Are we making it harder or easier to buy at auction?

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Let’s see … I can buy groceries on my iPhone and they are delivered and placed in my kitchen … I can buy insurance online and print the verification card or view it electronically via an app in seconds … I can buy a car from a vending machine … easier, easier, easier seems to be the trend.

However, auctioneers seem late to the party. While many auctioneers offer online bidding to make it easier to play, otherwise buying at auction can be arduous. You must register 24-hours ahead of time, you must preview the property to entitle your agent to a commission, you can’t bid unless you show sufficient proof-of-funds or approval letter to name just a few examples.

Further, your purchase is “as-is” with no opportunity to return or exchange. In many cases you must pay immediately, and remove or secure promptly. Lastly, we’re going to pressure you to bid and even take bids from other people causing you to pay more. We can offer the “prospect of a deal” but often sell with reserve essentially eliminating that chance.

There are indeed some auctioneers ahead of this curve; they are offering streamlined registration processes, guarantees, returns, exchanges, financing … and even experimenting with a “buy-it-now” option saving the purchaser time and inconvenience. Today’s consumer probably values time as much or more than money.

We conduct on average 7-8 live auctions a month, with typically little or no online-bidding. We see large crowds and good prices for our sellers — but for how long? Should we be looking down the road to see how we can make it easier to buy from us? Probably, and that’s not merely putting property online.

Online auctions “do work” as live auctions do. However, it can be more difficult and taxing to bid online with expanded one-sided terms and conditions, expensive or no shipping options, waiting for the property to close and/or arrive, and less opportunity to truly preview before purchasing. Compared to other online shopping, most online auctions lag far behind in regard to ease and convenience.

What is this new generation of buyers looking for? They want click-and-buy [Buy-it-now] capability, unconditional satisfaction guarantees, unlimited return/exchange policies, free [immediate] delivery and/or shipping, high quality coupled with fair (low) prices …

Admittedly, auctioneers might rightly struggle to provide much of this, but without the prospect of a deal (essentially or actually selling absolute,) why would this next group of buyers even consider any (live or online) auction? We would predict they probably won’t.

Lastly, as Nike Brand President Trevor Edwards recently said, “Undifferentiated mediocre retail won’t survive,” maybe the best question is — is your auction business differentiated and/or special? Is your live auction more so an event? Is your online auction memorable in some way? Does your live or online auction provide a positive unique experience or are you merely differentiatedly mediocrely selling stuff?

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and America’s Auction Academy. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by the The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.