LiveAuctioneers Brings Traditional Auctions to eBay
By Ina Steiner
Julian Ellison of LiveAuctioneers.com knows more about eBay Live Auctions http://www.ebayliveauctions.com than anyone in the industry. He started at iCollector, a company formed to bring auction houses to the Internet by Webcasting their "real life" auctions on eBay's Live Auction service.
Ellison left iCollector http://www.icollector.com and formed his own company, LiveAuctioneers.com http://www.liveauctioneers.com, in late 2002, providing auction houses with the same service. "We were profitable within the first 3 months of operation," he said. "We currently represent 128 auction houses in the U.S. and 3 or 4 in the UK."
Over the years, auction houses have adopted technology to increase the number of bidders. First, they added phone bidding, then fax. With Internet bidding, auction houses can generate interest, increase the bidding, and ultimately give consignors a higher price. A look at LiveAuctioneers' Web site shows the auction houses that have signed on to its system http://www.liveauctioneers.com/clients.html.
Ellison explained how it works. The auction house sends LiveAuctioneers a file via FTP containing catalog information: basically, the descriptions of the items along with numbered JPEG files of the photographs. LiveAuctioneers takes the files and put them through a parsing program they've developed. It puts the data into an editing suite in the back-end of the LiveAuctioneers Web site, which the client can access so they can make changes and add more images if they like.
Ten days before the start of the real-life auction, the items begin appearing in search results on eBay.com. Bidders can peruse an auction catalog online, place absentee bids, and bid real-time against floor bidders. The day of the sale, a designated Internet clerk on the showroom floor uses a computer with high-speed connection to feed online bids to the auctioneer in real time.
At the end of the auction, LiveAuctioneers produces an Excel spreadsheet giving the client the lot numbers, descriptions, hammer prices and buyers premium. They send an End of Auction email to winning bidders containing their invoices within 24 hours.
What about nuisance bidders, or non-paying bidders? Ellison said his company developed a system to report non-paying bidders to eBay, which suspends them after they receive a certain number of complaints. He said the problem of non-paying bidders is less than one percent on auctions powered by LiveAuctioneers.
Ellison said there are many reasons why auction houses should use his service as opposed to going onto eBay Live Auctions directly. The LiveAuctioneers program automatically translates the descriptions into four languages, they accept 10 images of each item, and there are cross-merchandising tools designed to keep the visitor in the auction house's catalog. In addition, if a potential bidder asks a question, the auction house can create a condition report so all bidders can see the answer, reducing the number of questions from bidders.
It's all about confidence, according to Ellison. Utilizing the eBay platform directly only gives clients access to email customer service. But auction houses are traditional businesses, Ellison said, they don't want to get help via email. Using LiveAuctioneers, clients can pick up the phone, and they develop a relationship with LiveAuctioneers.
As for the cost, there is no additional charge to auction houses that go with LiveAuctioneers versus going directly to eBay Live Auctions. This is because LiveAuctioneers was "grandfathered" into a deal that iCollector first established with eBay. eBay charges auction houses $1,500 per catalog or per 5-week period, plus a 5% commission on items sold through eBay bidders. LiveAuctioneers splits the fees with eBay.
LiveAuctioneers has a training applet that shows the auction house how to use the system. Or, for $500/day plus travel expenses, LiveAuctioneers will send a representative to the auction house for personal training.
eBay Live Auctions is for auctioneers who want their cake and eat it too: they can continue to sell at "real-life" auctions while simultaneously broadcasting them over the Internet. It's a small world, after all.
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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