If you're looking to equip your office with used or surplus gear, plenty of online auction sites -- besides the industry's 800-pound gorilla -- can help.
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Looking to equip your office with used or surplus gear? Online auction sites can help.
Mention online auctions and most people immediately think of eBay. That's fine if you're looking to buy, say, an original copy of the White Album or a slightly used pet rock. But if you're interested in buying office equipment, computer systems, and other business gear, looking beyond eBay can often get you a better deal.
It's no surprise that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of auction sites that compete with eBay. While they can't match eBay's traffic, some more than make up for it with easy-to-use search engines, first-rate customer service, solid uptime, and a generally irritation-free experience.
So how to find the best auction sites? First, don't bother with auction portals. They can point you to lots of sites, but you can go directly to the best ones yourself, say our auction experts. Rosalinda Baldwin is CEO of the Auction Guild, in Fayette, N.Y., an industry-watchdog company and publisher of a newsletter about the online auction and trading industry. Kurt Aumann is a partner at Aumann Auctions Inc., in Nokomis, Ill., one of the first traditional auctioneers to go online. He also sits on the board of governors of the Auction Marketing Institute, a nonprofit education and certification group, and he's a former Illinois state champion bid caller. We asked them to review four sites known for their inventories of office equipment, computers, and other business merchandise.
Both judges called Yahoo Auctions their favorite of the sites surveyed. Yahoo, they said, simply offers the best deals on a wide variety of goods. In fact, if the same item is listed on both eBay and Yahoo, chances are good you'll get a better price on Yahoo, Baldwin said. She also praised Yahoo for its "reasonable" fees and consistent 24-7 uptime.
Our judges liked uBid for its deals, especially on computer equipment. But after that, the judges diverged. Baldwin recommended SellYourItem.com. Although it doesn't always have what you're looking for, when it does, you're likely to get a good deal, she said. Aumann, meanwhile, recommended BidSpotter.com to entrepreneurs who are buying or selling big-ticket items like forklifts and telecom switches. Though you can occasionally find a laptop there, the site is not intended for impulse shopping or finding home-office supplies. BidSpotter requires planning; it lets you bid in real time at live auctions using a streaming-audio feed.
Baldwin and Aumann also offered auctioning tips, which apply to all sites, eBay included. First, before you bid, get to know the seller as well as the terms. Check the feedback on the seller that's been posted on the site and ask questions by E-mail; you'll want to know, for example, how the item will be shipped. Don't bid if the seller doesn't respond or if you feel uncomfortable with the answers. "The entire premise of E-commerce rests on the paradigm that the buyer has to trust the seller and the seller has to trust the buyer," said Aumann.
Other red flags: Don't take any bidding action that requires you to pay through Western Union, a money order, or a wire transfer. Sellers who insist on using any of those payment methods may not be who, or where, they say they are. Similarly, be careful when an item is supposed to be in the United States but the seller asks you to send the payment overseas. Finally, beware of deals in which the terms change after the auction ends. Remember, you can still back out of the deal. "Only a tiny fraction of a percent of auctions go bad or are fraudulent," Baldwin said. "Use common sense, and trust your instincts."