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Essentially, any person on earth can buy from Amazon.com (or countless other online retailers.) Let’s see, what’s involved in such a transaction? Click? Yep, pretty much. No disputes, withdrawals, re-offering, reselling … just “click” and it’s yours.

Further, my neighbor who buys from Amazon all the time says that their return policy is straightforward as well — not happy? Return it. There is no question that commerce generally is moving this direction as customers demand more flexibility and ease of buying.

I was talking to someone the other day about coming to our next auction. She indicated she too likes to buy from Amazon and that while buying at auction can be essentially the same, many times it’s not. This possible auction attendee (an attorney) pointed me to some “really wild” (her words of art) terms and conditions. For instance:

The auctioneer has the right at her absolute and sole discretion to decline any bid, to start, to advance the bidding in such a manner as she may decide, to withdraw any lot, and in the case of error or dispute, whether during or after the sale, to determine the successful bidder, to continue the bidding, to cancel the sale or to re-offer and resell the item in dispute. If any dispute arises after the sale, our sale record is definitive …

As I’ve suggested before, these really wild terms and conditions do nothing but deter bidders, especially in light of much easier, nearly effortless purchasing options. How do I know that? I’ve heard this sentiment from more and more people asking if I can help them.

It’s nearly (if not completely) a zero-sum game, in that the more one-sided unreasonable, unfair the sellers’ and auctioneers’ terms and conditions become, the less bidders will participate; I can’t hardly blame them.

I have testified in court and counseled attorneys around the United States that these kinds of terms and conditions not only deter bidders, but may well be unenforceable in court — especially in an so-called absolute auction.

What other industry is making it more difficult or painful to purchase their product? It would seem almost every company we do business with today is trying to make it easier, less painful to purchase from them, aren’t they? Amazon has.

Does Amazon have terms and conditions? They sure do, but as I glance through them (and they are extensive,) I see nothing like I see in the above auction rules …

We are not advocating auctioneers having no terms and conditions — and on the contrary are suggesting auctioneers look at their own to see how they benefit their seller-client as well as how they might discourage bidder participation. Short-term gains can often be overwhelmed by long-term losses.

Said another way, let’s not forget that auctions require both sellers and bidders/buyers.

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.