In Part I of this two-part series we discussed locating regional online sports card and memorabilia auctions and then getting set up to bid. Today we’re going to go over a few bidding practices to employ and hazards to avoid when it’s time to put your money on the line.
Best Bidding Practices
If you’re new to online auctions, the first thing you’re going to want to do is exactly what you don’t want to do, and that’s practice. This is especially true if you’re somebody who likes to put something together first and read the instructions later. Even if you’ve been bidding on these sites for a while, there is always something new to learn.
Whether you prefer Hibid, AuctionZip, or Proxibid, start by doing a search of sports cards and or memorabilia auctions for that day and the next. You should always search the next day because some auctions will start in the morning. Plus, if your cash is limited, you might want to pass on something up for bid today so you have money to bid on something better tomorrow.
When you log into an auction, you’re going to want to open up a second browser and then pull up your Watch List. With your Watch List open, you don’t have to try to remember which items you liked, which auctions they’re on, what the lot numbers are, when they’re coming up for bid, or getting near to closing. It keeps you organized and lets you keep your focus on bidding.
Now let’s say you found a card you want. You have examined the auctioneer’s photos, checked eBay and or PSA and or Beckett for a ballpark value…and now you have to decide how much you want to bid. Here it’s important to know that there are going to be additional costs incurred with each lot you win.
You will have to pay the buyer’s premium (usually 10% to 20%), sales tax if applicable, and shipping costs, and all of these extras have to be factored into how much you bid. Shipping costs can vary widely depending on whether the auctioneer ships himself or farms it out to a third party. Shipping from Canada can be especially expensive, so know this before you get seduced by the favorable exchange rate at Canadian auctions.
You must know the buyer’s premium, sales tax rate, and by what method the auctioneer ships so you can adjust your actual bid accordingly. All of that information should be available within the listing, in a rules or FAQ section of the website. If not, contat the auctioneer.
When the Rubber Meets the Road
Now let’s take a look at a few scenarios you’ll likely come across and how to handle them. Let’s say for this exercise you have looked at the costs involved and set your max bid for each item at $40.
Scenario #1: The bid is already at $50…but you really want this card. What should you do? Stop. It’s over. Deal with it and move on to the next lot.
Scenario #2: The bid is only at $15 but you notice that two or three bidders are going nuts bidding it up. What should you do? Wait. Let the dust settle and see where you stand. Chances are they’ll flame out and you can get the card at your price.
Scenario #3: Time is ticking away on your lot closing. It’s just you and another bidder. He just bid $40, which is your max. What should you do? Ah, this is where it gets tricky. Depending on the bid increments and the value you’ve placed on the card, I might go to $42 or $45. But if he keeps bidding it up, it’s time to fold. Rely on what you know about the item and do not overpay.
Stay in the fairway to avoid the hazards
Just as there are best bidding practices to employ, there are also worst bidding practices to avoid. I alluded to a few of them in the previous section, but now I’ll address a few more hazards bidders face and how to avoid them.
Probably the most serious hazard to always keep top of mind is the disadvantage you’re at in determining the quality and authenticity of items that you can only view online. Since you can’t examine items in person, you are entirely dependent on the quality and number of photos and the amount of detail the auctioneer includes in the description. Therefore, it is on the bidder to find out as much as possible about each item in which he has interest.
Determining quality and authenticity…remotely
If determining an item’s quality is the issue, it’s not a breach of etiquette to email the auctioneer and request more detailed information and more or clearer photos. Ask to have the requested materials sent directly to your email as opposed to posting it on the auction listing. That way you see it but no other bidders do.
If you have questions about the authenticity of an item, email the auctioneer and ask if he guarantees it. If he does and it comes back from the grader in a card saver instead of a slab, you have a good case for a refund. It’s essential to understand that many of these small auctioneers will not know anything about sports cards or memorabilia. What they do know is that it’s a hot market and they want in. So once again, it is the bidder’s responsibility to know what he is bidding on.
Besides short item descriptions and blurry photos, another obstacle to be overcome involves autographs. Many regional auctions will list autographed items, but many will not come with COAs or their COAs won’t be from one of the well-known companies in the hobby. While some smaller auctions, do have authentic signed items, they can be a dumping ground for bad autographs. You can expect these auctions to post a disclaimer noting that items are sold “as is” and “all sales are final.” In this situation, two words should be flashing on that big neon sign in your head: BUYER BEWARE. If you do win an autograph lot, have it submitted to Beckett or PSA and it comes back non-genuine, it never hurts to call the auctioneer and tell him. He may take it back and grant your refund. But if he doesn’t, be gracious, accept it, and take the loss.
Now it’s it time to get back in the hot seat
Remember, whether you’re new to regional online auctions or you’ve been on them for a while, there is always something else to learn.
Scenario #1: You find a 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken with the obscenity on the bat knob whited out. You know this particular version is rare and can go for up to $1500 in gem mint condition. However, the photo is just blurry enough to where you can’t tell if the corners or edges are sharp. There is one minute left until the lot closes, and the bid is at $250. What do you do?
You pass, because almost inevitably when the card arrives and you open it, the corners will be soft or the card will have another issue. And you’ll be upset with yourself for going against your better judgment.
Scenario #2: You find a 1938 Goudey Joe DiMaggio. You notice that it’s the only vintage card of it’s kind in the auction. You email the auctioneer and ask if it’s authentic, and he replies that he doesn’t know, but that the consignor says it is. What do you do? When an auctioneer is vague and the details of an item seem sketchy, run. Also, if bids seem way lower than they should be on a card like that, it’s a sign that other bidders are wary of it as well. Stay away.
Scenario #3: You had a bad day at work, the kids are fighting, and your wife is up in your grill because you haven’t cleaned the grill. You’ve been waiting for tonight’s auction because there’s a hot Acuna card you want. Your max is $200. As the bidding progresses, you realize it’s just you and another guy left. But every time you bid, he bids, and frustration is mounting. So you decide you’ll show him, and now every time he bids, you bid. And now your bid is up to $270 when he suddenly folds. What do you do? Well it’s a little late to do anything now. You just paid $270 for a $200 card.
If you take anything away from this series, let it be this: You must keep in mind that bidding is a rational exercise. It’s about numbers. So just like you should never get behind the wheel when you’re in an emotional state, you should never be bidding in an auction when you’re in that kind of state, either. There will always be another one.