ONLINE BUSINESS

Best of the Net: Beyond eBay

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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Best of the Net

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."



Copyright © 2002 Jane Salodof MacNeil

Jane Salodof MacNeil is a freelance writer in Groveland, Mass.


The Savvy Entrepreneur's Guide to Auctions on the Web

SITE
Yahoo Auctions
http://list.auctions.shopping.yahoo.com

WHAT IT'S GOOD FOR
The largest selection after eBay for buyers, fair fee structures, and reliable 24-7 service.

DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME IF
You're looking for industrial equipment.

WHAT OUR CEOS HAD TO SAY
Baldwin called Yahoo an "excellent site for buying and selling for small and medium-size companies."

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Most inquiries receive a canned reply. See the Auction Guild's Yahoo Contact Info page for company phone numbers.


SITE
uBid
www.ubid.com

WHAT IT'S GOOD FOR
Bargain prices on computer equipment, a wide range of merchandise, buying in quantity, and selling off inventory.

DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME IF
You're buying or selling heavy industrial equipment.

WHAT OUR CEOS HAD TO SAY
"Some great deals here," said Aumann. Baldwin called it "easy to navigate," but warned that cookies slow things down.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Register to become a Preferred Partner and you can create and manage your own auctions on the site.


SITE
SellYourItem.com
www.sellyouritem.com

WHAT IT'S GOOD FOR
Browsing for computer bargains.

DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME IF
You're making specialized major purchases like network servers.

WHAT OUR CEOS HAD TO SAY
The site enjoys "one of the best customer-service reputations in the industry," said Baldwin.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Listing fees are currently waived.


SITE
BidSpotter.com
www.bidspotter.com

WHAT IT'S GOOD FOR
Live auctions of gear and facilities. Recent auctions included a tractor, a factory, even a complete biotech-research lab.

DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME IF
You need to buy or sell something in a hurry.

WHAT OUR CEOS HAD TO SAY
Aumann called the site's audio feed a "great way to experience the sounds of a real live auction."

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
You can place absentee bids in advance of some auctions, while others require live bidding during the event.


The Whole New Business Catalog

Inc Query: How to Cure Those Mail-Order Blues
Zero-Defect Decision Making
Hands On: Deadbeat Deterrence
It's All in the Details
Hands On: Mating Rituals
Best of the Net: Beyond eBay
Tax Planning for Tough Times


Please e-mail your comments to editors@inc.com.

Last updated: Mar 1, 2002




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