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In the auction business, whether live, online or both, who the seller “belongs to” is pretty clear.

In fact, the seller really doesn’t belong to the auctioneer, but the auctioneer most likely has an exclusive right to represent and act on behalf of the seller.

Not that sellers can’t hire different auctioneers for different projects — but for any particular project, an auctioneer might rightly introduce the seller as “his seller.”

For buyers, it’s a bit different — or is it?

While sellers typically sign a contract with their auctioneer of choice, buyers typically don’t contract with the auctioneer.

Buyers agree to terms and conditions and in some cases sign or acknowledge such agreement, but aren’t really “in contract” with the auctioneer in the same sense as the seller.

Yet, it’s not difficult to find auctioneers talking about “their buyers” who purchased items at their personal property auction the other day, or their buyer who purchased at the real property auction.

Different from a live auction, the online auction environment has blurred the lines connecting buyers and sellers. Where does an online auction provider fit in the relationships between the seller, buyer and auctioneer?

More specifically, does an online auction platform then have a right to access the seller(s) and/or buyer(s)? Can the online auction platform …

  • Call the seller and discuss the auction?
  • Call a buyer and discuss the auction?
  • Quote, write about or release the identities of a seller or buyer?

Much of this depends upon the agreement between the auctioneer and the online auction platform. For instance, if that agreement allows the online auction platform to send news releases out about the buyers and the items they purchased, then they can indeed do that.

But, what if no such agreement exists? To what extent can the online auction platform access and use seller and buyer information?

Thus our question today: Whose buyers are they?

We looked around, and found that online auction provider Youragentbid.com (Youragentbid) has a privacy policy which appears to address this issue:

    Privacy Policy: All auctions are operated exclusively by auctioneers. Youragentbid has no control over operation of the actual auction. Youragentbid solely maintains the Internet interface between the buyer and seller.

If we were to ask auctioneers, I think it’s fair to say this is exactly how they view an online auction platform — as a platform allowing bidders/buyers to use their software to access the auctioneer’s auction — and nothing more.

But, Youragentbid has conflicting policies, it seems. For instance:

    Youragentbid: “Nobody owns auction buyers. We have access to them, just as anyone else has access to them — they are item-driven, not auctioneer-driven.”

    Youragentbid: “They are our buyers, not your buyers” as they discussed with an auctioneer them contacting buyers following an online auction.

So, we would conclude from just these three (3) statements:

  • The buyers belong to the auctioneer.
  • The buyers don’t belong to anyone.
  • The buyers belong to Youragentbid.

Obviously, each statement conflicts the other two. In other words, we don’t know how Youragentbid views the buyer information — as their privacy policy states — as they have stated publicly — or as they have told auctioneers privately?

The lesson for auctioneers using online auction platforms? Read carefully the terms and conditions of the user agreement, and make an informed choice. As well, ask questions if the terms and conditions are vague or nondescript. Further, get your online auction platform to answer your questions in writing.

We’re certainly not advocating any particular policy for Youragentbid. Rather, we’re just curious what the policy is?

* The above account including company names, events, etc. are purely fictional. This scenario has been created solely for educational purposes.

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 adjunct faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.