Updated: Jun 10, 2020
I recently started learning about online only auctions because of the Safer at Home guidelines due to COVID-19. It's a lot of fun and really easy. After a few mistakes, I think I'm getting the hang of it. Here are some tips to participating in an online auction. The most important thing to remember is this: Be sure to read the auction information and details before you start bidding. I found out the hard way that not all auctions are the same.
Bidding Basics. I use a website that aggregates all participating auctions around me. When I say around me, I really mean that I can set the radius to search for items. More on that later. You'll need to register, put in your credit card information for hold, and verify it's really you. Once that's complete, you can browse different auctions, look through auction catalogs, search for specific items, and start bidding. All from your couch (or office desk in my case).
Auction Rules. As I mentioned above, make sure you click on the auction information button and read it. I mean, don't just gloss over it but REALLY read it. The buyer's fees are different, sometimes the auction house charges different amounts depending on payment type, a few places charge tax on certain items, some auctions provide an online scheduling system to determine pick up timing, and pick up time after auction end vary greatly. I must not be a fast learner, because it took a few auctions before I figured this out.
What You See (or Can't See) is What You Get. Usually, there is a preview day but I don't participate because I tend to bid at night, after my family is settled in for the evening. This brings up an interesting issue. If you don't attend the preview day, then you must rely on the posted pictures for condition, size, and item details. It's a bit of a cross your fingers and hope the items are in great condition situation. The majority of my items have been in excellent condition, but a few were -- well, not so great.
Here's a recent purchase which online auction pictures weren't the best quality, so I couldn't see exactly what condition they were in. Nobody's fault and I'm not unhappy with the purchase. However, when I brought them home, processed them, and cleaned them up, I could see quite a few chips and scratches. These are still beautiful, usable items that have found a new home but I deeply discounted them.
Radius. Here's something you don't want to learn the hard way. I found an online auction that I wanted about 90% of the items listed. I didn't want to overbid and prices were getting high, so I ended up with just one item (6 pieces, but really just one item). Then, I looked at where I had to go to get said item. It was 2 hours away. Definitely a bad business decision because it cost me more in gas than what I paid for the item and it wasn't anything of high value. It was a fun trip with my second born son, though. We made the most of it and enjoyed the nice drive through the countryside to a place we've never been. Now, I only bid on auctions if there are several pieces that I want.
High Bids. I'm just going to say it: Self control when bidding on something you really want is nearly impossible. This must ring true for most online bidders because I recently put a low-ball bid in on a box of recipes. It was literally a cardboard box with some handwritten recipes in it. I think I bid maybe $4. Well, a bidding war ensued in the last 5 minutes of the auction and someone ended up paying $123 for that box. I hope it was worth it. I'm not quite that stubborn or competitive, so I have yet to grossly overpay for anything.
So, here's what I've discovered. Look through each auction's catalog. Hit that little WATCH button on the items you are interested in. Then, the last day of the auction (or hours), go back through the items you are watching and bid on the things you are still interested in. Unwatch the ones you aren't. The last 5 - 10 minutes is when all the bidding really takes place, so no need to raise the price prematurely. Set your high bid a few dollars under what you'll really pay. Then, if an item goes over - set your final high bid for the item. If it goes over again, do yourself a favor and Unwatch the item. If you don't, the temptation to keep bidding is there. Oh, and before I discovered this strategy, I definitely overpaid a bit for some things I wanted.
Auction Ending. Here's a fun fact. In most online auctions, if someone bids on an item in the last five minutes, the bidding gets extended by 5 minutes. This goes on until the item goes a full 5 minutes with no bids. I've seen items extended over an hour because people kept on bidding in small increments. Figure out what you are willing to pay AFTER you do your research on an item, then stick with it. I recently sent my husband on a road trip to pick up a large amount of items I had purchased and a local antiques dealer was there. As my items were being loaded onto the trailer and into the vehicle, she certainly made it well known to my husband that she was displeased that I bid so strongly against her. I put in maybe 5 bids max. She bid against me on one item 98 times. Ninety eight times. Whew! He just smiled and kept loading.
Payment and Pickup. Another gentle reminder to read the auction information and rules. Different forms of payment are often attached to varying buyer's premiums. In addition, some auctions only allow cash and check, some don't take checks, and some are credit card only. I learned quickly that pickup times and process are very different, as well. Some auction houses give you up to 72 hours for pick up, while others give you a mere 24 after the auction ends. That means that even if you get your invoice at 7 am the day following the auction end, you still have to pick up your items that same day.
This is where radius is important again. I had two auction end at different times, didn't take the time to understand the information for both, and had to pick up on the same day. In opposite directions. Thankfully, my husband and sons came to the rescue and we managed to get everything. Some bring items out to you and load for you, while you have to do all the loading yourself for others. Oh, and if you don't pick up? Well, the auction house keeps your money and your items are considered abandoned. Which makes perfect sense. They have limited time on property, so really need you to be prompt.
I've been able to laugh at myself quite a lot over the mistakes I've made and overall, online auctions are a lot of fun. Please share your experiences if you decide to give it a try.