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Olympic torch auctions reveal pitfalls of selling on eBay and other auction portals

One news story that has attracted a great deal of interest lately is that of a former Olympic torch-bearer who decided to put up her Olympic torch for auction on eBay. Sarah Milner Symonds put the torch up for auction in order to raise funds for a local community group, The People’s Plot. The notion of an Olympic torchbearer selling their “priceless” torch met with a shocking amount of resistance in some quarters, with several people sabotaging the auction by making bogus bids for the torch and leaving abusive messages.  The torch attracted a winning bid of £135,000, which was eventually revealed to be hoax. Despite this fact, eBay has insisted Ms Symonds pay the £15,000 selling fee.

We couldn’t help but think that this situation demonstrates some of the major disadvantages of holding an auction on an auction portal such as eBay. Sellers are very much susceptible to rogue bidders, scams and other negative behaviour as they have little control over anything but the most basic aspects of their auction. Issues may not be resolved in the necessary amount of time due to the large amount of red tape, and the high volume of user issues with which auction portals have to deal.

Sellers are also bound to sometimes restrictive, unsuitable or impractical terms and conditions – for example, eBay requires sellers to strictly obey their returns policy. Sometimes this can lead to unreasonable customers taking advantage of these policies – demanding refunds for bogus reasons, or returning items in a much worse condition than they were received. Sites such as eBay are often willing to do very little about situations of this kind, and complaining about errant behaviour is a complicated process.

Using an auction portal also means you have little or no choice about the payment systems through which you make transactions, or how payments are processed. This can have highly inconvenient consequences, and make you susceptible to fraudsters. Recently, eBay has made it a requirement that “top rated” sellers ship items within 24 hours. This has led to a significant rise in fraudulent transactions with fraudsters using stolen bank details to order items, having them shipped immediately and promptly vanishing without a trace.

Hosting your own auction site

Hosting an auction site would eradicate problems of this kind – misbehaving bidders could be immediately blocked from the site, whatever terms and conditions are most suitable can be set up, payment options can be fully customised to meet your requirements, all aspects of the auction process can be controlled.

There is also the benefit of having no competition. On eBay and other auction portals the main goal of users is more often than not to find a bargain. There is fierce competition and users can be easily distracted and tempted by other similar products, put up for auction by other sellers at a cheaper price. This means users are less likely to concentrate their full attention on your auction, and means your lots may raise significantly less than would be the case otherwise. With an auction site devoted entirely to your auction this is not such a problem, as bidders are more likely focus on your auction alone rather than comparing prices. If you are holding a fundraising auction bidders are also more likely to become engaged with the charity.

An auction site gives a much greater opportunity to promote your company or organisation. Charities can explain their nature and aims and encourage people to donate or give their long-term support. An auction site will also have the advantage of coming across as more professional and aesthetically appealing than an eBay page. You will have a considerable amount of control over the presentation of your site and can fully customise it with your company or organisation’s branding, as well as that of any sponsors.

Hosting an auction site can also be more cost-effective. Many auction sites charge exorbitant selling fees, generally demanding at least 10% of the final price of an item. If you are selling numerous high-value items this could easily mean fees of thousands upon thousands – all this for the use of an auction site that likely does not fully meet the needs and requirements of your auction. Creating your own auction site offers a number of excellent advantages and allows you to tailor your auction to your every requirement, all whilst being at a relatively affordable price.

You can read more about running an online auction here.

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