The Internet Yard Sale

photo of John Michael Pierobon By: John Michael Pierobon

Perhaps over the holidays you received a gift or two you cannot use or return. May be you have enough items for a yard sale. Whether you have one item or a whole collection, thanks to the Internet you can sell them to the highest bidder.

With Valentine's Day coming up, you probably feel the need to get your honey that special gift. Or there might be another occasion where you need to get a hard-to-find item. Perhaps you want to add a rare item to your collection, and you cannot find it locally or at the right price.

Whether you are a buyer or a seller, auctions on the World Wide Web save time and help you get the best price. Where can I find these auctions on the Web, and how do they work?

The largest Internet auction houses are: (, eBay (, Lycos (, and Yahoo (

While eBay is the biggest, it has also had the biggest problems. It has had a couple of highly publicized outages, and people have offered illegal items on eBay such as endangered sea turtle products and human kidneys.

To buy an item, first one needs to register and get a handle. It is a fair precautionary step as the auction house must at least make sure you are who you say you are and not some impostor. There is no cost to register.

Finding the item you are looking for is easy. Here is what you do. Access one of the auction Web sites. Go to the category of what you are looking for or type in the search box some keywords describing your item. You will see a list of items for bid. Click on the item that interests you and read the description.

Bidding on an item is also easy. Type in your bid along with your handle and password. You will be informed shortly if you are the highest bidder or not. If not, you can bid a higher amount. It is a good idea to monitor the auction around the posted closing time because people may come in at the last minute and top your bid.

If you are the winner, the seller will notify you via electronic mail. The seller is motivated to contact you quickly and insure a smooth transaction because the buyer can rate the seller and vice versa. In order to participate in further auctions you need to have a positive rating and a good reputation. This is how the Internet becomes self-policing.

Sellers will find it easy to submit an item for auction. They need to find the right category, type in a description, set an initial price and when the auction will close. Sellers may also set a reserve price which is not disclosed at the start, but it is the minimum price the seller will accept. The seller may also choose to set a buy price, meaning that the first bidder to bid the buy price wins the auction. If the item does not sell, the seller may resubmit the item.

Most auction Web sites charge the seller a small listing fee, and if the item sells there is also a commission.

Yahoo is the exception; it is free to both the buyer and the seller. This is actually good for the buyer because there is a greater number of sellers on Yahoo, and hence greater supply of items.

Like everything else in business, read the fine print. Each auction Web site has plenty of information, but you have to read it. There is information on how to bid, how to list, comments on buyers and sellers, description of the fees, what cannot be sold, etc. While the vast majority of Americans are honest, the World Wide Web is still the wild wild west. Ah, but auctions are such a fun adventure!

John Michael Pierobon is an Internet consultant based in Fort Lauderdale.
John Michael may be reached by sending electronic mail to

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