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Are eBay auctions a thing of the past?

By Chris Dawson February 12, 2017 - 6:54 pm

We know that somewhere in the region of 80% of eBay sales are now Fixed Price items. The Auction format, which accounted for 100% of sales when eBay launched, has been in decline for many years and yet eBay is still today described as an online auction marketplace.

There are any number of reasons why auctions are in decline: The immediacy of a fixed price sale and knowing that the item is on it’s way; The rise in sales of FMCG where the price is pretty much a known quantity; Sellers want exposure on Google for their eBay listings and Google Shopping only highlights fixed price items; and of course with deep inventory sellers can shift many more units on a multiple quantity fixed price listing compared to waiting up to 10 days for an auction to complete.

Auctions are still valuable in just about every category on eBay though. If you have a rare or unusual item but highly sought after item, which could be a collectible or just as easily a handbag, motor part (or car), a tech item or anything that’s enhanced (such as a CD signed by the artist) then auctions will still work for you.

Even in collectibles however, we know sellers that prefer to research their item and list at a realistic price rather than risk a single bidder walking away with a bargain. eBay is 20 years old the the once mighty auction isn’t quite as pervasive as it once was.

It’s bizarre in some ways because as technology has progressed it’s easier to bid on eBay auctions than ever before. eBay’s mobile app will prompt you whenever you’re outbid, you can pop a cheeky last minute bid on your mobile or tablet and of course there are plenty of sniping tools to place your bids for you. Technology alone isn’t enough to impact buyer and seller behaviour though, and sell through rates and the velocity of sales dictates that fixed price listings are more popular.

Do you still use auctions on eBay? Where do you see them sitting in your portfolio? Do you auction everything, selected items, or rarely when an item comes your way that just lends itself to the auction format?

  • Mike
    8 months ago

    As I trade in rare and unusual collectables, I wouldn’t have a business without the auction format – items that I might value at a fiver regularly get bid-up much higher by buyers with far more knowledge than I have.

    I sell about 7,000 items a year this way and further 7,000 as fixed price, so both formats work for me… eBay should reduce the cost of listing auctions – that’s the main reason they’re in decline…

    …and while I’m on, has anybody noticed that eBay shop fees, listing fees and final value fees are all significantly less in the USA versus the UK, not impressed by this…

  • Anthony
    8 months ago

    I think one of the problems is non payment on ebay with auctions. I know this also happens with fixed payment but the product can stay live until they pay. With an auction you wait 7 days to sell it and then the auction closes and the top bidder never pays. I am guessing especially with cars this is often because of bidder software and when a person actually looks they catn be bothered. This is really off putting as a seller and having it happen several times as a personal seller I now only do fixed listings on my shop. Perhaps if ebay is interested in continuing the auction format which can be a lot fo fun they should consider how they can enforce or punish buyers who do this regularly?

  • 8 months ago

    I think that auctions still have their place on ebay. They are definitely a USP of the site and keep it interesting to buyers. I like the change ebay have done with best match so auctions with less than an hour left appear really high. People want immediate gratification so most won’t wait a day or more, but they might wait an hour. Those that do really want auctions will filter to them.

    Having said the above, I don’t think auctions are viable for most business sellers. They don’t get the volume of bids to get decent prices. I think in general it is good for second hand stuff where people are happy to get anything for it

  • Rob
    8 months ago

    I don’t use the auction for any of my business listing as firstly they charge a fee for each item and also you still have to accept returns. I buy returns stock an often in boxes there are some items which are not worth much so easier and cheaper to take to a car boot, than deal with the ones on ebay who want things for nothing and then say they will return it in the hope you just give them a full refund and they keep the item.

  • Dave Johns
    8 months ago

    I have been on eBay since 1999 and it has changed a lot in the past 18 years. Sadly the change from being an online auction platform to a fixed price / buy it now marketplace has detrimentally affected eBay and changed it’s buyers. I list a wide range of collectibles, some as auction some as buy it now. You end up with watchers on buy it now…..they cant all be researching or have one to sell……and you end up with watchers on auction formats, but no one is willing to push the button and place an opening bid. I have had auctions with 60+ watchers end with no one bidding, or the item sells for a maiden bid. I have now started to experiment…….if an item (in any format) gets 4+ watchers and no bids…..I raise the price a bit……knowing that people will not bid like an auction for things anymore so I cannot rely on an item going up through bidding anymore.

    I have tried to raise this with eBay and you get the standard blurb from them. They just suggest a £50 items should be started at 99p……..which is impossible bearing in mind that eBay’s watcher to actual bidder conversion rate is so woeful, you cannot rely on watchers to bid anymore.

    And in the UK, eBay side with the buyer immediately in any dispute. As small sellers we are not Argos, we cannot afford to be treated as such. Even if an item is spot on to description, with good photos, all the buyer does is click “not as expected” or “damaged”……..and there is no burden of proof on the buyer to show the damage ie a photo……so buyers have the whip hand. Thankfully most buyers are 100% honest, but I have had a few over the years who know how to play the system.

    eBay UK forget, without sellers……you would not have buyers……sellers should have some rights too.

  • karen green
    8 months ago

    All of our listings are still auction only, we sell collectables and some antique items. All start at 99p no reserve and we let the market find the level. We’ve been so surprised over the years at prices reached that we would have never set a “buy it now” price anywhere near. Have been selling now for 14 years on ebay, yes we do take a look at the market; whats selling, what the current trend is; but the auction works for us
    I can’t remember the last time something sold for 99p, I think the auction creates interest and bidding fever can take over. I love it.

  • SAM
    8 months ago

    Auctions is one of the USPs of eBay, otherwise it starts to becomes even more of a catalogue lowest price WINS marketplace. It is also a great thing for people to start out with, I know we did. Now 95% we sell now is BIN, we still and at this time of year run a fair few, never during peak. Auction customers with the non payment demanding combined post all starts to become a bit of a pain.
    eBay has kinda just become another outlet for other national and multi-national chains anyway with all your Argos and Tescos etc, and some of you barcode box shifters have devalued some products so much in the UK it is hardly worth it.
    It is all about finding something a bit unique or quirky you can still do ok but certainly it is only a side bit these days.
    Also I think the “must have now” mentality plays into things a lot more, another issue was shill bidding think people got a bit fed up of that in the end or people refusing to sell as they did not get the price they wanted.

  • 8 months ago

    Unless its something that I know will have a lot of interest, I rarely run auctions on Ebay any more. The interest in Auctions pretty much died as soon best match became the default search method.

  • james
    8 months ago

    I think you rather hit the nail on the head, by missing it completely:

    “It’s bizarre in some ways because as technology has progressed it’s easier to bid on eBay auctions than ever before. eBay’s mobile app will prompt you whenever you’re outbid, you can pop a cheeky last minute bid on your mobile or tablet and of course there are plenty of sniping tools to place your bids for you. ”

    – that’s not an auction. if you regularly go to an auction house, and every single lot is snatched up in the last 0.3 seconds by an invisible (possibly fake) buyer on the phone, you would stop going to the auction house.
    if you want to win an auction on ebay, you need programs and apps, and settings, higest and lowest thresholds, etc etc etc etc etc. probably bidding on five or six of the same item at a time, hoping only to win one. all fine if you’re a professional auction stalker, but if you just want a quick bargain, ebay auctions have been ransacked and ruined.
    – oh the convenience of letting a PC do it all for you…. auctions used to be fun, exciting, forget the item, the buying process was a thrill 9/10 times. but lets forego that for the return of…. they’re not actually more convenient now, they’re just no fun.

    add to that the 10,000 duplicate chinese listing for the same item, which you dont want, and the only way to filter them out is removing all auctions…

    auctions certainly have their place, if ebay had any consideration for user experience they may even come back, but if you just leave it to go to the dogs, dont police your own policies, and let it turn into an unpleasant flea market experience, well, this is what you end up with.

  • Andy R
    8 months ago

    Auctions are still a necessary part of Ebay, especially for items that don’t have identifiers, such as collectibles.

    However, the days of starting something at 99p and getting it bid up seem to be long gone.

    You have to start something more or less at what you want for it and hope that a couple of bidders will nudge it up.

    Alternatively, a high buy it now with best offer can work.

    Knowing the market for an item is key. Where it falls down on Ebay is private sellers flooding the market with free 99p auctions.

    Making the minimum auction start £4.99 would get rid of 99% of this useless rubbish and allow genuinely interesting items to be seen, to sell and hopefully to get bid up.

    • Sam O'levski
      8 months ago

      I regularly buy from a seller who lists 100’s of items weekly at 99p start and many go up to £100 or more, but quite a few go for the initial 99p. Some lots (Probably less than a dozen a week) are unsold as they are only worth 99p to a specialist collector who needs that item, but as there are so many lots, there’s usually always something for everyone and so most buyers get a good deal as does the seller, who has been in business for many years.
      If those lots were started at £4.99, probably less than 10% would sell despite something like 20% normally selling at that price or higher.
      There are some sellers who can get multiple bidders on most items, but they seem to be well established with a regular following, so any newcomers to auctions will end up with a single bid and soon resort to starting at the desired price knowing that as a newcomer they are unlikely to attract enough interest……… that is the situation which nobody can explain to the satisfaction of regular sellers in that field.
      I read a couple of specialist forums where this precise problem is addressed frequently, and there seems to be no answer which covers all the angles as to where all the auction buyers have gone and why.
      Not so long ago almost any item in a particular collectables category would get several bids, but despite strong fixed price sales, auctions are dead for all but the well established sellers, as mentioned earlier.

  • Gareth
    8 months ago

    As a seller of art, I am entirely reliant on auctions – it allows the market to dictate the price (I start at a very low reserve). I could try to fix price everything, but sometimes my prices have no bearing to what I can achieve. I make many more sales through the use of auctions.

  • Barry
    8 months ago

    Auctions work for me every time. I have been selling on ebay since 2004. Started with auctions only, then progressed to a shop and Buy it Now with the odd auction. I closed the shop in 2013, reduced my Buy it Now items to a handfull of listings and now sell action mainly, which I find is bringing in far more interest and far better results overall. My items are collectables of course. I cannot think that auctions work as well for the majority of consumer goods that are now sold on ebay. If I wanted a laptop for instance, I would just find the best Buy it Now deal and go for it, but that is a different market.

  • 8 months ago

    We think auctions are great and run lots of them, but they are a lot more expensive to run compared with BINs which is one of the reasons there are more BINs. Why pay to list an auction when you can run a BIN for free? We changed our listing strategy to capture the same pricing strategy for lower fees.

    Could it simply be price elasticity that explains why there are more fixed price listings, rather than deep insights into what sellers and buyers really want?

  • Chris
    8 months ago

    If I actually sold more items through an auction format I would change from buy it now.
    But to be honest, eBay for us seems dead.
    It seems to have lost the oomph of sales.

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