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The questions are frequent at any auctioneer get-together. “How many items is the right number of items for an online auction?” and/or “How long should those online lots be up for bidding?”

There may be no certain “right” number of items (lots) nor any certain “right” amount of time those items (lots) are exposed to the marketplace. However, I think for auctioneers to engage more participation, making bidders wait is probably not in our seller’s best interest.

In fact, rather than analyzing the number of lots or the time those lots are up for bid — maybe a better analysis would involve what prices would be appropriate for a “buy-it-now” experience. As the rest of retail purchasing has moved to quicker and easier, most auctions lag behind with slower and more difficult procedures.

Almost every auctioneer selling online (including us) has told me bids come in on the last day — and sometimes in the last hour, minute and/or second. What’s left of auction-style bidding on eBay seems to replicate this same pattern.

So does it really matter if a lot is listed 7 days, 12 days, 20 days, 100 days? Maybe to give potential bidders time to find the auction? Maybe time for those same folks to become familiar with the auction? But, is anyone looking for anything 7-12-20-100 days out? If they are, when do they want it? Rest assured they want it now.

Here’s another perspective: eBay has listed at any one time maybe 1 billion lots. The typical eBay bidder/buyer spends about 6 minutes on the site looking for what he wants. Most are looking to “buy-it-now” and only bid on items up for auction when they are given no choice.

Auctions have worked for centuries with the “prospect of a deal” but today buyers are looking for easy, quick and fairly priced — thus the “possible discount” runs third to simple and fast.

I was perusing an online auction the other night — with closing times about 3 days out. I saw several things I would consider purchasing — but it wasn’t worth my time nor effort. I could bid, be outbid, bid again, wait 3 days to find out if I’ve won? I ended up going to Home Depot and buying new and was back home in 30 minutes.

So back to our original questions … how many items is the right number of items for an online auction? How long should those online lots be up for bidding? I doubt it makes much difference other than all those lots should probably have a “buy-it-now” option.

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.