03 January 2006

E-auctions - A Modern Day Version of 'Sungei Road'

Ever since the advent of the Internet, people have set up 'e' everything - e-commerce, e-banking, e-payment, e-news, e-auctions, etc. Today, many transactions take place in e-auctions. 'E-bay' and 'Yahoo Auctions' are 2 main e-auctions websites available to Singapore buyers and sellers. Both of them are very similar but I think 'Yahoo Auctions' is the more popular of the two. This post will only describe Yahoo Auctions.

What are the similarities between Yahoo Auctions and Sungei Road? People can buy and sell anything and everything (not necessarily old stuff) on Yahoo Auctions, just like in Sungei Road. But there are things that are strictly a 'no-no' - controlled drugs (including Viagra), stolen or smuggled items (only if this could be proven), pornography, soliciting for sex, recruiting mercenary killers, weapons (Frannxis' spent cartridge would have been classified under this category), terrorists' propaganda and paraphernalia, etc. Pirated or fake goods are a grey category - they are being openly sold on Yahoo Auctions but nobody acknowledges this. Euphemisms being used for 'pirated or fake goods' are 'compatible version', 'copy', 'almost like the real thing', etc. However, one can always tell a fake good from the real thing just from the asking price - it is always a mere fraction of the cost of the genuine item. A very good example is when Chris' $10,000 made-in-Malaysia Louis Vuitton wallet is being sold for a mere $10 on Yahoo Auctions.(A more comprehensive list of prohibited items is given at Yahoo Auctions Singapore website here.)

A few years ago, the news reported a Sillyporean trying to auction off his skills to make a projectile or a rocket! No doubt that the Idealogical Social Department must have intervened to counsel that guy and probably even thrown him into jail sent him to a place where he could spend some time to do some quiet self-reflection. That was despite his claim that he was just selling his technical expertise and not the physical product itself.

Both means are free for sellers - no auction fee is levied by Yahoo Auctions and no rent or GST is collected from sellers in Sungei Road. Unscrupulous sellers abound in Yahoo Auctions, just like in Sungei Road. (Sorry if I sound like a worn-out record, repeating the same old advice i.e. caveat emptor or buyers beware.) Not only that, unscrupulous buyers also abound on Yahoo Auctions too, but that should be regarded as a difference rather than a similarity with Sungei Road.

What about the other differences? For one, the Yahoo Auctions seller does not need to watch over his wares like a hawk. Neither the seller nor his wares need to be physically present (at one place). He can be anywhere else doing anything or nothing. All he needs to do is to log into his Yahoo or e-mail account at least once a day to check if there are any interested buyers who bidded or asked any questions about the item on sale. The item will be offered 24 x 7, i.e. round-the-clock, rain or shine. The seller could choose up to a 10-day expiry for the auctioned item and also re-submit the auction for the item automatically for up to 5 times. If after 50 days, the item is still left on the shelf, the seller should seriously consider pricing his item more competitively. Of course, the sooner he does this, the better will be his chance of selling off the item. After all, in any market place, the basic rule of supply and demand applies.

Sellers too should beware of unscrupulous buyers on Yahoo Auctions because unlike in Sungei Road, a Yahoo seller has not met the buyer face-to-face yet even at the time when a deal has been struck. Most importantly, the seller has not received payment yet. Every now and then, one would come across a dubious buyer, usually a non-local, asking silly questions and then making an offer-to-buy that is just too good to be true. This buyer's intention is probably to get the seller to send him the goods first. If the seller is naive enough to do that, he will probably find out later (and too late) that the payment never arrives. I do not know if anyone has been cheated this way. There must have been quite a few who are. But there are many sellers who could recognise such a scam right away. They would swear four letter words at reply the sellers in unrestrained language which refined people like Chun See would never use. (Once a seller replies to a buyer's question, the question-and-answer could then be seen by the 'whole wide world', uncensored.)

Sellers could be unscrupulous on Yahoo Auctions too. Some sell items that are defective. (If an item is defective, it should be declared to buyer beforehand.) Some items may be older or are in worse condition than claimed. Some sellers would register several Yahoo accounts each and then single-handedly bid up the prices of the items that they themselves are selling, just to create an artificial demand. Or they could ask their friends or colleagues to do the same. Some sellers may not even actually have the items for sale or any intention to sell but are only 'testing the market'.

Then there are sellers or buyers who back out of successfully closed auctions for a variety of reasons - they realise they have been duped, they change their minds, buyers found a cheaper alternative elsewhere or sellers found another buyer willing to pay a higher price. Of course these practices are unethical to say the least. Unfavourable ratings (an open system for successful buyers and sellers to appraise each other) will then probably be exchanged between buyers and sellers. Nothing to worry about. If one collects too many unfavourable ratings, one can always start afresh on a clean slate again, just by registering for a new Yahoo Auctions account using a different username just like how some banned maids return to Singapore on forged passports.

I have successfully bought and sold a handful of items on Yahoo Auctions and am proud to say that I have so far not had a single bad rating yet. (That is without registering for fresh accounts). In fact, Chris has been saying that I always spoil the buyers market by pricing my items too low, providing personal 'money back' warranty and free delivery. He can say what he wants but I still much prefer selling on Yahoo Auctions than on Sungei Road like what my classmate Mr Toh Hai Leong does.


Chris said...

Thanks for giving us the ABC of yahoo auction Victor. I've had my fair share of transanctions over this very modern and convenient mode of business and am happy to announce too, that I've no negative ratings whatsoever to date.

That being said, a word of caution and advice for people, especially the youngsters who have been reading Victor's blog about the peril of such transaction over the net.

1. Never ever remit money into the seller's bank account before receiving the goods. Always insist on COD or cash on delivery. If the seller refuses to budge, so be it. There are always others selling the same item and who are more accommodating.

2. Once a deal is struck, honour it. A dear friend of mine bid and won an auction for a $4 used and probably condemned printer (can you believe it) just so that he could use that printer as a trade-in for a new printer being advertised. He backed out in the end, all because he found a better offer that required no trade-in. Image all the time and effort wasted, just for the $4. Man... (shaking my head in disbelief).

3. Never ever give your address away, unless of course the item you're selling is bulky and huge, perhaps your refrigerator or Projection TV. But if you're selling an item like a 15 inch monitor, you can always choose to meet the buyer at the void deck. You don't want any wacko to start harrassing or stalking you or your family members, do you? A dear friend of mine did just that. Unbelievable!

There, just my 2-cents worth. Happy Yahoo-Auctioning everyone.

Victor said...

I think you told me about this dear friend of yours before (whom I happen to know very well too). As you aware, although he's an oldie like you and me, he is nevertheless still a newbie when it comes to e-auctions and he's still learning the ropes.

About the $4.00 spoilt printer, I think he sought your advice on what to do before he backed out of the deal. True like a dear friend, you had dutifully dispensed some very useful advice for him which he followed to the letter. It was to your credit that he finally got himself out of his quandry.