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As more auctioneers are selling online, and consumer expectations now include shipping even in many live auction events, auctioneers must realize that shipping matters — in that many buyers buy depending upon five related factors:

  • Is there shipping?
  • What are the shipping options?
  • What is the cost of shipping?
  • How long will it take to receive?
  • What do I need to do to make this happen?

There is no question that buying online intrinsically gives the impression shipping is offered. There is also no question that consumers (including auction buyers) are sensitive to shipping costs and timelines for receipt. Costs and time that are not “reasonable” (compared with what they are expecting …) cause bidders to bid less, or not at all.

The other issue some auctioneers routinely miss is that consumers have choices. While they might be looking at your auction of vintage fishing items, a second later they can be (and likely are) looking at someone else’s auction of vintage fishing items — and shipping policy matters.

We previously commented about shipping and it’s not just that you provide shipping, but rather that the buyer can have the property shipped: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2021/04/08/youre-selling-online-and-you-dont-ship/.

As we wrote before:

In this regard, “offering shipping” might be the auctioneer/seller shipping, the auctioneer/seller taking the property to a packing/shipping company to pack and ship, or allowing the buyer to arrange for shipping — but to offer absolutely no shipping options is unconscionable.

I’ll remind all auctioneers (again) that it’s 2022, not 1922 nor 1822. I’ll also remind all auctioneers that you need to advocate for your seller and if you aren’t doing so, you are in violation of your fiduciary duties owed your client.

Does your client have a valid claim against you if you don’t provide shipping options? It seems clear lacking the client’s knowledge and consent that no shipping options will be provided, the seller might well have actual damages.

Our phone rings on an all-to-frequent basis with buyers complaining that “the auctioneer refuses to work with me in regard to getting my item shipped …” This inquiry has even involved very small items of personal property which can be packed and shipped in a few minutes.

Unfortunately, it has also involved auctioneers with terms and conditions stating shipping is available, where only thereafter the buyer finds out shipping is not an option. Since terms and conditions are binding upon both the buyer and the auctioneer (Alex Lyon & Son, Sales Managers and Auctioneers, Inc. v. Leach, 844 S.E.2d 120 (W.Va. 2020).) this may well make the buyer-seller purchase contract voidable.

To digress, the Alex Lyon & Son, Sales Managers and Auctioneers, Inc. v. Leach case isn’t the first time the United States has held terms and conditions are binding upon the bidder and auctioneer. The Supreme Court of the United States in Erie Cole & Coke Corporation v. U.S. 266 U.S. 518 (1925) held that the terms of an auction were “binding alike” on the auctioneer/seller and all bidders. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland in Pyles v. Goller, 109 Md. App. 71, 86 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1996) held bidders should “stand on equal footing.”

What’s our summary here? If you are an auctioneer, offer shipping options to your buyers. If you offer shipping options to your buyers, then you better offer shipping options to your buyers or those buyers can unilaterally void their obligation to purchase.

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, Brandly Real Estate & Auction, and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, and an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Western College of Auctioneering. He has served as faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.