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Many studies over the years have concluded that people are generally more happy with experiential purchases than material purchases. One such study was completed by Cornell University, known by: Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003. The conclusion? Their study quotes:

    When it comes to spending disposable income, it appears that experiential purchases tend to make people happier than material purchases.

As auctioneers, we are charged with selling our clients’ real or personal property at auction. We have choices in the manner in which it will be sold. We can sell it at a live auction, combine that live auction with absentee bidding, phone bidding and/or Internet bidding, or move the entire event over to a non-live event, relying solely on the Internet for bids.

Many auctioneers around the country have concluded that the online auction will essentially replace the live auction as the preferred auction platform due in part to the perceived limitations of live auctions. We discuss some of these perceptions in our post titled: Live Auctions Disappear?

However, despite the mechanics of how bids are placed and received at a live auction, via absentee bids, on the phone, or via the Internet, let’s explore here if the experiential purchase might be more satisfying than the purely material purchase.

A live auction is an event. There are other people there, there’s usually refreshments including some pretty good food, there’s all the interaction with friends, and/or acquaintances, actually seeing the item or items you’re interested in with your own eyes, seeing who else is interested in the same items, and the sound of the auctioneer’s rhythmic chant. A live auction takes the bidders out of their environment, and places them in an auction event.

An online auction is not an event in this same sense. More or less, bidding on the Internet allows the bidder to be at his home or office, or wherever, and bid via his Internet connection. Therefore, the bidder is typically not removed from his everyday environment (which many auctioneers point out is why online bidding is better — because it’s more convenient). The online bidder’s only interaction is through the screen of his computer or other personal electronic device. In other words, the online bidder is basically purchasing a material item, without the experience.

It seems to me that based upon the above evaluations …

  • A live auction provides the bidder both an experiential and material purchase.
  • An online auction provides the bidder only a material purchase.

We as auctioneers have the duty to sell material goods to the high bidders; thus, there’s no escaping the material aspect of our business, regardless of the venue. Yet, these types of studies, such as Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003, regarding people’s satisfaction with experiential purchases may suggest the live auction can make those customers happier?

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. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.