By Dan Horowitz, J.D
If you haven't already seen it on the newsstands, the May 2001 issue of Consumer Reports magazine rated several online auction companies based on privacy, design, navigation and content of their sites. It is a nice article, but in my view, they didn't adequately address a major aspect - Customer Service. Some of you may have heard Jeff Bezos of Amazon say it: Customer Experience is what keeps people coming back.
Whether you are a new or seasoned online auction buyer or seller, at some point during your online shopping, you have had a question. But unlike typical brick and mortar stores, there is no standard customer service desk to go to. It is up to you to find the answer to your question.
So on a Friday afternoon, I wrote email to ten different auction sites trying to find help from customer support staff on how to safely bid on an auction using their service. Nine of the ten auction sites had email autoresponders confirm that they had received my inquiry and would provide an answer, generally within 24-36 hours. Only Sportsauction didn't immediately reply.
Several of the autoresponses provided links to interactive help pages that provided immediate direction. eBay's link is
Although it did take eBay a little over 24 hours to respond, they provided the most helpful response suggesting how to safely bid. They suggested:
1. Know the item you bid on; research it and/or clarify any questions with the seller.
2. Check the seller's feedback, or check the Better Business Bureau
3. Use a Proxy Bid naming the top price you want to pay for the item, and the system will bid for you as the auction proceeds until someone outbids you, or you win the auction.
4. Make note of auction details so you can readily contact the seller to complete the transaction.
5. Phone the seller to make you feel more comfortable.
6. Protect yourself by paying with a credit card. Many cards offer insurance or reimbursement for transactions over $50.00.
7. Be Courteous to Other Users.
Yahoo's autoresponse provided a short Auction Tour
Amazon's autoresponse referred me to their online help section.
Ubid responded within an hour, and referred me to their help pages at
Bargain and Haggle < http://www.bargainandhaggle.com> referred us to their help section and quick tour section. Customer support can also be reached at 800-290-3693.
Bidbay said to direct specific questions to email@example.com.
Auctionaddict provided a generic automated response with a ticket number.
Finally, Sotheby's adequately responded within 24 hours. To speak to a Sothebys.Com representative immediately, you can visit
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that virtually all customer support staffs for online auction sites responded in a reasonable time and manner. Best of luck bidding!
Dan Horowitz, J.D. is founder of NJAUCTION.COM, an auction consulting company that also offers eclectic shopping to its customers. Dan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan's articles also appear in Auctionbytes.Com newsletters, the premier internet resource for online auction users.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Dan will be rating auction management services in an upcoming issue. He welcomes readers' stories regarding their own personal experiences with online and offline auction management software and services. Email your comments to me at email@example.com, or send them directly to Dan at "firstname.lastname@example.org."
ONLINE AUCTION CUSTOMER SUPPORT RATINGS
(Ratings vary from Excellent to Fair)
eBay - Excellent
Biddingtons - Excellent
Sothebys - Excellent
Ubid - Excellent
Bargain and Haggle - Good
Yahoo - Good
Amazon - Good
Bidbay - Good
AuctionAddict - Fair
Sportsauction - Fair