The art of online auctioneering

The region’s first dedicated auction website has - in a few short months - created a lively community of enthusiastic buyers and sellers. But as any experienced eBayer can tell when browsing it, there’s a way to go before all souq.com's users learn how to reap the most benefit from its offer.

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By  Matthew Wade Published  March 27, 2006

|~||~||~|Since the launch of Souq.com’s UAE and Jordan portals last August, the site has expanded quickly and now features anything up to 5000 ‘live’ auction listings at any one time. Of course, such figures pale in comparison to those touted by eBay’s regional portals, but here in the Middle East - where true online transactions of any kind are still pretty rare, particularly between consumers - it seems to me a promising start. It’s not just been a case of people flogging t-shirts and DVDs either. The site features all manner of cars, real estate and one optimistic souqer was found touting a "very friendly python" earlier this year. A colleague of mine even recently claimed to have spotted an AK-47 up for grabs, however, I can’t confirm this as fact (nor can I tell you what product section the aforementioned assault rifle was listed in – ‘Everything else’ presumably). As the mentality in this region is very much one of ‘trade, trade, trade’, a souq for the modern digital age has the potential to grow – hand in hand with the region’s internet penetration - into a powerful beast. But browse around the site right now and you’ll see that some users are still approaching things in a distinctly ‘offline’ kind of way. It’s not uncommon for instance to see questions below a product listing from bidders giving their phone numbers and attempting to arrange anti-auction offline cash deals. In some cases, you also see the answers of sellers agreeing to such arrangements, thus negating the whole point of the bidding process. As far as the items that don’t sell are concerned, much of the time it’s hardly surprising. Users list products in the wrong categories or type in misleading – or just plain inaccurate - item titles, and in some cases are just a little too blunt when answering any questions they receive. Of course such listings mishaps occur on eBay, Yahoo Auctions and the like but the high amount of randomness on display at souq.com suggests – to me at least - there is room for a quick auction education. I discussed these issues with souq.com’s managing partner, Ronaldo Mouchawar, and he provided the following key recommendations for those readers who want to make some real cash buying and selling through the site. First and foremost: always, always include a picture of the product you are selling. “A picture is key to getting real money,” Mouchawar explains. “We let you add up to six images with each listing. If you’re selling a car for instance, that is of great benefit; you can’t do that with classified ads. If we feel the pictures you send aren’t helping your sale, our support team will contact you with further advice.” Second up, write a clear, accurate description of the product you are selling. “This both helps it to sell and helps it come up in keyword searches, so include as many relevant keywords in this description as you can, as you would with website meta tags,” Mouchawar points out Thirdly, get your pricing right. High selling prices at auctions generally come as a result of frenzied bidding, rather than from the starting price or the ‘reserve’ price being absurdly high. “I suggest you start low and with no reserve price – this really gets the bidding going,” says Mouchawar. “You see, using a reserve price puts some bidders off and doesn’t create as much demand. Then, as you get positive feedback and your reputation on souq.com increases, people will trust you and bid more. At this point, the more bids you get (and if a reserve you are using has been reached), then you can see your listing getting onto the homepage’s ‘Hot Items’ list. If you plan to sell a lot and become a power seller, having a great reputation is absolutely key.” In addition, Mouchawar recommends people should use Souq’s cash on delivery (COD) option. This is a service offered via his site’s tie-up with Aramex, which involves the latter picking the product up from you, the seller, delivering it to the buyer and, you guessed it, collecting their ‘cash on delivery’. Souq will then credit your account within a couple of weeks. “This may take a little more time to get your product to the buyer,” adds Mouchawar, “but it’s simple to use.” Thanks to the site’s current promotion this service is completely free, and interestingly enough, that’s not the case with eBay. It will be interesting to see whether this service remains free – or at least available for minimal cost – if and when souq.com's user base continues to grow. From my own eBay experiences, I would also add couple more recommendations, the first being for readers to communicate professionally in all exchanges with buyers and sellers. Comments such as “That many games for that much? You’re full of ****, they’re fakes, get off the site” – which I for one have come across recently on the site - won’t enamour you to that particular seller or anyone else who happens across your diatribes. And secondly, but perhaps more importantly - sellers shouldn’t get persuaded into closing auctions and selling for quick cash offline. On one hand, this will– over time – detract from, if not limit, the site’s trading dynamic – namely in that it’s an auction site – plus… well, it’s just not as much fun really, is it? ||**||

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