Online auctions: Make an offer

Online auction sites are getting bigger and more feature-packed. New auction sites come online every day. There are stories of some folks getting rich, while others have found spectacular bargains online.

But before you jump into an auction, whether you are a buyer, seller or both, make sure to do your homework.

Which one?
The first step is deciding which auction site to use. One of the best places to scout for new auctions is on Yahoo in the Business, Economy, Shopping and Services Auction. Just enter ‘online auctions’ at their search box. You’ll find a large number of different auction sites, each with specific areas of interest. When you are deciding on an auction site, keep in mind that the big American sites have a much larger overall audience. This may make finding and selling items easier. But you may encounter shipping, exchange and duty charges that quickly eat into your savings or earnings.

Remember that you are not buying from the auction site itself. You are buying from one of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of small companies or individuals that use that site to sell their products.

Prices are often in US dolla, and some sellers may not ship to Canada. Find out what restrictions may apply before you click on ‘bid’. Just like a regular auction, once the electronic gavel falls, you are obligated to make the purchase if you are the winning bidder.

There is a company called that takes care of cross-border shipping if you find a bargain you can’t resist on a U.S. site. But it’s better to look first at auction sites that breakdown offerings by country.

Canadian auctions
Yahoo has it’s own auction site for Canadians They don’t charge for auctions in the Canadian section. There is a charge for listings in the American version, however.

eBay  also charges sellers a small fee to post auctions, but it has one of the largest online auction audiences. Yahoo and eBay both allow users to rate each other. So sellers are motivated to respond quickly to customer inquiries, and buyers who renege on their bids may find themselves barred.

Everyone wants to keep a ‘good” rating’ if they hope to stay in the game. eBay also insures its buyers through Lloyd’s of London for up to $300.00. You must meet certain qualifications and there is a $35.00 deductible. Yahoo does not currently insure buyers.

Buyer beware
You may notice when you first start searching auction sites, the spectacular bargains offered often disappear close to the closing time. It is not rare to see items that sell above the retail rate, or new items, which have sold for a higher price than newer counterparts. How can this be?

“My theory is some people don’t do their homework and see what they can get the item for elsewhere,” says Craig Morrison, a veteran eBay user who scours the site daily for special bargains in aviation equipment. “As a seller one lives for those moments.”

High-demand items like the latest video game, digital camera, or other electronic device is going to command a higher price, and ‘auction excitement’ does make some people forget the true costs they are agreeing to pay in these transactions. Set a ‘top price’ in your mind before you bid, and you’ll be protected from over-bidding.

Be prepared
As a buyer, it pays to know your price, including duty, exchange rates and shipping costs, in advance. You should also do your homework on the seller.
· How long have they been active on the auction?
· What is their rating?
· If you e-mail them with a question before the auction closes, do they respond to you?
· Have they posted a web site, postal address or phone number that you can verify before you send your payment? · Is there a photograph of the item?
· What shape is it in?
· Is there a return policy?

You’ll also save money if you keep careful tabs on your auction items. eBay or Yahoo! Auctions both offer watch lists or tracking features so you can be notified if you are outbid.

Pay Safe
Finally, choose a secure way to pay for your auctions. PayPal  is eBay’s credit card company of choice, and many sellers offer PayPal payments as one method of payment. The account is free.

Once you have signed up at PayPal, you can use your credit card to make payments to anyone else, even if you only know their e-mail address. PayPal keeps both your address and the seller’s private, and acts as a middleman to transfer the payments anonymously if needed.

There are numerous ‘e-Escrow’ houses that offer similar services, but PayPal is the best known and is one of the simpler sites to navigate. It also offers transaction insurance at up to $100,000 at no cost to you. PayPal does have some issues around international sales. But most transactions between the US and Canada are smooth, and there is an 800 number for customer service.

Regardless of which online auction site you choose, doing your homework before and during the process will ensure that you have a safe, enjoyable and profitable experience, whether you are a buyer, seller or both.