Online Auctions Offer Options

Specialty Web sites can help boost sales and marketing efforts

By: Joe Dysart

As a Web-enabled travel agent, online auctions offer an opportunity to promote your business in a new venue and market to an entirely different customer base.

Granted, such sites are not the best places to try to market your highest-margin movers. But they do offer an opportunity to unload slower-moving, slim-margin offerings while simultaneously gaining exposure for your own business Web site.

If you’re making your first foray into online auctions, you’ll find much of the pioneering groundwork has already be done for you.

On any given day, there are now more than 12 million items in more than 18,000 categories up for auction on eBay alone the largest online auction site on the Web according to Kevin Pursglove, an eBay spokesman.

EBay’s market site alone registered $14.87 billion in gross merchandise sales for last year.

And not surprisingly, the travel industry is already well-represented on such services. A recent search of eBay, for example, revealed 1,299 offerings under the keyword “travel agency,” and nearly 28,000 offerings under the keyword “vacation.”

Some in the industry who’ve already made the leap to auctions include All of Us Travel, which offers cruises and travel insurance on eBay, as does ATN International Cruises and GTS Cruisequest, a division of Gayety Travel Service.

Meanwhile, TimeshareBiz regularly offers timeshare auctions, as does BidTime Sales, a division of RCI, a Cendant company.

“Online auctions are the hottest emerging trend in dynamic pricing,” says Dennis L. Prince, an online auction analyst and author of Official Guide to Online Buying and Selling, published by Course Technology ( “People drop by to see what’s happening, and bid, bid, bid.”

The auctions have also orchestrated an unintended side-effect: Many consumers who previously may have felt uncomfortable making online purchases have been converted to the online buying experience after participating in online auctions.

The reason: Many auction sites keep a running history of customer comments on the sellers’ performance. Indeed, some mega-sellers on eBay receive written endorsements from satisfied buyers records that sellers in the brick-and-mortar world would be hard-pressed to replicate.

Of course, as with most business transactions, things can get ugly fairly quickly if there are unscrupulous buyers or sellers. Ditto for buyers and sellers who don’t understand how the auction works, or don’t communicate well in an online environment.

So if you’re looking to make the plunge into online auctioning, you’ll want to know your way around before you get in too deep.

Generally, offering your own items and services for auction on services like eBay requires all of the same best practices that any decent seller cultivates in the brick-and-mortar world.

First and foremost: Be sure to turn around a response to every e-mail within 24 hours. Sometimes bidders who ask questions are testing the water. “Your responses beckon, ‘Come on in, the water’s fine,’ “ says Prince.

And, as in the brick-and-mortar world, you’ll want to clearly state the terms of the sale, including your policy regarding returns and the rate you’ll charge if any shipping is involved.

A hint on shipping: You can save a number of superfluous e-mails about shipping costs by posting the shipping dimensions and weight of your item, and then offering links to the shippers available such as United Parcel Service ( and the U.S Postal Service (

Potential buyers can calculate the exact shipping costs by entering your ZIP code and theirs.

Of course, if you’d rather not sweat the cyber-details, some online auction sites including eBay offer the services of independent agents who will handle all the particulars for you.

For a model of how such services work, check’s Trading Assistants Program,

Once you’ve gotten the hang of online auctioning, you also may want to use such services to find your own bargains.

If there’s any negative feedback posted against a seller on the site, you’ll want to ask for an explanation, Prince says.

Inevitably, high-volume sellers will most likely encounter a percentage of negative comments but be wary of any seller that generates a pattern of negative feedback over time, Prince says.

Meanwhile, you’ll also want to stay on the lookout for bid shilling, or the placement of bogus bids by the seller in an effort to drive up an item’s price.

You can minimize your exposure tactics by watching for recurring user IDs that are used to place bids on several auctions run by the same seller, Prince says. Also, monitor recurring patterns in which the same bidder or bidders place last-minute bids with auctions run by the same seller.

Ultimately, both as a seller or buyer, you’ll find that online auctions are a tool of competitive advantage that are well worth the time and effort to add to your Web arsenal.


Making Markets: How Firms Can Design and Profit From Online Auctions and Exchanges, by Ajit Kambil and Eric Van Heck, published by Harvard Business School Press (

The Auction App: How Companies Can Tap The Power of Online Auctions To Maximize Revenue Growth, by Leland Harden and Bob Heyman, published by New Riders (

Official Guide to Online Buying and Selling, by Dennis L. Prince, published by Course Technology (

Starting An Ebay Business For Dummies, by Marsha Collier, published by John Wiley & Sons (

Online Auctions Network,an online auctions directory and meta-search engine that searches for auction sites based on product category and offers special tracking of auction sites featuring computer equipment (