Reclaim Your Auction Brand and Identity

The way forward for small auctioneers is through revamping the process and deliberate action

Brand reputation is the most important part of an auctioneer’s business: it helps you to both source high quality items as well as attract high quality buyers, which gives you the ability to achieve a higher price realized. However, it is hard to strike a balance between reputation and the necessities of doing business in the digital age.

Traditional methods of auction promotion rest on media exposure, local advertising, and a dedicated client communication channel that reinforces the stature of the brand in the local community as a reputable location for buying or selling high quality secondhand items. For those auctioneers using an online auction service, however, the brand message, as well as their brand identity, can often be diluted by the medium.

Sites like Liveauctioneers and Invaluable offer buyers a catalog of items available for auction at some point in the future, which gives them a choice of goods across multiple sellers. Conversely, the sheer volume of registrants on such sites leads most auctioneers to think they can get the best price possible on anything they post. Since there seems to be a direct correlation between exposure (e.g. how many days an item has been listed online, or how many page views that item has received) and the ultimate price realized, it stands to reason that sellers should put every consigned item in an auction, and will thus make the most amount of money possible.

However, this does not address a number of key issues in the process: for instance, items like furniture have built-in fulfillment issues that greatly limit the pool of potential purchasers to those within a reasonable shipping distance. Furthermore, this mentality tends to create behemoth sales that lack cohesion or purpose. This leads to auctioneers unwittingly diluting their brand message through the pursuit of higher profits.

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On the other end, online auctions have a tendency to dilute a buyer’s intent compared to other online purchases. While many consumers now feel comfortable buying clothing and furniture online, auctions operate under different rules than most online marketplaces. The most apparent tension is the timeframe: where an auctioneer sees weeks of listing as increasing his odds of getting a good return, the buyer might prefer to purchase something immediately, even if it means paying a premium to do so.

Similarly, consumers are used to a seamless transaction, and often balk when there are differences that make them aware of the process. Buyer’s Premiums are one of the clearest examples: while it seems you are getting a better deal on a site that doesn’t include auctioneer’s fees in the bidding process, buyers can feel cheated by the additional cost at checkout.

We need to meet somewhere in the middle for the auction method to thrive. This requires concessions on both ends: buyers will need to accept some of the limitations that come with processing secondhand objects, while auctioneers will need to consider new ways of offsetting their costs. There needs to be transparency and trust built into the transaction, otherwise the very core of the auctioneer’s brand value becomes degraded in the view of the buyer. Professional auctioneers bring information wrought from years of experience and expertise to each auction they curate; it would be a shame to let flaws in the process overshadow it.

Yet this does not solve the problem of the low-value items that auctioneers must process in order to secure estates. So how can a local auctioneer make money, satisfy their consignors and clients, and still maintain their reputation? Here are some thoughts:

Reduce overhead through new ways of selling
Not all items need to be processed identically. Auctioneers should assess their production costs and make a determination to sell items that don’t justify a full auction treatment in a different fashion.

Embrace the immediacy of the internet without destroying intent
Similarly, not all items benefit from a public auction. Experimenting with new tools that allow you to take offers before the sale is one way of offering buyers the immediacy that they crave.

Hold smaller, well-defined auctions
Your branding, as well as any marketing efforts, will benefit from auctions with a clear, cohesive purpose. While category auctions are one example, others include price point collections, or having a staff member curate an interior design selection.

Promote transparency
The habit of hiding buyer’s premiums, other fees, and shipping processes in the fine print is one that both individual auctioneers and online marketplaces should avoid. It leads to confusion, unfulfilled sales, and a general drain on your reputation.

Engage your community
Your best buyers are the ones that are motivated to return, either through their proximity to you or through their professional ties. Your most valuable asset is your relationship to your local community and local commerce. No existing online channels can replace this intimate connection. By finding ways to keep them engaged, your brand can only grow stronger.