A friend from Kansas and her husband flew out to visit me last month.
And this is where the story begins.
My house is undergoing a renovation so they stayed in a nearby hotel.
When I popped into the Hilton Garden Inn the first morning of their visit, I saw this in the lobby.
A silent auction!
I’d seen this type of set-up at a hotel in Ohio last year, but didn’t have time to investigate.
I walked over to see how it worked.
First, I glanced at what they were selling.
Most of it was sports and celebrity memorabilia.
(I’m leery of selling memorabilia because much of it is fake.)
This was Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus “Smokin’ at the Tee” with copied signatures.
Beyond the memorabilia, there was one local themed item — an aerial photograph of Washington, D.C.
Then I looked at the bid sheets.
I noticed that the minimum raise was $10 and nearly every bid sheet had some error tied to the minimum raise. If the raise was $10, some people raised $5. If the raise was $20, some raised by $10.
(The company providing the merchandise could have avoided this confusion had they simply pre-printed the increments on the bid sheet. I’m not sure why they don’t.)
But I was confused as to how the closing worked. When did it end? It seemed fruitless to be the first bidder. After all, hotel guests checking in the next day would have an instant advantage.
That’s when I read the top of the bid sheet: “EVERY BID WINS”
Clearly this wasn’t a silent auction.
They might be using terms like “silent auction” and “bid.” And they might have it set up to mimic the look of a silent auction. But if everybody wins, it’s not a silent auction.
I decided to read the instructions. All of them.
Bid sheets had this description.
EVERY BID WINS
The sooner you bid, the better the price.
Fill out your name, phone number and bid amount on the bid sheet.
Remember, EVERY BID WINS so bid early to win at the lowest price. Your bid must meet the minimum bid and minimum raise amount to be valid.
This poster listed the benefactor and gave general instructions
(In case you can’t read the text in the photograph, here’s the content.)
Silent auction benefiting Children’s National
20% of the net proceeds from each item sold will benefit Children’s National
How to Place a Bid
- Fill in your name, phone number and bid amount on the corresponding bid sheet.
- All bidders will be contacted within two weeks of placing their bid.
- Winning bidders will have their item shipped for free.
- Every bid wins as long as you meet the minimum bid.
- Signatures are replica autographs.
How you can reach us: XXXX, Toll free XXX, Website XXXX
This poster had full instructions
And here’s the text of the above poster.
SILENT AUCTION FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHEN WILL I BE CALLED AFTER PLACING A BID?
All bidders are called within 10 days of placing a bid.
HOW DOES EVERY BID WINS WORK?
This is a continuous silent auction. Each bid wins as long as the minimum bid and minimum raise is met. The first bidder will win at the lowest price. Each bidder after may also win the item, however the price will continue to rise.
WHEN WILL I RECEIVE MY ITEM(S)?
Our standard delivery period is 3-4 weeks upon receiving payment. Expedited delivery is available. Additional fees may apply.
HOW WILL I RECEIVE MY ITEM(S)?
We ship free through FedEx to the continental U.S. Expedited and intercontinental shipping are available. Additional fees may apply.
HOW ARE CHARITY PROCEEDS CALCULATED?
Twenty percent of the net proceeds from each item sold are donated to the charity. Net proceeds are determined by taking the dollar amount paid for the item minus $15 for shipping.
ARE SIGNATURES ON THE ITEMS AUTHENTIC?
Signatures on displayed items are facsimile of actual signatures. We have a wide range of authentically autographed items available if you’re interested. All items sold benefit the charity.
WHAT IF I’M NOT SATISFIED WITH MY ITEM?
XXX will provide FedEx Return tag, and refund your money if you’re not 100% satisfied.
WHO DO I CALL WITH QUESTIONS?
Call XXX. We provide the auction. Office hours M-F 8 – 5 Central Time. Bidder hotline XXX. Website XXX
Three days after I saw this set-up in the Hilton Garden Inn, I was working an event three miles away at the Sheraton Suites.
Guess what was in the hotel lobby …
A “silent auction,” benefiting the same charity and run by the same auction consignment company.
Most of the merchandise was identical.
The bidding activity was about the same at both hotels.
The bid sheets looked slightly different. At the Sheraton, they called it a “progressive auction” on the bid sheets.
This is a fundraiser that takes little effort on behalf of the benefactor (Children’s Hospital). The consignment company is providing the items, overseeing set-up, calling the buyers, and managing questions.
If dozens or hundreds of hotels in the D.C. area have agreed to put this display in the lobby, the 20% of the net proceeds could add up to some worthy dollars!
I can see why a charity would try something like this. Low effort = high (maybe) reward.
But personally, I don’t like the way the company is running this activity.
It feels disingenuous, as though people (hotel guests) are being tricked.
This has been mislabeled as a silent auction to help the company sell items.
A silent auction ends at a specific time, at which point the highest listed bidder wins the item. In contrast, this is a small store inside a hotel lobby, selling merchandise.
To me, this is no different than a vendor who rents a kiosk and sells goods at your local mall. Depending on what time you stop by the kiosk, you might pay a bit more for the same item that your friend bought an hour ago. And because the kiosk owner is generous, he donates a portion of your sale to his favorite charity.
That’s a nice activity, but it’s not an auction.
I’d gather that for the sake of marketing, the company is falsely calling this a silent auction for two reasons.
1. Many people are familiar with the concept of a silent auction, viewing it as a way to “get a deal.” By labeling it a silent auction, it draws attention.
2. The word “auction” implies a sense of urgency to the bidding, thereby encouraging immediate action.
I’d say that this company wrote their own definition for “silent auction.”
And this also isn’t a “progressive auction.” This company is selling items to anyone. Progressive auctions often are easy to spot because you’ll often see language like “the top 3 bids win.”
In contrast, this is an EVERYONE wins.
And if I am going to be persnickety (and I will), you can’t “win” it when everyone is “buying” it.
This is a straight purchase; not a competition. (The only time I’ve witnessed competitive direct purchases were at Office Depot on Black Friday.) Hotel guests bought an item, and a portion of their sale became a donation to Children’s Medical.
This seems to lack truth in advertising, doesn’t it?
Here’s my take and a suggested name for this fundraiser: “Pop-Up Shop for the Public Good.”
In this case, the pop-up shop sells memorabilia. A percentage of each purchase is a donation to Children’s Medical, hence we are helping the public good.
What do you think?
Yea or nay on this fundraiser?
Maybe you have a better name for this activity?
P.S. There’s also something else that bothered me. It has to do with privacy.
What was to stop me — someone wandering through the hotel — from copying the names and phone numbers of the bidders, calling them up, and posing to be the company? “You’ve won! Congrats!” I’d say, “Let me get your credit card information underway so we can send this memorabilia out to you el pronto.”
It doesn’t seem all that safe.