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The Net Takeaway: Alternative Bidding

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Alternative Bidding · 12/15/2008 12:19 AM, Marketing Trivial

Over the years, lots of different types of bidding systems have tried to unseat eBay. Some have bid extension (last bid extends expiration by 15 minutes, so no more sniping), some have various step requirements, some only handle B2B and bulk items (UBid is the most famous of these), but none have really lasted in the US. (Note that eBay is a 2nd stringer in most other countries: good, but usually not the leader. Who knew?)

Now, from Baton Rouge, La., comes a strange new play: UTurnBids.com. It’s kind of hard to explain, but basically, its like a reverse auction… only you have to be low and unique. So, let’s say 201 people are bidding. The first guy bids 1 cent for the item, thinking “I’m the lowest!”. Next guy bids 1 cent also, with the same logic. Now, they’ve canceled each other out. On down the line, as each person picks a low bid, if its duplicated, then it cannot win. This implies that in the search for uniqueness, you would try to go to 2 digits, and potentially 3, for your bid. At least, that’s the hope. They also hope you would bid multiple times to find the non-unique one, and they can make money that way.

http://www.uturnbids.com/ContentImage/How-It-Works.aspx has a picture.

Clever idea. Of course, without lots of bidders, it seems that lots of very low bids (all odd numbers, of course) are winning: the Recent Winners shows some good grabs.

Anyway, thought it was interesting. I haven’t signed up to see if it tells you that your bid was duplicated or not. Also, their business model is the “bid credits” system, meaning that you pay to keep bidding (there are some free ones for small items limited to 5 bids a day).

I wish them luck, as I do for any company trying to make it in tech based in La. It’s a nice twist, and it’s fun to learn about how much effort goes into bidding systems. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with some Yahoo! research scientists about pricing and bid theory, and there are more twists there than you ever expected. See the Auction Theory category in Wikipedia for a collection of topics.

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