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Phone Bid Scheduler

January 6th, 2010 No comments

Phone Bid SchedulerWhat is a Phone Bid?
Phone bids are typically used by antique auction galleries, but can be used for any type of sale. When a bidder leaves a phone bid for a particular lot#, the auction house is agreeing to have an employee call the bidder when that lot comes on the block. During the phone call, the employee will relay the asking price from the auctioneer to the phone bidder and will relay bids from the phone bidder to the auctioneer.

Why Phone Bids?
Ideally, you would like your bidders to attend the auction, the benefits of which are myriad. Phone bids are ultimately a convenience offered to bidders that would otherwise not bid at your auction.

  • Phone bids allow the phone bidder to bid “live” on the lot against all other bidders (floor, internet, phone, etc.). This preserves the excitement of bidding live . 
  • The phone bidder who is only interested in a few lots does not have to attend the auction waiting hours for their lot(s) to come up.
  • Phone bids are a good alternative to ‘technologically challenged’ bidders who may refuse to bid live over the internet.
  • Phone bidders avoid having to pay the extra buyer’s premium fees typically charged for live internet bidding.
  • There is nothing to remember. The phone bidder will be automatically called when their lot(s) come up.
  • Location, location, location. The phone bidder can bid from anywhere there is cell phone reception.

Why do I Need a Scheduler?
It is not uncommon for a high-end auction gallery to have hundreds of phone bidders per auction. Each phone bidder may, in turn, be interested in anywhere from one single lot to 20 or 30 different lots. All of these phone bids are not spread evenly through the catalog. Many lots in the catalog won’t have any phone bids, but some high-interest lots will have many, many phone bids. The challenge to the auction house is to build a phone bid schedule that addresses several desirable attributes:

  • Use the fewest possible employees. The total number of employees required is loosely defined as the highest number of individual phone bids on any particular lot. So if lot 145 has 11 different phone bidders then we need at least 11 employees in our phone bank for this peak point in the auction.
  • Preserve employee-phone bidder stickyness. We want phone bidder John Smith to talk to the same employee as often as possible. It can be confusing for the phone bidder to talk to a different employee for each phone call.
  • Allow preferential phone bidder to employee assignations. We may want to ensure that a high-value phone bidder talks to a particular employee as much as possible. This may be the bidder’s preference or the auction house’s preference.
  • Define some employees as overflow only, meaning, they should only be used during peak phone bid times.
  • Language limitations. Some bidders may not speak English and can only be assigned to bilingual employees that speak their language.
  • X lots between phone calls. An employee needs a certain amount of time to courteously end their phone call and place a new phone call.

What do I Get?
As you can see, the various criteria above can make for a daunting manual task that takes many hours and results in a sub-optimal schedule at best. The Auction Flex phone bid scheduler takes into account all the criteria above and automatically produces a schedule that optimizes both employee-to-phone bidder stickyness and lots between phone calls. When the phone bid scheduler has generated the schedule, it then produces:

  • A master phone bid schedule with option to export to Excel.
  • Individual employee phone bid schedules. This gives each employee all the information they need, lot-by-lot, including lot info, bidder info, and any special calling instructions.
  • Employee phone bid cards with their phone bidder’s numbers. This allows the phone bidder to hold up the bidder number that they are bidding for during the auction.

Nirvana
Feedback from our customers on the phone bid scheduler has been great. We hear over-and-over that it saves many hours of arduous work for each and every auction. If you are manually creating your phone bid schedules now, do yourself a favor and start using this fantastic Auction Flex feature.

Special Thanks
I would like to specifically thank Dallas Auction Gallery for taking the time (18 months ago now) to help me understand the phone bid schedule process. Their insight was critical in making the phone bid scheduler feature a success from its initial introduction in January, 2009.

Categories: Auctions, Software Tags:

Catalog Images

June 30th, 2009 No comments

Drag-and-Drop Dirge
MouseMicrosoft_gdeA typical process for creating an auction catalog with images consists of 2 steps.
Step 1: Describe all the lots.
                  Lot#1 – Brown chair with garnet velvet piping.
                  Lot#2 – Large white cow with horns. 
                  Lot#3 – Two front-and-center tickets to Springsteen.
                  And so on. And so on.
Step 2: Take pictures of all the lots with a digital camera. 
                  Select all images for lot#1 and drag-and-drop the images onto lot#1.
                  Select all images for lot#2 and drag-and-drop the images onto lot#2.
                  Select all images for lot#3 and drag-and-drop the images onto lot#3.
                  And so on. And so on.

You load 16 pictures and what do you get? Another day older and carpal tunnel wrist. Needless to say, the lot-by-lot drag-and-drop process is time consuming and ripe for optimization.

Image as you Go-Go
One alternative to the post-describing drag-and-drop dirge is to take pictures as you describe instead of after. You can accomplish this with a webcam or a linked video camera (for higher image resolution). Start by going to Auction Lots & Preview and then click on the Detailed Entry button. Now go to the Images tab and click the Add From Capture Device button. This will start an Active Video Monitor form which allows you to rapidly capture pictures as you catalog. So, type in your Lead and description for your item, then click on the Images tab and click that same button again to take a picture. You can monitor the video feed from the Active Video Monitor (which you can drag where you want) and rapidly add multiple pictures to each lot. If your computer’s monitor is higher resolution (1280×1024 or larger) try clicking the Linked button at the bottom left. This will open up a second linked form that allows you to view the Images tab at the same time as you view the Information tab in the first form. Heck, if you need to dynamically add expenses to each lot as you catalog, click that Linked button again. Now you can view the Information, Images, & Expenses without switching back and forth between tabs. This makes for very fast, very detailed cataloging in real time with no tab-toggling. We call this Productivity with a Capital P!

Barcode Wizardry
Bar code cowLet’s assume that you are dealing with a pasture full of larger items that don’t work well trying to capture the image as you describe, so you want yet a different alternative to the drag-and-drop dirge. To start, we need barcoded labels. Lucky for us, Auction Flex has the built in capability to print lot labels with barcodes. So as you describe the lots you stick a lot label on each item. When you’re done describing, every lot is tagged with a matching barcoded label. Here’s where the wizardry starts: Auction Flex can actually read those barcode labels from a picture! So, here’s the process: Start each lot by taking a relatively close-up picture of the lot label. Then, take as many pictures of the lot as you want. Now, with the next lot, again start with a picture of the barcoded lot label, then take pictures of the lot. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Now, open Auction Lots & Preview and go to the Advanced tab. Click the Import Images button, select the appropriate options and Auction Flex will read the barcodes from your images and automatically assign the images to the appropriate lots. Every camera is different and it takes a little practice, but you can achieve 80%+ accuracy using this process. For more information on this check the Auction Flex help file.

Non-Barcode Non-Wizardry
You can use the same Image Import form described above to rapidly manually assign lot numbers to images. Instead of drag-and-dropping the images to each lot, you can simply scroll down a thumbnailed grid of your images and enter their appropriate lot#’s in bulk. Then, when you get to the bottom of your list you simply click the import images button to import all the images to the assigned lot#’s. While this method is not as fancy as reading barcodes from images, it is still faster than the lot-by-lot drag-and-drop method.

Voilà not Wallah
My goal is to give you the best tools I can to help you conduct business as efficiently as possible. Only you can decide which method works best in conjunction with your in-house processes but hopefully I’ve given you a few ideas that have started your gears turning.

These instructions are applicable to Auction Flex version 6.10. If you don’t have some of the buttons or options I’ve mentioned, you’re probably on an older version of Auction Flex and need to upgrade.

Categories: Auctions, Computers, Software Tags:

Bidder Numbers at Auction

May 29th, 2009 1 comment

gavelonkeyboard_212x141Three-digit bidder numbers
I’m going to make the case that larger auctions should start their bidder numbers at 100. More specifically, there should be no two-digit bidder numbers. If you need four-digit bidder numbers (1000+) for your floor bidders congratulations, you’re having one big auction!

Clerking
With everything that it takes to facilitate a successful auction I want to focus on a very specific function; clerking. From an auction software perspective, the most important person on auction day is the clerk. Why the clerk? No other position (again, limited to auction software) has as much impact on a bidder’s experience. The clerk must be fast. The clerk must be accurate. In fact, a clerk with O.C.D. is probably worth their weight in gold!

Clerking accuracy
The more accurate the clerk is, the less problems you will have at checkout. Every time a bidder disputes the price of a bid, or a wrong item is on their invoice, or an item is missing from their invoice what effect does that have? It sloooooows things down. It causes everyone else in line to wait that much longer as the staff rifles through the manual clerking sheets or listens to the taped recording of the auction.

Fast checkout
If a bidder knows that they are going to have to wait in line to checkout what do they do? They checkout early to avoid the rush. If the bidder is checking out early what are they not doing? They are NOT bidding! If a bidder knows that checkout will be fast, even at the end of the auction, then that bidder is more likely to stay on the floor and keep bidding. If the bidder is bidding the consignor is realizing maximum dollar and so is the auctioneer. Win-win.

What does all this have to do with bidder numbers?
We’re all human and we all make mistakes. We transpose numbers, we miss numbers, we mess up. One thing we can do to help our clerks is to always hand out three-digit bidder numbers. That means we start with bidder number 100 and go from there. This helps because the clerk knows that every bidder number should be three digits. If the clerk mis-hears bidder number 23 they automatically know there is no bidder number 23 and they can ask the auctioneer to repeat the number.

But I already have permanent bidder numbers with two digits!
If you already have permanent bidder numbers with two digits there is still something that can be done to help the clerk. Have the auctioneer say the zero in front of the two-digit number. So instead of bidder twenty-three, say bidder zero-two-three or oh-twenty-three. 

Exceptions to the rule
If you rarely exceed 100 bidders at your auctions then I recommend starting at bidder 10. Why ten instead of one? Because your clerk knows there should be two digits. Clerk hears bidder 7, knows there is no bidder 7 and asks auctioneer to repeat… but you already knew that didn’t you? In this case it makes no sense to add the burden of typing three-digit bidder numbers if you don’t need to.

Change is good
This simple change might only eliminate a few clerking errors each auction but every little bit counts. The point of auction software on auction day is to provide a pleasant experience for the bidders. Fast + Accurate = Happy Bidder and happy bidders come back to your auction. All else being equal, if you and another auctioneer are having an auction on the same day, which auction will the bidder attend? Yours with the fast checkout line or your competitor’s auction where they have to wait 40 minutes to checkout? Your fast and accurate clerk can actually bring more bidders to your auction which gives you a competitive advantage.

Categories: Auctions, Software Tags: