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united767I conduct live auctions all over the United States.

These auctions often take me from, for example, Columbus (Ohio) to Washington D.C. to Los Angeles to Chicago, and then back to Columbus, in a matter of just a few days.

Flying is required.

Reading is optional; however, I’ve probably taken at least a quick look at every airline magazine currently printed: (United) Hemispheres, (Delta) Sky, (Southwest Airlines) Spirit, US Airways Magazine, American Way …

Jeff Smisek is Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of United Continental Holdings, Inc., the holding company for both United Airlines and Continental Airlines

In the February, 2013 Hemispheres Magazine, Mr. Smisek wrote the following:

    “Welcome aboard, and thanks for choosing United for your flight today. At United, we know that air travel isn’t just about getting you to your destination safely and on time. Air travel is an experience, and we recognize that it’s our job to make sure that our customers have the best experience possible.
    Although United enjoys the advantage of having the best route network in the world, our competitors have many of the same assets we do, and if they don’t, they’ll get them eventually.
    Ultimately, physical assets like planes or facilities or clubs can get competed away. Loyalty, however, is an asset that’s much harder to compete against. It’s our job to earn your loyalty by consistently delivering good customer service. Service can make all the difference between a good flight and a bad one, and we are committed to improving our service to you …”

Competed away?

I started to wonder for those online-only auctioneers utilizing an online service provider … if essentially every one of those auctioneers are offering their clients the same buyer pool, same software functionality, same “sit at home in your pajamas and bid” experience … why should a seller hire any particular one over another?

This seems similar to what Mr. Smisek is suggesting, as he notes that all his competitors have (or will have) the same assets as he does, so why fly his airline?

From the standpoint of a bidder, does the online-only platform continue to homogenize where every auctioneer’s offering appears and functions essentially the same? I suspect that even today, some bidders can’t tell (and/or forget) what auctioneer’s auction they are participating in?

Have I ever forgot what airline I’m flying out on the next day? Do I sometimes not even discern what airline I’m boarding?

Furthering this theory, I’m sitting in a Starbucks at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and a nearby elderly woman sees my NAA Life Member pin on my lapel. She remarks, “So, you are an auctioneer?” I told her I indeed was. She said, “I just bought this wristwatch in an online auction a few weeks ago; what do you think?”

The wristwatch looked nice, I suppose, but I was more interested in her online experience. “Who did you buy this from? The auctioneer …?” She thought for a few seconds and replied, “Proxa-something … I think they’re in Michigan?” “Michigan?” I asked rhetorically.

I had to catch my flight (as I looked at my boarding pass to see what gate and what airline.) I thought more about the fact this wristwatch buyer couldn’t even name the auctioneer she bought it from. Even if that auctioneer’s website looked different or unique, her experience was largely the same as she bid on this wristwatch in Michigan, as it would have been if she bid on another in Colorado.

For an online bidder, she is in the same environment as she bids on any number of online auctions. Similar or identical software, her computer, her chair, her desk, her desk lamp, her cat nearby … contrastingly, a live auction takes her to the auctioneer’s “environment,” as we discussed here:

As far as she’s concerned, did she buy this wristwatch from an auctioneer at all, or just from an online auction? Further, as far as I’m concerned, am I flying a certain airline, or just getting on a plane to get to my next destination?

I did get on my flight and she is wearing that new wristwatch.

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 serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.