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5 Tips for Bidding with Success in Online Auctions

Believe it or not, Skinner held its first online-only auctions in 1999. At the time, bidders experienced a platform built on emerging technology. Fast-forward to 2020, and it’s hard to find a collector or even an occasional buyer who hasn’t participated in an online auction.

The main feature of an online-only auction is that bidding takes place over an extended period of time—as a bidder, there is no need to spend hours in a saleroom waiting for the lot(s) you are interested in to come on the block. In fact, there’s no auctioneer at a podium. Instead, technology acts as the “auctioneer” by recognizing and accepting competing bids until time runs out.

Even if you’re already comfortable with the online auction format, it always helps to be prepared when the bidding starts. These five tips will help you bid with success.

1. Preview in person

The auction may be online-only, but the objects are real! A Skinner differentiator is that all the material we offer at auction is available to preview in person. It’s often difficult to judge the quality, scale, and condition of an object unless you handle it yourself. Check the auction page for published times and dates or get in touch with the department to make an appointment. 

2. Ask questions

Our staff is available to answer questions about these objects either before or during the online auction. Unable to attend a preview in person? Use the “contact us” button from the online catalog to send an email requesting condition information, additional photographs, or information about the auction process. Our specialists are happy to help.

3. Find your bidding style

Whether you love the adrenaline rush of competitive bidding or prefer the convenience and ease of leaving one maximum bid and then waiting for the results, online auctions fit your bidding style. Bid the current or opening bid if you want to be in control (check your personalized “upcoming bids” to see if you still have the highest bid), or leave your maximum bid and wait. In either case, the platform will bid competitively for you at pre-determined increments up to that dollar amount. Want to be able to bid more easily from wherever you are? Download our bidding apps from the Apple Store or Google Play

4. Use the watchlist

Not ready to bid yet? Add any item to your watched lots to keep an eye on it throughout the auction. You can return to your watched lots at any time to view a personalized list of only the items that interest you. See what the current bid is (and whether or not it’s with you) and how much time is left until each lot closes. Towards the end of the auction, your watched lots listing is the best and most efficient way to keep track of multiple lots that you’re trying to win. The list includes only the items that interest you and is a short cut to get bidding!

5. Pay attention during the final minutes

The closing minutes of an online-only auction are exciting. The published auction “end” time is the time bidding closes on the first lot. Lots close every six seconds, and this staggering of end times allows for more comfortable bidding on multiple lots in the same auction. You may have heard about “sniping”—a slang term that refers to bids left in the fraction of a second before a lot closes, making it difficult for other bidders to respond. Skinner prevents sniping with an auto-extend feature. Any bids placed on a lot within ten minutes of closing will automatically reset the countdown timer to ten minutes. Make sure you pay attention to your watched lots, in app notifications or your email, for outbid alerts during the time that an online auction is closing.

Want to learn more? Additional information is available at https://www.skinnerinc.com/buying/ and we’re available at 508.970.3279 or online@skinnerinc.com

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2014 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

7 thoughts on “5 Tips for Bidding with Success in Online Auctions

  1. I’ve been to some in-person auctions a few times and it was really interesting to see how they did things. I feel like an online one would be a lot crazier, because you can’t see what’s happening and what other people are doing. I thought the watchlist tip was really good. I really like having more time to make decisions, so that would be good for me.

  2. It’s great that you elaborated on the closing minutes of an auction. I’ve participated in a few in the past, and had no idea those final moments were so intense! Being prepared for this will help me out a lot next time I decide to try out an auction.

  3. Hi my name is Alexander Solomon and I have a Vares with a picture done by Annglica Kauffman and I would like to sell the Vares

  4. I have been bidding at auctions in San Francisco for 50 years, starting in college. For most of that time, I previewed in person every item carefully and set a bid limit. Since I moved to the east coast, I discovered Skinner. I cannot visit for previews as I live in the South, but I have bid successfully perhaps hundreds of times with them and have come to completely trust their description of each item. If there is damage, they mention what and where. I have been very happy with each purchase. They have partnered with the UPS store and they do a great packing job too.

    • Thank you very much for the kind words, Peter – we appreciate it and hope to continue to provide you with the same service again in the future.

  5. Timed auctions at various auction houses seem to have a different time to cutoff before extra time is added to the clock. In fact, most online timed auctions that I have seen are either at 2 minutes or 3 minutes. If you bid just before that, it doesn’t add more time to the clock, but less than that and it adds either 2 minutes or 3 minutes. Skinner is unique in that they use a 10 minute increment. In my estimation, this is too long. I have won many items at Skinner, including in both live and timed online auctions. It is frustrating and time-consuming to have the high bid, wait until the countdown and in the last few seconds another bidder tops your bid, but then 10 minutes are added to the clock. You bid again, wait for the countdown and the other bidder still waits until the last few seconds and adds another 10 minutes to the clock. This can go on and on, taking 30, 40, 50 minutes or more of your time as you wait to determine if you were outbid. This happened to me on a painting at Skinner earlier this year, where I was outbid multiple times, all at the last few seconds, and each time the clock added 10 minutes, making me watch my screen for 30 or 40 minutes waiting for this one item. A shorter time would make much more sense.

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