100 in fees due to TH in a 24 hour period. I have invoices and receipts to show you as proof. Also, there is a clique on TH. If you cause any issue with any of the select few your time is limited. Once my items started selling for as much and more than their items my time was cut short. I was set up and account suspended over an issue I was not even allowed to defend my self on. They took one side and ran with it. Do you really want to be associated with a site who does not have time to listen to and make proper decisions based on evidence? I miss my friends on there, yes, but the never ending daily changes, fees, accusations and stress is a welcomed departure.

    • rls976

      I was selling at tophatter starting in late summer. My business grew rapidly to making many thousands of dollars profit per month. I never minded their fees one bit. By late October I had priority status and could schedule both one hour before an auction would start and repeatedly during an auction. I was rated, by customers, in the highest tier for product quality, and had been ranked #1 among all sellers for customer recommendation. Every product would be mailed the same-day it was paid for, with nothing ever arriving to the customer damaged, as I used high-quality packaging. Then suddenly, on February 25th, I became able to schedule during an auction only rarely. Finally, after 16 days of this I wrote to tophatter, not complaining, but inquiring, as to why this had happened. I got no answer, even though the webpage inquiries are sent from said an answer would come within one business day. But, starting the next morning after writing, I have not been able to schedule at all – period. So my business went from high-flying to dead. I was not defeated by competition nor by any kind of business failure on my part, but entirely by actions taken by TH.

      Some deal, huh?

  • so I joined tophatter and had 3 sales. another seller flagged one of my listings and it got removed, stated not enuff info, so I relisted and again got unscheduled, so relisted again…yep u guessed it unscheduled again!! I emailed the other user…they admitted they flagged my item! I am now suspended because of them flagging my listing!! there was nothing wrong with my listing and all info was correct…its bull and tophatter wont respond. I would love to find another live auction just like TH to join! and yes I agree…TH FEES WERE OUTRAGES!!!!!!

    • Noor Nisar

      Have you found another one ?

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