Every year my spring season is filled with school auctions. Many of them run online auctions in conjunction with their live events, and the majority this year have complained of lower revenue with the online auction.
So what’s up?
If you’re running an online auction and looking for ways to avoid a downfall, here are a few thoughts I’ve gathered from conversations with my clients.
Four tips for online auctions
1. Marketing your online auction is critical.
One of my clients commented that she usually sees a last minute rush of bids before the online auction closes.
“Not this year,” she said, “Even the golf experiences that draw in our men didn’t sell well. We got 1, 2, maybe 3 bids on our items.”
If you’re seeing a general slow down, ramp up your email marketing.
The “build it and they will come” approach won’t work for a live event *or* an online auction. Online auctions are too easy to be overlooked in the dearth of content we all see. So just as with a live event, you’ve got to push, push, push the emails to drive traffic to your online event.
I’ve seen groups send two or three emails about their online auction and expect that to do the trick. That simply doesn’t cut it, except in cases of the most dedicated of supporters.
If you sense that marketing is your Achilles heel, check out my Marketing Your Auction training will give you the email expertise to drive traffic.
2. Consider whether you want / need outside bidders in your online fundraising auction.
Some online auction vendors will advertise your items to people outside your own community of donors. Theoretically more competition drives higher bids. When all goes well, that’s great.
But a couple of nonprofits haven’t had that euphoric result.
- In one case, a vendor was selected to advertise and sell a high value item using its national database. The item (2 sporting tickets) sold for $4k — no more than what my client knows they would have garnered in his own auction. After paying the fee to the company, he said it was a nice experiment, but not worthwhile.
- In another case spanning a few years, winners continue to claim not to have received the items mailed to them, even after a signature via UPS was required. The nonprofit has little recourse except to let the winning bidder have it for free. When your auction is open to the world, anyone can win and bid items — including scammers. My colleagues in the commercial auction industry put systems in place to vet their own bidders, but in the nonprofit auction space, nonprofits rely on the auction software company to vet bidders — and they don’t.
With every upside there is a potential downside.
3. Avoid other event conflicts when closing the online auction
Is your local sporting team in the playoffs? And — drat it! — is that game being played the same night as your online auction is closing?
If so, you might see lower participation. (Which means you need to ramp up the marketing to compensate.)
Check sporting and community calendars. Avoid closing your online auction during these times. If a playoffs game has materialized, you might consider moving the auction closing.
4. Use psychology to drive higher bids
It’s always a good idea to include extended bidding to garner the highest sale prices of your most popular items.
What’s extended bidding?
I’ve covered that subject extensively already. Read my 2012 blog post My gripe with some mobile bidding and online auction vendors or my 2013 blog post, Ready to see bidders freak out? Don’t include extended bidding.
What’s been your experience with online auctions this spring?
Feel free to comment below.