EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 139 - March 20, 2005 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 8

eBay Private Auctions: Survey Results Show What's Behind Closed Doors

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eBay private auctions. What's behind those "virtual doors" that causes some users uneasiness about entering into a transaction with a seller who takes their auctions private? People point to private auctions and whisper, "Shill" or "Scam." After all, what reputable eBay seller would need to shield the identities of their bidders from public view?

But, do private auctions carry an undeserved stigma? Is there a valid use for the feature that perhaps many have overlooked?

In the last issue of AuctionBytes-Update, we asked readers their opinion of private auctions, from both a buyer's and seller's perspective (

Some of the survey results were not surprising. Over 76% of the respondents stated that they had never used eBay private auctions as a seller. And nearly 65% said that a private auction would make them less likely to participate as a bidder. Typical reasons for avoiding auctions as a buyer were:

  • Seller has something hide.
  • May be a scam...private auctions enable unscrupulous sellers to hide the identity of their bidders so that no one can warn them.
  • It defeats the only protection a buyer has on eBay, the modest element of transparency.

You would think responses like this might be cause enough keep a seller from listing private auctions. After all, who wants to discourage two-thirds of their potential customers from the outset?

Drilling down a bit deeper in our survey results found private auctions favored more by sellers who listed in higher volume. Sellers who listed 100 items or more per week were more than twice as likely to use a private auction than sellers who listed fewer than 100 items. The less the seller listed, the less likely they would be to use this feature.

But isn't that counter-intuitive? Why would a higher volume seller favor an auction format that puts off 65% of potential bidders? The answer: competitors. Of the sellers who had used the private auction feature when listing, nearly 45% stated it was to keep competitors from soliciting customers.

Here are some common explanations we received from survey respondents who use Private Auctions.

  • The seller may be listing items of an adult nature, and wish to protect the identities of the bidders.
  • The seller may be listing items in a highly competitive category, and wish to protect his bidders from solicitations by other dealers selling similar items.
  • To protect the identities of the bidders from other bidders. This is especially important in tight-knit collectibles communities where many collectors' IDs are well-known.

Maybe high-volume sellers know something the rest of us don't.

To see all the results of the AuctionBytes survey, go to:

About the author:

David Steiner is President of Steiner Associates LLC, publisher of and the merchant directory. David, a former television producer, handles business development and advertising for EcommerceBytes. You can reach him at

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