Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks in the Auction Business

Published by Scott Miedema, COO in the Industrial Auction Association Annual Publication

We have all heard of the phrase “Can you teach an old dog new tricks?” We say YES! The real question is, are you willing to learn?

Internet auctions can trace their origins back to the mid-1990s when the World Wide Web was still in its infancy. In 1995, a website called “AuctionWeb,” founded by Pierre Omidyar, made its debut. This platform later evolved into what we now know as eBay. Omidyar’s vision was to create an online marketplace where people could buy and sell items through a bidding system. Little did he know that his experiment would become a global phenomenon.

eBay quickly gained popularity due to its user-friendly interface and the wide variety of items available for auction. eBay also put fear in the heart of may traditional auctioneers who saw its rise as the end of their services being needed or useful in the future. The auction format added an element of excitement, as buyers competed to win their desired items. eBay’s feedback system also established a level of trust within the online community, allowing users to rate and review their transaction partners.

As an auctioneer and auction business owner, we tended to view this as a new opportunity. It was in the year 2000 I walked into my brother’s office and said if these internet auctions work so well why don’t we try it? My brother. Sid, being the trusting man he is, simply said write up a plan.  Well. we started as one of the rare auction companies at that time venturing into the world of internet auctions, and from the one company we developed to our current stable of five unique online auction companies that offer differing services to the business world and general public.  It has been a very interesting journey full of mistakes and successes.

If you recall this was a time of financial lending changes also. Many companies were getting away from single source financing and the concept of “our bank” and using alternative sources such as leasing companies etc. As a consequence many of the deals we looked at for our established financial clients now didn’t include the best assets as they were leased and typically went back to the OEM or distributor to be resold. On the other hand we would get calls for these “one offs” with sellers having to sell the assets they leased to a closed company and we didn’t have a great solution unless we had an auction that would match the assets. So the online auction was a great method to sell these single or limited assets that weren’t enough for an auction but were valuable to sell.

We dove right in and started developing a private online auction system and there wasn’t much to choose from. What was being developed had no accounting software to go with it etc. We were fortunate and things went well for our online auctions. It was a nice supplement to our regular traditional auction business.  A few auctioneers took note and in the early 200’s the NAA National Auctioneers Association) asked if we would give a speech to the group.  I gladly accepted.

I had this whole speech prepared with the finest technology powerpoint offered in that day and in July gave the speech in Colorado at the NAA convention and show. The room was packed as the topic was hot. I outlined our journey into the online auction world and keep in mind at this point very few auctioneers had ventured into this.  There were a lot of questions and I offered to stay after and answer questions. When my speech was over I was pleased to see a long line of people waiting to ask me questions. In that line I saw many esteemed greats of the auction business, even instructors from my auction school waiting.   One by one, they came up and blasted me verbally on how what we were doing was going to ruin the auction industry. Imagine how my pride and joy were shattered. The old dogs did not want to learn new tricks. Nonetheless we ventured forward. 

We continued to develop our internet auction site and business. It was a grind for sure but it was slowly gaining traction and my brother and I were thrilled at a business that offered a consistent monthly income instead of waiting for “the next deal to come down the pipe”.  In 2005, we were commissioned to sell of the assets of The Cybernet Group in Michigan. This auction and event drew huge national attention because of the level of fraud totaling almost one hundred million dollars. It was featured on American Greed and many other news stories. We chose to sell all the assets online and the response was so large we literally had to shut the auction down several times and reboot the site because our servers could not handle the traffic. But it was a success.

As internet auctions gained traction, other platforms joined the fray. Companies such as Proxibid, Bidspotter and others added to the mix offering an easier outlet for auctioneers to sell their auctions online. Websites like Amazon, Sotheby’s, and Christie’s also recognized the potential of online auctions and began incorporating them into their business models. This expansion led to a diversification of the types of items available for bidding. Today, you can find everything from rare art pieces to automobiles being auctioned online.

Advancements in technology played a crucial role in the growth of internet auctions. High-speed internet, secure payment gateways, and mobile apps made it easier for users to participate in online auctions from anywhere in the world. Moreover, the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms has improved search algorithms and personalized recommendations, enhancing the user experience.

Now almost every auctioneer has online bidding capability in various forms, whether it be static bidding or interactive bidding sites with live auctioneers. The advent of internet auctions has undoubtedly transformed the way we buy and sell goods. Almost everyone has interacted with online auction companies in one way or the other. The old dogs have embraced the new technology and brought it to a whole new level in so many forms. 

So now what will be the next trick to teach to the “old dogs?”

Artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to have a significant impact on auctions in the future in several ways:

  1. Price Prediction: AI can analyze historical data and market trends to predict the likely selling price of items, helping sellers set reserve prices and assisting buyers in making informed bidding decisions.
  2. Personalization: AI can tailor auction recommendations to individual users based on their preferences and past behavior, enhancing the user experience and potentially increasing participation.
  3. Fraud Detection: AI algorithms can help detect fraudulent activity in online auctions, such as shill bidding or counterfeit items, making auctions more secure and trustworthy.
  4. Auction Automation: AI-powered chatbots or automated systems can manage routine auction tasks, such as answering questions from participants, handling bids, and scheduling events.
  5. Dynamic Auctions: AI can enable dynamic pricing in real-time auctions, adjusting bid increments and closing times based on bidder activity to optimize outcomes for both sellers and buyers.
  6. Inventory Management: AI can assist sellers in optimizing their inventory and pricing strategies, ensuring that items are listed at the right time and price for maximum profitability.
  7. Market Insights: AI can provide valuable insights into market trends and demand patterns, helping sellers make informed decisions about which items to auction and when.
  8. Auctioneer Assistance: AI can support human auctioneers by providing real-time information about bidding activity and suggesting strategies to maximize auction outcomes.

Overall, AI is expected to make auctions more efficient, transparent, and user-friendly, benefiting both sellers and buyers in various auction formats, Will AI replace the auctioneer completely? And would you be ok with that? So, will you be the old dog who doesn’t want to learn new tricks, much like many of the hesitant auctioneers in the early 2000’s,  or will you embrace AI as a new way to do business and incorporate it into your auction business?