‘Number of Bidders’ – is this really helpful?

Last week someone commented to me that it’s noticeable that some of our auctions don’t seem to have many bidders. It’s a point I thought worthy of some proper investigation as, whilst I monitor our general site traffic closely, I haven’t until now paid a huge amount of attention to the visitor/bidder conversion rate. Without going in to the minutiae some interesting points emerged:

  • Unlike normal (‘bricks and mortar auction house) sales, for online auctions the number of bidders on an auction is actually not as important as it would first appear. The reason for this relates to the difference in time-scales between the two mediums.

    In a normal auction bidding is fast and lots are knocked down within a minute or two. In this situation bidders need to get in at the start of the action to ensure the auctioneer knows that they’re interested. Furthermore because of the speed of bidding, it’s best to bid and drop out when the price gets too high rather than getting involved part of the way through bidding and risk missing the action.

    In an online auction potential bidders tend to watch the bidding progress and only place a bid if the current price of the auction is at a level they are prepared to pay. Unlike in a normal auction, this is a safe strategy because the finishing time of the auction is known thus there’s no risk of missing a chance to bid.

    The key point is that the number of people watching an auction is really the relevant measure of success and all our (internal) figures show that the number of watchers on an auction usually exceeds the number of active bidders by a factor of 3 or more.

  • The number of bidders on an auction can be crudely predicted by looking at two factors – the rarity of the item for sale and the level of the visible price (i.e. one or more of the following – the starting price, the current price, the ‘buy now’ price or the reserve price indicator).

    If an item is rare the number of bidders will be higher than for wine which is widely available. Similarly so where the visible price is low compared to the typical market price for the wine in question. In effect we have a scale of attractiveness to bidders running from widely available items priced at their normal list price to rare and competitively priced.

    Two points arise from this:

    1. If the wine you’re offering is widely available and the price you’re asking is close to the normal market rate then consider how to encourage a buyer to buy from you rather than a merchant. Offering a returns policy is an idea, as is providing full details of where and when the wine was bought and perhaps why you’re selling it.
    2. It’s noticeable that lots with starting prices of £1 sell far better than those with higher starting prices, so is there any reason to set a high starting price? (See also here).
  • Longer auctions attract more bidders. This appears to be because lots receive greater exposure to visitors to the site. As an aside, you can set auctions to run for over 10 days by selecting ‘other’ and specifying a finishing date. Also, if you’re in no rush to sell, Bid for Wine’s ‘Buy Now’ option is a very good alternative low cost to putting your wine on a broking list…

In conclusion, auctions typically have lots of watchers who could become bidders at any stage. If you want to attract extra bidders though, set a low (or no starting price) and be realistic about your reserve price and the attractiveness of the lot you’re selling.

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3 Responses to “‘Number of Bidders’ – is this really helpful?”

  1. Scott Pavitt Says:

    Having been a bidder several times now on bid for wine , one thing I do notice is, whats to stop a seller creating an account and bidding for their own wine against genuine bidders thereby increasing the cost of the wine to a level that they would be happy to sell at?

    I actually tested my theory, by bdding for a specific wine bottle to which I was then outbid, I then didn’t bid for several days and the price remained the same (even though there were apparently seven other bidders). I then entered a bid in the last few minutes and suddenly the bidding started a pace, with the 2 minute timer resetting every time I entered a bid. Hmmmm

    • Hi Scott.

      We do check signups on the site to avoid users having multiple accounts and also monitor bidding on auctions. In cases where we have reason to be suspicious we do intervene.

      In relation to the extension of the deadline as you mentioned, I can’t specifically comment without knowing which lot you were bidding on but:
      -Auction deadlines are automatically extended by 2 minutes whenever a bid is submitted within the last 2 minutes of an auction. This is to stop people using automated bidding software to outbid others at the last second.
      -If the current highest bidder has entered a maximum bid (e.g. £200) for a lot and you submit a bid when the current price is below this (e.g. £100), the site will bid against you on the current highest bidder’s behalf. I suspect that is what you were seeing.

  2. scott stevens Says:

    As a buyer and seller, my own thought on the price setting; it’s all very well setting a £1 as a start price, but I am in business to sell for a profit- I cannot risk letting something go for peanuts. Furthermore, when I did list something for £1 and only £8.49 postage it STILL didn’t sell. I shall stick to just having a starting price amicable to my own price/cost needs…

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