Monday, January 12, 2009

Liveauctioneers Bidder at Disadvantage to Floor Bidder

The long and the short of it:

I found a drum I liked on the Internet. It was set to go up on auction on January 10 at Susanins in Chicago. The opening bid was to be $75 and the estimated value was $150-$250. See "1876 Klemm & Brother Bass Drum (Philadelphia)"

Lot 688028 was described as follows:

LATE NINETEENTH-CENTURY KLEMM & BROTHER RAWHIDE DRUM. Circa 1870s, Philadelphia, with various handwriting on the interior with dates "March 19, 1876". Manufacturer's tag on inside of drum. With two drumsticks Height: 24" Diameter: 24".

Auction Date: Jan. 10, 2009

SUSANIN'S Auctions
900 South Clinton
Chicago, IL 60607
United States

So, on December 31, 2008 at 04:25:17 I placed a bid through Live Auctioneers for $225.

Live Auctioneers' website approved and recorded my bid.

Come the day of the auction and the drum went for $225. I am a winner, or so I thought. Not so fast.

I contacted Susanin's because although I was sure I had won the auction, I had not received any confirmation or request for payment.

It was then that I learned the sad truth. A floor bidder bidding on the day of the auction, 10 days AFTER my bid, took home the drum for $225!

How could this happen? Shlomi Rabi, Consignor Services at Susanin's, explained the awful truth -- how this could have happened: my December 31 bid of $225 through Liveauctioneers was entered on the day of the auction at the starting estimated value of $150 (why not $75?). A floor bidder could have responded with $175, to which Liveauctioneers would have responded by doling out another $25, bringing my bid to $200. The floor bidder could have responded at the $225 level. And then Liveauctioneers, being out of ammunition, could have folded and left me with nothing while the floor bidder walked off with my prize for the bid I made 10 days earlier!

That's just not fair. And it would not have happened that way on eBay where all bidders stand on equal footing. Even eBayers using sniper services are constrained at the final seconds to operate within eBay's bidding system thus assuring equality of opportunity for all bidders and precedence of earlier-in-time bidders. No such guarantees apply when bidding through

A Liveauctioneers Internet proxy bidder has NO CHANCE against a live floor bidder. I've complained about this kind of disadvantage before (see "Sempf & Ottes Drum (NYC))", this blog, Sept. 17, 2008).

The solution? Unfortunately (for Liveactioneers), the solution might be to place a bid directly with the auction house. A better solution is to be a floor bidder or participate live on-line or by telephone. Otherwise, all we're doing by bidding on the Internet is providing a bottom, an insurance policy of sorts, that the item being auctioned sells to someone.

And that, friends, just is not fair.


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