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Auction World Article - July 1995

Surfing the Web Gives Auctioneers Edge
Company creates listings for auctions, auctioneers on the Net

There is a revolution going on in the world that will reach into every home and affect every business in the near future, if it hasn't already.

It is the dawing of the Digital Age, of the Internet and the World Wide Web.

While it could be a long time before the auction industry is widely affected by the new wave of technology, and though it may not touch those conducting household sales, it is already seeing changes.

Auctions of cars are being conducted on-line with an auctioneer seated in a control booth with a microphone and a video display terminal . The terminal displays the car from various views, inside and out, and gives a description of it - as does the auctioneer. As the car comes up on the screen, the auctioneer begins the description and goes into his sale chant with buyers from around the country bidding by punching a button to lock in their bid.

Collectibles, jewelry, antiques, Oriental rugs, wine and real estate are among the many items being sold by auction or listed for sale in auctions over the Internet.

Two people riding the crest of the new wave are John Jackley and Andrew Dinnerstein of Scottsdale, Arizona. They are the owners of a new company called USAWeb Internet Consultants, a business dedicated to getting auctioneers on-line on the Internet and World Wide Web with their auctions.

Their Internet business - The Internet Auction List - is a compilation of publications that provide listings of auctions. They include pub lications such as: Antiques and the Arts Weekly, which bills itself as the nation's leading weekly publication covering the antiques trade; Maine Antique Digest, which says it is, The Marketplace for Americana, Antiques, Auctions, Prices, Pictures, and Shows; and Salvo, producing listings of UK, Europe, an some U.S. auctions of architectural antiques and antique garden ornaments.

There are also listings of on-line auctions by companies such as the Atlantic Trading Company which specializes in antique paper, 15th Century to World War II prints, maps, documents, stock certificates, bonds, etc; and the Computer Museum, which auctions computer memorabilia, produc ts and services. It also points out that illustrated descriptions are ava ilable through an on-line catalog.

There are listings for government auctions of real estate, seized property, postal service unclaimed and loose-in-the-mail items, and FDIC non-performing loans. There are listings for auction galleries that sell everything from wine to fine arts to collectibles to cars, coins and stamps.

Also on The Internet Auction List page readers will find a display advertisement for Southwest Real Estate Auctioneers with a brief description of the current auction.

There is no charge for being on The Internet Auction List for those who are simply listing the name of their publication or business and w hat they provide. They will also list a company's auction web site, if they have one of their own, without charge. And they are looking for more b usinesses to put in The Internet Auction list. There is a charge for the Southwest Real Estate Auctioneers, however.

While the Internet has been ad-free for the most part, and there is strong opposition among the purists of the Internet to any advertising on the NetÓ Dinnerstein and Jackley feel there is a place for correctly-placed advertising.

People on the Internet don't want to run across sports advertising if they are looking for information on arts and antiques, that's an example of inappropriate advertising on the Net. But if you find an ad for an art store among the arts and antiques information, people won't find that inappropriate.

Dinnerstein and Jackley feel that with The Internet Auction List they are providing those looking for auction information with Òsomething useful and something with which to generate traffic on the Internet to their site.

Advertisements on The Internet Auction List is one way in which USAWeb makes money. They also earn revenue by placing auctions with some or all of the items to be sold not only listed, but with photographs as well.

It is because the listings peek the interest of the reader in a certain auction that the real value of the advertising power the Interest represents for USAWeb.

In just the short five months they have been in business their contacts within the Internet have ballooned. They now have what they call the central place on the Internet for information about auctions. We have links to just about any auction that is placed on the Internet.

Jackley and Dinnerstein see many advantages to going on-line with auctions, among them:

1] Auctioneers and auction houses have additional advertising on top of their traditional newsprint and auction brochure mailings.

When an auctioneer or auction house has completed a brochure they usually send it to the printer and to the appropriate publications for a dvertising. The auction bill is printed and mailed; the newspaper ad published. Now there is another option which Dinnerstein and Jackley say pro vides more flexibility at a lower cost.

At the same time the auction brochure is finished, a copy can be sent to USAWeb which will put all or part of the bill on the Internet with photographic support. And instead of having to wait for the printer to finish or the newspaper to publish, customers of the auctioneer will have almost instant access to the details of the auction. This means a longer lead time prior to the auction date and the potential to reach more advertisers. If there are any changes that need to be made, they can be completed in moments and readers have an updated version of the auction.

For about the same cost as placing a small ad in the Wall Street Journal's auction mart that is only part of an auction that is to be conducted, an auctioneer can get their entire sale put on the Internet, Dinnerstein and Jackley say.

The Internet listing won't eliminate auction brochures or newspaper advertising, but it will enhance it, Dinnerstein and Jackley say.

2] Auctioneers and auction houses can direct their clients ve access to the Internet to their on-line catalog. This reduces the time needed to deliver the catalog to prospective bidders, and reduces mailing costs.

3] It demonstrates the sophistication of the auctioneer by making the information to his clients in the most efficient means possible.

Who is on the Internet and why is this audience attractive to auc tioneers?

There are no firm numbers, but the number of people estimated to have World-Wide Web access is several millions, Dinnerstein said. And while no one is exactly sure who they are, you can look at what's available and that gives you an idea of what people think the audience wants.

The major industries represented on the Internet today, in addition to the computer industry, are finance and investing, real estate, arts and antiques, and any other area where efficient access to information is important for big money decisions, he said.

We at USAWeb have a tendency to believe that this audience maps very closely to the audience that auctioneers are trying to attract, Jackley said.

Not only does the Internet have the ability to list all the items in an auction with photographs, but it can be used to provide buyers with additional information about what they are buying. Articles or sources of information about the value or history of antiques could be carried as further reading for the buyer.

While their business grows as more and more people discover their business on-line, Jackley and Dinnerstein are not sitting back watching, they are aggressively seeking out new business contacts. They have searched through the major advertising publications looking for the auction houses and auctioneers whose business could benefit from placing their auctions on the Net.

Today the Net may seem like a unique option that some auction businesses may want to try, but it is quickly becoming a necessity for those auctioneers who need to reach a national market, they say. In fact, Jack ley said, For some auctioneers, if they are not on the Internet a year from now it will be the equivalent of not sending out a brochure.

Before their business can really take off, Dinnerstein and Jackle y agree, they will have to educate more auctioneers and auction businesses about how the Internet works and the sales power it brings to them.

With anyone who is hooked up to the Internet able to create their own Web site for their auctions, bypassing the need to pay someone else to be on-line, why would an auctioneer or auction house seek USAWeb to handle their work?

We know the Internet and how it works, Jackley said. We know how to market an auction and we know where it has to be placed. We know how to design the auction to make it interesting and easy to access the information.

One of the real challenges with a site on the Web is keeping it interesting, Dinnerstein continued. If a person goes to the site and fi nds the same old information or they find something that is difficult to deal with, they won't come back to the site.

There are many business that just don't want to handle the hassle of dealing with placing their auctions on the Internet, both agreed. They and their employees are very busy talking to bidders, providing more details, taking bidder registrations, and they just don't have time to create and maintain all the pages.

There are others who list auctions on the Internet, but none have the number or depth that USAWeb provides, Dinnerstein and Jackley say. While a person might try access auctions by typing in an inquiry about auctions under a general search key, the will find only a limited number of hits (listings of auctions) and some may be duplications. With USAWeb, a person will find 40 or more auctions listed and none are duplicates.

As more buyers discover the Internet and World Wide Web places to seek information about auctions, they will start asking the auctioneers and auction houses they patronize to expand to their sales on-line.

How the company came to be:

Before becoming a partner in USAWeb, Dinnerstein had worked professionally with the Internet for the past year. He worked as a consultant with a large financial services company helping them get on the Net.

Jackley, who hails from Illinois, worked in the customer service training area. While growing up and working in Illinois he attended many auctions. For a while, he would go to auto auctions buying cars for resale. Those travels took him through several states. Through the auto auction business he learned an appreciation for needing to advertise auctions on a larger scale.

Shortly after leaving Illinois for Arizona, a friend of Dinnerstein's introduced the two. They struck up a friendship that eventually evolved into discussions of a business together. While working with the Internet was Andrew's forte, it was John who came up with the idea of using the Internet for selling advertising in the auction industry.

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