How to Shop Online Antique Auctions

Some of my best finds lately have been from online auction companies. As an antique dealer, I am always on the lookout for unique and authentic antiques for low prices. I used to shop at a lot of estate sales and even had favorite ones that I tried to make it to most of their sales. Unfortunately though, prices just continue to get higher and higher at estate sales and there isn’t much room for resale and profit. You can still find some good deals at estate sales, just not as many as you used to. Of course, if you wait until the last day of the sale, the prices are usually marked down fifty percent but the items you were interested in might already be gone. Also, I have found lately that even at fifty percent off, the prices are still too high for me.

I have gradually been shopping more and more at online auctions and am finding much better deals than at estate sales. Sometimes the prices go sky high, but other times you can find some real bargains.

You have to be careful with online auction companies though. If you are buying sight unseen then you need to be buying from a company that you trust. Some companies offer preview days where you can go and look at all of the items for sale in person in order to evaluate their quality and value. This is obviously very helpful especially when you don’t know anything about the company or when you are bidding on expensive items. Once you feel comfortable with a company’s reputation, you can try bidding on items without seeing them in person.  You still might want to go to a preview if the item is expensive.  I have bid on items in the past that turned out to be a different size than I expected or had a flaw that I didn’t notice in the photos.

I remember the first time I bought something from an online auction company. I bought five or six things and was excited about my finds. Something seemed off when I went to pick them up. Several of the pieces were damaged. I immediately called the auction company. Turned out, the home was being renovated and some construction workers had thrown my items into a room to get them out of their way. They had handled my items carelessly and a couple of things were damaged. The auction company refunded my entire purchase amount and let me keep everything anyway. After turning a negative experience into a positive one, I knew that company was one I could trust.

I suggest that you buy just one or two lower priced items before investing a lot of money with an auction company. See if you are happy with the quality of the items you purchased. Make sure the item is the same as what you saw online. Sometimes companies post photos that only show the “good side” of an item, hiding damaged areas. That is not acceptable. You do need to look at all of the photos. Sometimes a damaged spot may only show up on one photo out of ten or fifteen. You have to look closely at all of the photos because photos are usually considered part of the description.

Evaluate how you feel about the auction company staff. Are they friendly? Helpful? Honest? Once you feel comfortable with the company and items you purchased, you can start buying more expensive items from them.

Another thing you really have to take into consideration is the pickup location and time. Most auction companies only give you a single day to pick up and  very specific hours. If you can’t pick up your items within that time frame, then you risk losing them or being charged an extra fee on every single item. However, if you do find that you can’t pick up something at the designated time, call the auction company and talk to them, beforehand. Sometimes they are willing to work with you if you contact them far enough in advance, or if you are a regular customer.

Some online auction companies offer shipping. I prefer to shop with companies that are close enough that I can pick up my items myself. Shipping can be quite expensive. And the item that had been a great deal no longer is if you are adding another thirty to forty dollars in shipping costs and if it is a piece of furniture then shipping costs can be more than one hundred dollars.

Another cost you have to take into consideration is the buyer’s premium. This is the fee that auction companies charge on top of the bid price. The fee ranges from 15 to 30 percent (on top of the cost of the item). Keep this amount in mind and also remember you will have to pay sales tax on your auction wins. These additional charges shouldn’t necessarily keep you from bidding, you just need to be aware of what all of the costs are and what they will add to your final price.

Don’t let an item get away from you. In other words, don’t just bid and forget about it. Some auction companies will send you a reminder when your auction is about to end. If they don’t though, you will either have to remember yourself or set an alarm of some sort. If there is an item that I really want to purchase, I will set an alarm on my phone so that I don’t miss out on bidding on it at the end of the auction.

Establishing a good relationship with auction company employees is important too. Remember the Golden Rule. You definitely want to be friendly and courteous. You never know when you may need to call an auction company because you are running late to the pick up or you have a problem with one of your auction items. Being kind and courteous is always a good business practice.

While you should be nice because it is the right thing to do, it can also benefit you when the auction company representatives get to know you. I used to purchase from one particular company (that has since been sold to another company) on a regular basis. Sometimes the owner would offer me special deals on items that did not sell but she needed to get rid of.  The relationship I had with her was always positive and it benefited both of us.

Shopping online auctions can be both fun an profitable. It definitely has a learning curve and I recommend that you take it slowly in the beginning until you get a feel for how each company works. Good luck and happy bidding.

4 Responses

    1. Hi Carole,
      It is always a risk when you buy something without previewing it first. That’s awesome that you offer that option.
      Kathy

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