There is a tremendous hunger for information about online auction sites beyond the industry giant eBay. Sellers want to know which is the best venue in terms of being easy to use, inexpensive, and most importantly, drive shoppers to listings. But there is no one clear winner that is best for all sellers or categories of merchandise. Writer and online seller Ed Tomchin proposed to put some notes together as he researched venues he was considering using for himself. What follows is his evaluation of three auction sites written from the perspective of a 10-year seller of vintage, collectible, useful and other odd goods.
To choose which auctions to review I took a consensus of other online auction reviews, giving heaviest weight to TopTenREVIEWS.com because they seem to be the most informative, transparent and easily understood. Most of the reviews I found were clearly slanted toward illuminating the buyer, which I think makes the reviews valuable to sellers.
At each auction site, I anecdotally compared an average Sell Through Rate (STR) by searching closed auctions (where possible) for the anything "vintage" in any category. The timeframe these surveys represent are the last two weeks in January 2009. eBay is still #1 with a 51% STR on all items "vintage." Every other auction site comes in far behind eBay, which is to be expected.
To estimate the Sell Through Rate for vintage items on eBay, I searched closed auctions for the word "vintage," which resulted in over a million auctions that had ended. There were 25,000-plus pages, so I counted the sold auctions on every 500th page (a total of 52 pages). Since each page displayed 50 items, I had a selection of approximately 2,600 "vintage" auctions that had ended, of which slightly over half had sold.
I chose STR as the more important consideration because it's a strong indicator of the average number of sales to listings possible - at least on "vintage" items. Sellers should keep in mind when comparing STRs that some sites may have a higher non-paying bidder (deadbeat) rate. The three auctions reviewed here are eBid, OnlineAuction and Overstock.
eBid currently has around 2.0 million active auctions across 9,080 categories in 18 different nations including the U.S. and accepts PayPal, pppay.com and Google Checkout for payment. There are 32 main auction store categories. The top seven by number of auctions are Computing (762,817), Collectibles (171,620), Books, Comics & Magazines (150,666), Antiques (234,395), Clothing & Accessories (106,420), Movies & DVD (103,025), Music & CD (101,705).
The "vintage" search produced 14,014 closed auctions, of which I sampled 750 going back the last two months. eBid had 71 sales resulting in an average sell-through ratio of 9.5%.
eBid's pages tend to be a bit cluttered and it can be confusing and time-consuming finding a feature, link or information until you're more familiar with the site. For instance, I found it difficult to find eBid's login and registration links because they are in very small print, but they are listed right at the top of the page on the first line to the right of the large eBid red circle.
eBid offers a number of different accounts. Just for signing up you get a Lifetime Buyer Account where you can place bids, purchase Buy Now items and list items you want. The cheapest seller account is a free Single Auction Seller Account that allows you to buy and list one auction at a time with no listing fees and allows you access to PPPay.com for checkout for your buyers. This account requires a credit card authorization verification and accepts most credit cards except Discover and Maestro.
Other types of auctions offered include Free Auctions, Standard Auctions, Gallery Auctions, Featured Auctions, Frontpage Auctions, 60 Minute Auctions and Happy Hour Auctions. You can also upgrade for longer auction times and no limits on the number of auctions all the way up to a Lifetime account for $49.99.
Standard Auctions have no listing fee, a 3% final value fee and severe feature restrictions. Platinum Auctions have a 5-cent listing fee and 3% Final Value fee but includes all the features eBid offers including BuyNow Price, Fixed Price, Run Until Sold, Video, Auto Extend, Custom Start Date, Custom End Date, Gallery Picture in Search Results, Cross Promotions and Integrated Checkouts. Many of these features can also be purchased for a small fee in other types of auctions.
For auction descriptions, eBid offers a simple and an advanced WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor. HTML is allowed as well as hosting your own photos, which I've always found easier and less expensive to do.
Feedback can be left, replied to and edited by both parties. eBid also has an associate program whereby you can get paid for every successful referral from your website or email and a Buddy Point system that lets you earn Buddy Points (which also tends to draw buyers as well) and bid on certain items with your earned Buddy Points.
Overall, despite its cluttered pages, eBid seems a sound auction platform that is slowly gaining both buyers and sellers. It's one to keep an eye on.
OLA offers items for sale across a plethora of categories. Here's a look at some categories and number of listings: Jewelry & Watches (11,784), Computers & Networking (4,998), Home & Garden (9379), Collectibles (39,225), Books & Publications (10,385), Business & Industrial (1,060) and Antiques (113,819).
OLA is not the easiest site to get around. For instance, I could find nothing on searching closed auctions until I queried customer support twice. The first time I got no response, and the second time I got an immediate response and replies.
The closed item link was neatly tucked in the left hand column as "What's Sold." I ran a "vintage" search, which produced 8,779 sold auctions since November 11, 2008. There appears to be no way to sort these auctions, though OLA said it is working on a sort function. But right now, what you see is what you get, which appears to be in date and seller order.
Unfortunately the sold listings do not include the unsold auctions, so there is no way to determine a sell-through rate for them. Instead, I tried to determine how much bidding activity there was on active listings, keeping in mind it was not an apples-to-apples comparison to STR.
I ran a search of "vintage" active auctions and came up with 9,520 listings across all categories. On a "time ending" search, the first 110 listings showed no bids at all, so I turned the search around and requested the highest bids first, which showed only 74 items out of the 9,520 listings had any bids at all. (The bids in descending order were one each for 10, 9, 8 and 3 bids while the remaining 70 only had 1 bid each.) There were no bids on any of the remaining 9446 auctions if the search function was operating properly, a bid rate of 0.8%.
Verified Sellers are charged $8 a month and are entitled to bid without limitations, communicate between Buyers & Sellers via a private O-Mail account, use Chat Rooms, and view/post feedback. Verified Sellers are also allowed to list and sell unlimited amount of items with no listing or final value fees. Verified Sellers are security checked through a monthly credit card validation process.
OLA also offers a Charter Membership for $96/year or a Founding Membership for $196 for the First Year and $96 per year thereafter, but there appears to be no special benefits accruing from these memberships. (Note: you can review the benefits here.)
Off-site hosting of photos is possible but you cannot use your own HTML code. You must use OLA's rather bland auction format.
In sum, OLA also appears to be a good solid auction platform for sellers. Their fees are small and a few of the sellers I sampled have thousands of items listed.
The upside of Overstock Auctions is its simplicity and ease-of-use for both buyers and sellers. It's very easy to register and to set up a selling account and their web pages are well laid out, easily understandable, clear and concise.
Overstock Auctions offers more than 100 major categories and features such as Subtitles, Make It Mine (similar to a Buy It Now), and 10-day auctions are free. A search for open and closed "vintage" auctions showed 182 active items and 1003 closed items out of which 155 sold for a 15.5% STR. However, the fact that there are only 182 active "vintage" items may be due to a lack of demand for vintage items on Overstock. It is also notable that the majority of the vintage items with bids are sports, handbags and jewelry.
Insertion fees range from 10 cents (for opening prices of 99 cents or less) to $3.15 (for opening prices of $500 and above). Closing Fees are broken down according to the selling price of a successful auction. Items selling for up to $25.00 have a 3% closing fee. Items selling from $25.01 to $1,000 charge 3% of the initial $25.00 ($0.75), plus 2% of the remaining closing price balance up to $1,000.00. Items selling for more than $1,000.01 have a closing fee of 3% of the initial $25.00, plus 2% of the next $25.01 to $1,000.00, plus 1% of the remaining closing price balance above$1,000.01.
Upgrade fees are as follows: Bold is $1, Highlight is $5, Featured is $13.17 and additional images are included for ten cents each. Subtitles, Make It Mine (Buy It Now), and 10 day listings are free upgrades.
Uploading photos is easy and Overstock supports jpg, gif, png and bmp formats up to a maximum of 10 Mb in size for each photo which seems like a waste of bandwidth.
Overstock.com Auctions' payment options include Google Checkout, PayPal, credit cards, personal checks, C.O.D. money order or cashier's checks. Overstock also allows buyers to pay via credit card through O-Auctions Checkout, designed to make closing and collecting on an auction very simple and convenient for both sellers and buyers. O-Auctions Checkout, provided by a third-party service called Auction Checkout, charges a monthly service fee of $24 plus transaction fee of $0.24 per auction plus 2.19% of the amount transferred. If you sell only a few items a month or have a low monthly revenue stream, this is not for you. However, if you list and sell a large number of items, the monthly fee can be amortized and, depending on your own results, can be cheaper than PayPay.
The downside of Overstock Auctions is that you are competing with Overstock.com, which lists its own merchandise that appears to account for about half of the "vintage" auctions I checked. However, majority of the sales seemed to be by independent sellers.
Overstock also offers one-day auctions for sellers with hot items - the popular kind not the stolen kind - and there are a small number of forums for members to discuss issues and receive updates from Overstock. You can also sell cars (198,485 New Car Deals) and real estate (4,132,544 Properties). One additional advantage is that Overstock does a substantial amount of email advertising of "Specials" to attract buyers to its main shopping site, though not specifically to auctions.
Generally I'd consider Overstock to be a fairly good bet given its relatively high STR and large number of active auctions over a broad range of categories.
Updated 3/3/09 for clarification.
Warning: Be sure to access eBid.net by typing dot net, not dot com - eBid.com is a different website!