March 9, 2000 Vol . 17, No. 5

Bidding strategy neglected

Auctioneers know much more about bidding behaviour than the average consumer, says business student Christy Lovig Johns.

By Marianne Meadahl

Bidders beware.

People who attend auctions all too often set themselves up to be taken advantage of by auctioneers who know much more about bidding behaviour than the average consumer.

Simon Fraser University business student Christy Lovig Johns (below), who studied the bidding process at auctions for her master's thesis, says consumers should be armed with a bidding strategy before walking into an auction.

"Too often, people return home from an auction trailing a number of purchased items that they regret buying," says Lovig Johns, who observed the activities at local equipment and general household auctions, then conducted post-auction questionnaires, looking at such factors as the range and number of bids on specific items, consumer bidding experience, the amount bidders are willing to pay for certain items (both before and after the auction), bidders' strategy and whether they were successful in winning the item.

She found very few consumers who had any sort of predetermined bidding strategy. "There are many different variables that can influence consumer rationality," she says. Most involve the psychology of selling.

"Auctioneers know how to play bidders against one another so that bidding the item up seems like a rational thing to do in the heat of the moment. They know how to bring out the competitiveness in bidders and can turn the bidding around into a game to be won at all costs.

"Auction attendees often view auctions as bargain basements where they can get a full range of items for a fraction of their value," adds Lovig Johns. "But auctioneers can play on these thoughts and the consumer behaviour associated with them, to bring in higher prices for their wares."

Consumers should be aware of the different dynamics present at an auction if they are to be smarter, more informed bidders, says Lovig Johns.

Lovig Johns, who completed her MBA last fall, is currently director of marketing in the Kelowna office of, a Seattle-based Internet company that she helped her father create.

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