This site is mostly about code and programming.  Recently however, I tried a service that I just felt the need to complain about: eBay Live Auctions.

I happen to buy collectables from time to time (mostly coins) and thought this would be an interesting way to get coins on the cheap.  In fact I found a few live auctions with coins up for grabs.  In one case a coin that would probably retail for $32 to a collector was going for about $12.  It seemed a great opportunity.

It turns out Live Auctions from eBay are a minefield of problems.  Here’s some of the issues I found:

Bidding without Knowing Shipment Costs

I found that many (most) of the Live Auction houses running on eBay are NOT stating their shipping policies/prices.  They literally state, “shipment will be worked out with the buyer after auction.”  Basically if you want to buy a Silver Eagle 1oz coin at $15 and you don’t know the shipping… you can end up paying $40 for a coin- well overpriced.  This leaves the seller with all the cards. They can decide how much to tack on, in case they didn’t make enough sells.

In my case, I bought 2 items from a seller in this situation.  Their shipping wasn’t specified. I emailed them and asked to have one shipment for the two coins.  What they did was add in a handling fee per each item.  I ended up paying an extra $10 for shipping on 2 coins (which would normally have cost me $2 shipping/handling in a normal auction.)

Live Auction Houses overpricing shipping

Some of the live auction houses are run by local governments… cities and states are running auctions for estate sells.  Unfortunately they are charging (in most cases) shipping fees starting at $20 per item (and they go up from there!)  In these situations they usually have people bidding on the floor (locally at the physical auction house) and people on eBay.  The eBay buyer is at a great disadvantage!   The floor bidders can bid something up to $20 (when the value is say $30), knowing that with shipping tacked on it will overpraise the item to eBay buyers.

In these situations eBay buyers loose out big time.

Paying a Premium Per Item

If the above price gouging wasn’t bad enough, the buyer also pays a premium.  The premium is set by the live auction house.    They will tack on a percentage that they get above the the sell.  For example, a $10 item, isn’t just $10… it’s $10 + a percentage.  In most cases the premium is around 20%.

You end up paying:

[item cost after all the bidding] + premium percentage + unknown (or overpriced) shipping.

What kind of deal do you get? NONE

Turnaround Time

In my case I had won those two coins from a auction house.  It took 2 days for the auction house to send me the bill.  When they did my address was wrong (my fault) and it took another 3 days for them to correct it.  I never did get a receipt they shipped my item after I paid for it.

Basically the whole process is completely flawed, when compared to traditional eBay purchases.

Do Your Homework

Before getting into a live auction event, do your homework and read all the fine print from the auction house… this can be hard to find, but one way I discovered to get all the details is to go to the live auction site on eBay, click into a auction house you’re interested in. Click on some items they will be selling.

In the item details you want to know:

  • How much their shipping?  If they don’t list it, skip the auction house!  If it’s outlandish, skip it!
  • How much is the premium?  If it’s too crazy, skip it!
  • Do they combine shipping?  If they don’t… and you’re into small items (coins, cards, etc) consider skipping it!

I really don’t see how the live auction is a benefit to eBay buyers.  It is addictive, and it is a slick interface… but I end up paying more for something than it’s worth or at best, at a price I could have gotten in a regular BIN or auction.

If you’re looking for rare items that normally do not sell on eBay… like in an estate sell… this might be a good choice, but consider you’ll pay more (way more) than if you just went to live events in person rather than using eBay.

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