In the auction industry, there are a few of us — maybe 4 — who consistently contribute to a blog. One writer is Mike Brandly in Ohio. Mike is primarily a commercial auctioneer who mostly pens about auction law.
Many of his interesting articles aren’t directly applicable to my narrow career niche, but he recently published a post I felt appropriate to share.
A few days ago he wrote, “Are online auctions going away? Probably …” He ponders the future of online auctions for commercial auctioneers. I fully credit today’s post and headline to his creativity.
Perhaps what grabbed my attention most was this:
eBay started in 1995 with a 100% online auction marketplace. Today, almost 90% of eBay is “Buy-it-now” rather than an auction format (last data is from 2017 where is was 88% Buy-it-now.) Could online auctions turn into buy-it-now events? I think we’ve already answered that question.
Mike believes — and I agree — that when a consumer decides to buy an item, he wants it quickly. Waiting a few days for an auction to close is becoming less attractive to consumers.
Does this mean that fundraising online auctions are also becoming less attractive?
I don’t think so — or at least not substantially so. My rationale has to do with industry differences.
Commercial auctions (meaning those auctions that dispose of Grandma’s household merchandise, livestock, real estate, or automobiles) are fundamentally different than fundraising auctions.
- The merchandise is different. We sell a lot of chef dinners at fundraisers; not so in commercial auctions.
- The advertising is different. Commercial auctions advertise widely and promote specific items.
- The timeline is different. How many commercial auctions charge a $100 entry ticket and serve wine? I dare say none.
- And here’s the biggest difference — buyer intentions. At a fundraiser, guests are more likely to buy simply because they want to support the mission. At a commercial auction, no one is buying because they want to support eBay or Sotheby’s. They are buying because they want to own whatever item is being offered.
Though modern buyers want convenience and speed when buying in the commercial market (consider the success of Amazon Prime), I believe those same buyers adopt a more gentle attitude when they are bidding on items to support a cause. They apply a different standard to nonprofit online auctions.
Thus, I believe that fundraising online auctions aren’t going to disappear as rapidly as commercial online auctions.
What do you think?
Post your comments below.
Roger Devine says
Well, I certainly hope they don’t!
But I do think there is a reality we should acknowledge when talking about online fundraising auctions – there are FAR fewer effective tools for prompting bids than there are at a gala.
At the gala, Sherry has a microphone. And everyone in the room knows that they are supposed to listen to her; she knows how the evening is going to proceed, and what they should do (spoiler: they are supposed to bid. Early and often.)
In an online fundraising auction, your best equivalent is an email blast.
Your supporters definitely want to support your mission; that’s not the issue. The issue is that they think it will be fine if they put in a bid later. Tomorrow, maybe. Definitely after I deal with the barking dog. Or answer that phone call. Suffice it to say, a professional auctioneer is more persuasive than an email.
So if an organization is going to hold their fundraising auction entirely online, then they absolutely need to have a marketing plan for driving bidding activity, and execute it with gusto. I do think this is less critical if the online bidding is something that only happens in the run-up to a gala, to start the bidding on key items – which will transfer to, and finish getting sold in person at the event.
Sherry Truhlar says
Oh dear … did I give the impression that online auctions are better than in-person fundraising events? I hope not.
* Online nonprofit auctions generally have terrible ROI.
* Driving people to bid is always a challenge. (The marketing is key, as you pointed out.)
* Some items may need to be shipped.
My clients most often use online auctions to cull a large silent auction and to dispose of donated merchandise when there is no scheduled onsite event.
Thanks for bringing up good points, Roger.