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All About eBay Auctions

When it comes to auctions, the value of an item is determined by how much someone is willing to spend to buy it. That's what makes auctions exciting. eBay offers several flavors of auctions, but for the most part, they all work the same way. An auction is a unique sales event where the final selling price of the item for sale is not known.

As a result, an element of surprise is involved — not only for the bidder (who may end up with a great deal) but also for the seller (who may end up making a killing). Here's how an auction works from a seller's perspective and a bidder's perspective:

  • Seller: A seller may pay a fee, fill out an electronic form, and set up the auction, listing a minimum bid he or she is willing to accept for the item. Sellers can also set a reserve price — sort of a financial safety net that protects them from losing money on the deal.

  • Bidder: Bidders in auctions duke it out over a period of time (the minimum is one day, but most auctions last five days, a week, or even longer) until one comes out victorious. Usually the highest bidder wins. The tricky thing about participating in an auction (and the most exciting aspect) is that no one knows the final price an item goes for until the last second — when, often, the most action occurs.

eBay auctions

Unlike "traditional" live auctions that end with the familiar phrase "Going once, going twice, sold!" eBay auctions are controlled by the clock. The seller pays a fee and lists the item on the site for a predetermined period of time; the highest bidder when the clock runs out takes home the prize.

Reserve-price auctions

Unlike a minimum bid, which is required in any eBay auction, a reserve price protects sellers from having to sell an item for less than the minimum amount they want for it. The reserve price allows sellers to set lower minimum bids, and lower minimum bids attract bidders. Unfortunately, if a seller makes the reserve price too high and it isn't met by the end of the auction, no one wins.

eBay charges a fee for sellers to run these types of auctions. Nobody knows (except the seller and the eBay servers) what the reserve price is until the reserve is met, but you can tell from the auction page whether you're dealing with a reserve-price auction.

Reserve-price auctions are in the listings alongside the other items, so you have to click to find out whether it has a reserve. If bids have been made on an item, a message also appears on the page telling you if the reserve price hasn't been met.

Restricted-access auctions

If you're over 18 years of age and interested in bidding on items of an adult nature, eBay has an Adult Only category, which has restricted access. Although you can peruse the other eBay categories without having to submit credit card information, you must have a credit card number on file on eBay to view and bid on items in this category.

Restricted-access auctions are run like the typical timed auctions. To bid on adult items, first you need to agree to the conditions listed on a terms-of-use page after you enter your User ID and password. That page pops up automatically when you attempt to access this category. The Adult Only category also hosts fixed-price sale listings.

If you aren't interested in seeing or bidding on items of an adult nature, or if you're worried that your children may be able to gain access to graphic adult material, eBay has solved that problem by excluding adult-content items from easily accessible areas.

Children under the age of 18 aren't allowed to register on eBay anyway, and should be under an adult's supervision if they do wander onto any part of the site — especially when they log in under an adult's account.

Private listings

Some sellers choose to hold private listings (whether auctions or fixed-price sales) because they know that some buyers may be embarrassed to be seen bidding on a box of racy neckties in front of the rest of the eBay community. Others may go the private route because they're selling big-ticket items and don't want to disclose their bidders' financial status.

Private auctions are run like typical timed auctions, except each bidder's identity is kept secret. At the end of the auction, eBay provides contact info to the seller and to the high bidder, and that's it.

You can send questions to the seller in a private auction through eBay messages, but you can't check out your competition because the item page will never show the high bidder's User ID.

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