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We all like to pick up a bargain – there’s something satisfying about paying less for the same product. My bargain hunting on the Internet was mainly confined to searching various online stores, searching for the lowest prices. I then discovered online price comparison sites, such as Shopsmart and Kelkoo. These took the work out of finding bargains myself, as they displayed prices from various shops and showed me the potential saving. This way I was getting new products at a lower price………….next I looked at getting an even lower price, and that is when I discovered online auctions. Admittedly you don’t always get brand new products, but it can be an ideal way of getting something you want, at a bargain price. QXL are one of the biggest online auctioneers, and have sites across Europe.
~~ What can I buy? --------------------
A more appropriate question would be what can’t you buy? The category lists are impressive to say the least and very easy to navigate. You simply select browse from the main menu and you are taken to a list of subcategories, from which you can view each category in detail. The categories include Antiques, Books, Cars and Transport, Electronics, Movies, Software and many more. To demonstrate into how much detail the categories go into, if we look at Collectibles, you will then find more subcategories such as Comics, which contains various types including Disney, Spiderman or Superman. Next to each of these will be a number in brackets, which indicates how many products are currently being auctioned in that category. Alternatively, if you know what you are looking for, then you can avoid browsing by using the search function.
~~ OK so I’ve found my category, how do I buy? ------------------------------------------------
Assuming you’ve already registered with QXL, which is a prerequisite of usage, then you are ready to start bidding. Once your page of available auctions has loaded, you can browse the list for items that interest you. There are various symbols on the page, which can bewilder a new user at first. There is a key available on each page, however to explain the common ones that you will see: A green flag next to the auction indicates that the “reserve price” (more of that later) has already been met, or that the person holding that auction didn’t set one. A picture of a camera simply indicates that a picture of the product is available and a blue vase indicates that the product has had an independent valuation. The other types of symbols are regarding the seller, and just tell you whether it is a private seller or a company (one of QXL’s merchant partners). There is also a star seller symbol, which shows that the user holding that auction is well established on QXL and is rated highly by the other members.
When you have found the product you are interested in, you can see at a glance, how long the auction has left to run. Click on the auction and you are taken to another screen with more information on the auction. You can see information about the seller and more details (and sometimes picture) of the product being sold. You can ask the seller a question about the product as well as seeing other auctions being held by them. Before making a bid, you can see previous bids by other members.
You will be shown the current bid price, which could be the minimum needed to match another user or if the item has had no bidding activity, it would be the start price set by the seller. There is a bid increment that shows you by how much you can increase each bid. There is also a minimum quantity, which is used in the case of an item that is priced per piece but where the seller requires a whole set to be bought. If you are happy and want to bid for the item, simply enter your *maximum bid* in the box, along with your member ID and password, and you have made your bid.
Coming back to that maximum bid……it is, as indicated, a *maximum* bid. It is not the price you are definitely going to pay, but the maximum that you are willing to pay. With a real auction, you are there to be able to keep bidding for the item that you want. As this is an online auction and you are not present, you need to tell QXL how much you are willing to pay. Lets take a computer game that I bought from someone on there as an example. The game had a starting price of £4. I made my decision (considering that I had to pay £150 for postage if successful) that I would be willing to pay £8 for the game, therefore I enter this as my maximum bid. I was the first person to place a bid and therefore QXL made my starting bid as the minimum of £4. A couple of days later, another user made a bid of £5 on the game. QXL automatically increased my bid by the minimum increment of £1 i.e. up to £6. There were no more bids, and therefore I won the auction at a price of £6 – even though I had said that I would pay £8.
The first trick that I thought to try was to look for auctions that were about to close and go in and undercut the highest bidder by £1. I was very proud of myself when I had done this, but to my surprise, I didn’t win the auction. This is an excellent feature of QXL that stops this kind of “trick”. What had happened was that the previous highest bidder had obviously entered a maximum bid. I had come along and undercut them, and all that happened was that QXL matched their bid to mine. Even though we bid the same price, they still won because winners are calculated first on price, and then on who was first to bid.
~~ Win or lose? ----------------
When bidding you can opt to receive an SMS text message to tell you whether you have either, won the auction, or been outbid. If you do win then you receive an email message from QXL informing you and telling you the email address of the user who is hosting that auction. Your email is passed to them, and it is then down to both of you to contact each other to arrange payment and delivery. If you won an auction hosted by a “merchant partner” then they will send the goods straight to you – payment will me made from your credit card. Once you have received your goods and monies have changed hands (or bank accounts!) you then have the option to rate the seller on the quality of the service you received from them – if bad, it can prevent other users making the same mistake! If good, then you can make sure that others know that they will receive a decent service. Beware though……..the seller can rate you as a buyer! If it takes you 3 weeks to send the cheque out to them, they may comment on this and rate you down – this could prevent others from wanting to deal with you!
~~ What if I want to sell? Is it free? ---------------------------------------
Any QXL member can put an item up for auction and yes it does cost! Firstly, to sell you need to fill out a form detailing the product being sold along with various other things. You need to decide in which category (ies) to place your auction and set up your description of the product, as well as any photo you’d like to load. You need to decide for how long your auction will run, as well as the start price, bid increment and reserve price. There are various other options, such as restrictions on who can buy (you can choose credit card members only if you are concerned about people paying) You choose how people can pay you and whether they have to pay for P&P, as well as what countries you will ship to.
As for costs, you pay a listing fee for each auction that you hold, which is a set fee according to the value of the product. The most you could pay for this would be £1.25 for items costing above £30. The more expensive cost is the success fee, which is again based on total value, and is obviously charged if your auction is successful.
Setting fees is probably one of the most difficult things to do…….too high and no one will bother, too low and you may not get as much as you could. This is where the reserve price comes in handy. You can set your auction to start bidding at £1 – this will generate a lot of bids, especially if the item is worth £50. Obviously, you could come unstuck if you only get one bid for £1, and then are forced to sell the item at that price. To stop this, you can set a secret reserve price i.e. the minimum amount you will accept for the item. On the £50 item, it could be set at £35. If this amount isn’t reached, then the auction closes without a sale. People who have started to bid at £1 will more than likely keep bidding up until their maximum bid, and may push the price up. They will be aware as to whether the reserve price has been reached if they see the green flag next to the auction. Obviously, you can set the reserve price as the same as your start price, which will mean that the auction will definitely sell to the highest bidder.
~~ Disadvantages -----------------
There are obvious disadvantages to using a site such as this. My main concern was that you just don’t know who you are dealing with……..are they reputable? Does the product exist? You also have no idea of the condition of the product you are buying - even though the seller may describe it as good condition, we all have different perceptions of good condition! If you are not happy with the product, you can try to return it to the sender, but there is no guarantee that they will take it back. Of course, you can leave a bad rating on their account to stop others dealing with them, but by this time, it is really too late for you! QXL try to make the experience as safe as possible through ratings, and by making members submit their credit card details when joining – just in case, people decide not to pay! My advice would be to be careful what type of product you are buying – minimise the risk by avoiding products such as CD’s or DVD’s, which could be faulty or scratched. Try to buy from Star Sellers or Merchant Partners when possible, and use the credit card payment scheme if you can.
~~ Summary ----------
Buying from an online auction is not the same as buying a new product from a reputable source, and there is certainly an element of risk – although isn’t there with everything we do online. However, there are some bargains to be had, as people are often thankful just to get some money back on something they no longer need. Most people on there are genuine and will treat you with courtesy and respect as a buyer. Just take care!