Sothebay’s?

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sothebaysIt’s December 31, 2008 and eBay Live Auctions is dead.

It’s July 14, 2014, and Sotheby’s announces they plan to offer their auction inventory on eBay.

What changed from December 31, 2008 and July 14, 2014?

For one, Invaluable and eBay has already announced a partnership, and there is increasing pressure from shareholders and rival Christie’s for Sotheby’s to expose more inventory to online bidding.

I feel as if I’ve said this before; as we noted when we discussed the Invaluable/eBay partnership …

In the old days, eBay Live Auctions was dogged with complaints — auction houses treated as, “second class” citizens of eBay and excluded from standard searches; bidders and buyers bothered by “excessive” buyer premiums and extremely seller-favorable terms and conditions.

Today many are accessing eBay and other online auctions via portable Internet enabled devices. [Sotheby's] has incentive to make live auctions accessible to the over 500 Million (145 Million active) users of eBay.

We’ll see if it works this time.

I have personal experience working as an auctioneer with a company operating a live auction in conjunction with their own proprietary online auction software and eBay Live Auctions. In 2007-2008, we conducted several auctions with some success.

However, one of the memorable quotes late in 2008 reflecting on the closure of eBay Live Auctions was, “The biggest problem is (was) that eBay’s buyers are not auction buyers.” I suspect that’s something that is still true in 2014.

It seems to me you can have 145 Million active eBay users, but that doesn’t mean any significant number of them will find the live auction attractive. In fact, there is notable evidence that eBay users generally prefer the eBay “Buy-it-now” feature over the competitive bidding (auction) format.

In 2003 the auction format made up nearly 95% of eBay listings … by 2013 it barely made up 15%. Today eBay sellers prefer the “Buy-it-now” feature presumably because buyers do too.

Plus, eBay just announced new Seller Performance Standards, which are much more “buyer friendly.” To maintain certain seller levels, sellers must enter tracking information promptly and allow returns up to 14 days, among other requirements. Further, PayPal (an eBay company) has always been buyer friendly.

So if I understand this correctly, eBay is mostly not an auction site anymore, and heavily favors buyers over sellers. [Sotheby's] focus is on the auction format and heavily favors sellers over buyers. It doesn’t sound like peanut butter and jelly to me — maybe more like oil and water?

Yes, more and more people are accessing the Internet with portable devices. Further, as I continue to say, “There isn’t a 5-year-old that doesn’t know what an auction is.” However, is combining eBay with [Sotheby's] live auctions a prudent response to the current marketplace?

As I continue to say, I’m not convinced … at least yet.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School and Faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University.

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