Web Auctions Go Fully Interactive: LiveAuctioneers introduces new online model

While it may not be a new twist to have auctions broadcast live over the Internet, if Julian Ellison of LiveAuctioneers.com has his way, the nature of watching those Web auctions is about to change radically.

With the new model that the company introduced in mid-August, online participants get a close-up, personal view of the auctioneer – via a crisp, clear picture – in one window, along with another window on the screen detailing lots they’ve already bid on, won or are waiting to come on the block. This, says Ellison, is a far cry from existing models.

“If you look at other ‘real time’ auctions on line,” he said, “it’s basically a camera in the middle of a field of people. Another issue is the quality and the speed of the camera. What we’ve got now is a very serious piece of technology with very serious quality.”

LiveAuctioneers, via its relationship with eBay, has long been a way for antiques and collectible aficionados to bid on myriad items in hundreds of auctions, but it hasn’t been until this summer that the company finally felt that the technology, and the market, were ripe for this new wrinkle: Personalized, real-time auctions accurate within less than a second.

“It seems to be the way forward, really, and a natural fit as far as we’re concerned,” Ellison said. “We’ve been following audio/video in the industrial sector and came to the conclusion that it was something we needed to keep a close eye on, and follow up when we thought the technology could be of benefit to auction bidders – particularly eBay auctions.”

Why then, when competitors such as ProxiBid, have been broadcasting “live” for so long, hasn’t LiveAuctioneers.com jumped in to the Web-casting pool?

“The technology simply wasn’t fast enough,” Ellison said. “It seemed to be more of a hindrance. Bidders would see and hear an auctioneer and believe the bid they were listening to was the bid that they should follow, when it was actually several seconds slower.”

Ellison’s company undertook an exhaustive search for the most up-to-the-minute technology, and then spent a good deal of time and money beta-testing it. When they finally settled on the current product, Ellison said, the results were immediate. LiveAuctioneers.com, eBay and its affiliated auction houses saw an upsurge.

“We tested it with a recent David Rago auction,” he said, “and right away there was a 30 percent increase in the number of live bidders and an immediate increase in sale prices.”

Ellison has never been one to shy away from touting the success of his company. LiveAuctioneers’ association with eBay and its 200 million-plus customers worldwide was certainly a coup, but the experience the site is looking to create with its customers across the board is one to be lauded.

The bidder window itself is a different look and the real-time bidding will give Web buyers a better shot at staying competitive for the items they’re after. It’s the interaction with the auctioneers themselves, however, which will win over many a new customer. The LiveAuctioneers platform focuses the camera directly on the auctioneer, placed next to the clerk recording the bid. The result is not only a good look at the person conducting the action, but also a chance to “look into the eyes of the auctioneer,” thereby making it a more personal experience.

“As far as the entertainment value,” Ellison said, “it’s got a pretty good ‘wow’ factor. When the auctioneer looks at the clerk, they look straight at the camera and it’s like they’re looking straight at the bidder. People that use eBay will love this. It’s more than a person sitting in front of a computer; it’s as if you actually get to meet the auctioneer.”

The long-term impact of LiveAuctioneers’ retooling will be interesting to watch, especially if and when other companies adopt the same platform as technology continues its inevitable march forward. In the short term, LiveAuctioneers will capitalize on the excitement such progressive tech can create, and do its best to get participating auction houses even more intimately involved in the process.

One such idea, says Ellison, is to get auctioneers more comfortable with technology and to start incorporating virtual previews of the sale. Needless to say, the juggernaut that is eBay is licking its chops at the thought of increasing its already substantial hold on the online marketplace.

“EBay can’t wait,” Ellison said. “They’re excited just as much as we are, and we’re adding to it every day. Once this takes off people will see that it’s not just a gimmick. It’s about bringing the individual online into the auction house.”

The new LiveAuctioneers Webcast started on Aug. 17 and 18 with the classic-car auction at R&M. On Aug. 29, the experiment continues with Dallas Auction Gallery, and a Garth’s auction on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. Skinner follows on Sept. 7, while both Cowan’s and David Rago Auctions will be broadcasting live on Sept. 15.

For more information, and to check out the new model, go to www.liveauctioneers.com.