Timed Online Auctions and the Specialist Markets

Timed Online Auctions and the Specialist Markets

The online auction format removes many of the physical limitations of traditional auctions such as geography, presence, time, space, and a small target audience. What is particularly notable is how well iRostrum's timed auction format lends itself perfectly to niche, specialist collecting fields.

Some aspects are immediately obvious. Other aspects tie in more closely with the psychology of bidding in any auction and the emotional engagement with the online audience, that is particularly emphasised in specialist collecting fields.


The online bidding format makes an auction highly accessible to a global audience. The ability to place bids at any time over the live bidding period means that differences in time zones or inability to physically attend the auction are no longer a concern. The maximum bid feature allows a bidder to submit their maximum bid in strictest confidence, no other bidders can see that a maximum bid has been placed. iRostrum will then bid on the bidder's behalf in response to the reserve or any other bids up to their maximum, communicating in real time and via email when their bid is raised or they are outbid.


In iRostrum's timed auctions the closing times on consecutive lots are set a fixed number of minutes apart. The time extension feature means that when a bid is placed on a lot in the closing minutes the time will extend allowing ample time for any under bidders to respond with a counter bid, ensuring that lots have the potential to reach maximum market value. It avoids the practice of sniping, and aligns the bidding process with live auction practice whereby the lots will sell to the highest bidder, regardless of how long it takes to reach that point.

Over the last 8 years we have gathered extensive feedback from bidders to find what we believe to be the most favourable set up. However the flexibility of iRostrum means we can provide whatever configuration you think will suit your bidders best.

For maximum convenience from the bidder's perspective it is preferable for the end times on subsequent lots not to change in reaction to a time extension on previous lots. It enables bidders to schedule their availability to bid on their chosen lots well in advance. The anticipated end time of a lot is known from the day the lots are first published online so they can ensure they will be online to take part.  The extension feature always allows bidders enough time to navigate between multiple lots ending close together.

Our auction partners have reported that whereas before bidders approached the timed auction format with a distinctly 'eBay' mentality of leaving the bids to the closing minutes of the auction increasingly they are seeing a higher volume of bids being placed in the first few days of bidding opening. People 'mark' their territory, leaving strong maximum bids in the hope of scaring other bidders off. Some auctioneers have reported receiving as much as 50% of their final total hammer in the first 48 hours of bidding in their auctions opening.


Despite this the highest level of bidding activity inevitably takes place on the final day of the auction. People who are entirely new to auctions are often intimidated by the speed at which a live auction can move. It can feel that a lot has passed before they have even had a chance to get engaged. However the long bidding period in our timed auctions allows bidders ample time consider their position whilst reviewing interest from other parties - registered bidders can view the bidder history to see the number of parties participating on a lot. Then in the final minutes of a lot closing the time extension feature affords bidders just enough time to pause and consider their response to any counter bids without fear of the hammer going down unexpectedly. As much as the stimulating environment of a live saleroom can sweep a bidder up and lead them to bid higher than anticipated, the transparency of time ticking away before the lot closes and the lot is lost forever is arguably as strong an impetus to try 'just one more'.


Niche markets perhaps benefit the most from the anonymity that the timed auction format provides. Small specialist markets inevitably attract regular participants, many of whom may be part of the same collecting societies and communities drawn together by their shared interest and who over time get a feel for their 'competitors'.  It can make it difficult to encourage competitive bidding. If a high stakes bidder who consistently outbids the rest of the room it can be demoralising and other bidders may choose not to engage. The timed auction format fundamentally levels the playing field. Bidders could be bidding against their best friend or the greatest rival but the anonymity means that as far as all parties are concerned their chance of success is equal.


The final benefit of the timed auction is that all bidder interaction is captured as data by the iRostrum system, allowing the auctioneer  to perform detailed analysis on bidder activity. Analysing watched lots, bids places and lots purchased allows an auctioneer to build up a detailed profile of their clients interests, ensuring that they can be notified when similar works become available. It enables an auctioneer to establish closer, more personalised communications with their bidders thus maximising the potential of their existing client base.


iRostrum was designed by auctioneers for auctioneers so we understand the idiosyncrasies of specialist collecting markets first hand. To find out more about running timed online auctions with iRostrum and how they can work for your specialist auctions contact us now.

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