Tips for Bidding in an Online Auction

For the next few weeks, America is hunkering down at home to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus. Auction houses across the country, including ours, are suspending live auctions temporarily and going to online only until the threat subsides.

But even before this unprecedented pandemic, eight in 10 Americans were shopping online, with 51 percent making purchases on their smartphones. And nearly one third of adults in the United States have participated in an online auction – that’s an estimated 35.6 million people.

While you won’t experience the high-energy fun of attending an auction in person, bidding online is easy and convenient. But like anything on the Internet, it’s important to use caution and common sense. Here are some tips:

  • Research the auction house: Start with an internet search and delve deep into recent reviews. A few negative reviews may not be a problem, but if you see a pattern of complaints, that’s a sign that something is amiss. Also check to see if the auction house is member of the National Auctioneers Association (NAA).
  • Browse the merchandise online: Most auction houses will have their catalog online several days prior to the auction. Take screenshots of items and lot numbers you’re interested in with your cell phone and save them in a separate folder on your phone so you can easily refer back to them. If you need more details, email the auction house from your phone and send them the screenshot and lot number.
  • Attend the preview: Many auction houses open for a public preview the day before an online auction. This gives you a chance to check the condition of the items and view any provenance. With the Coronavirus, hours of operation could change, so be sure to call or email ahead of time.
  • Register early: Don’t wait until the auction starts before you register to bid. Some auction houses will need to approve you to bid in their auction and it can cause a delay. Also keep in mind that technology can have its glitches.
  • Use the Watchlist: If you’re not ready to bid yet, you can use the watchlist to keep an eye on items you are interested in bidding on. The watchlist shows the current bid, competing bids and how much time is left until each lot closes.
  • Check your cell reception: If bidding on your phone, give yourself plenty of time to make sure you have a good connection so you don’t miss the chance to bid higher when your item hits the auction block. Wi-Fi will be faster than your cell phone network connection. Close any browsers so they don’t eat up connection speed. Also forward your phone calls so you’re not distracted during a serious bidding war.


Remember, before you start bidding, have an endgame strategy in mind. Know your budget and be sure to calculate any extra fees, like buyer’s premiums and delivery charges. Hopefully, you’ll have fun – something we can use more of these days.



Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale.

Contact him at, or 623-878-2003.


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