Most online marketplaces will do anything to get attention. They send out flurries of emails and press releases. Their ads pop up all over the Internet. They're dying to get coverage in books and online venues like AuctionBytes.
There is an exception to the old saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. A site called iOffer (http://www.ioffer.com) goes to the other extreme and keeps a very low profile. In fact, it boasts: "This is not an auction. It's better!" Despite the use of my most persistent investigative reporter techniques, iOffer continues to be a bit of a mystery to me. Requests for interviews invariably result in the sound of silence. Yet its indisputable popularity logically leads to legitimate questions such as:
- How important is it to know something about a marketplace's history, location, and ownership?
- Should you care if you don't have the street address or phone number for your auction marketplace?
- How important is it to research the background of an auction marketplace before you use it?
- How do you obtain information about an e-commerce Web site when the site itself is less than forthcoming with its particulars?
So what's an inquiring buyer or seller to do with iOffer? Despite its low profile, its position as one of the most popular auction sites around makes it hard to ignore. You can read the column Lu Paletta wrote about iOffer for AuctionBytes in 2004 at http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abu/y204/m11/abu0131/s03. She gave it a positive review, and her description of how it works is pretty convincing. You should definitely use search engines and discussion forums such as AuctionBytes and PowerSellers Unite to find out more about the company.
The site allows sellers to offer items either at a fixed price or on a "best offer" basis: rather than setting a price, they have the option of inviting offers from prospective buyers and accepting or rejecting them. Sellers can open stores, and the site has a discussion area along with "clubs" that members can join. iOffer has a local service that lets individuals find buyers and sellers in their immediate area. A nice software tool called Grabber takes your unsold listings from eBay or other sites and imports them to iOffer so you can resell them.
I included the marketplace in a book called Selling Beyond eBay that will be published later the spring. But doing my research wasn't easy. I had a hard time reaching staff people at the site and finding out even the most basic information about them.
The first time I tried to e-mail the PR department, my e-mails bounced back. When I did a blanket e-mail to other parts of the site, nothing happened. Then, someone in another department responded simply that I would be getting a response soon from the PR department. After several weeks, I composed an e-mail with the subject line "Want Coverage in Book? In AuctionBytes?" This time, I got a response from Ryan Boyce. He eventually helped me obtain permission to use some images of iOffer in my book. I never determined Ryan's position in the company, however, and I never spoke to him on the phone. And he didn't get back to me by my deadline for this column.
iOffer is a good alternative to eBay. It offers many innovative services for both buyers and sellers. And lots of individuals use the site successfully without any problems. But in my books, I urge readers to get references and do some investigation before they make a purchase or put something up for sale. So would iOffer be even more popular if it showed a few more of its cards to prospective and current users? That, dear reader, remains a mystery.