Archive

Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Internet-Only Auctions

February 9th, 2010 11 comments

Definition Please
Internet-only auctions (sometimes called timed auctions) are auctions that take place completely online. There is no live audience sitting together in a physical place in front of an auctioneer. Bidders bid online against other internet bidders. The internet bidder with the highest bid at the end wins the lot.

Trends
Over the last few years we have watched the increasing success of our customers as they conduct internet-only auctions. During that time we have identified several key factors to succeeding with online auctions. I will expound on those keys in this post. Additionally, any features or capabilities described below are already built into Auction Flex and can be put to use immediately by any of our customers.

Not Necessarily National
Some people believe that the real benefit of internet auctions is the increase in the size of the potential bidder-pool based on the alleviation of geographical limitations. In other words, it’s online so I’m naturally going to have millions of bidders from around the country (or even around the world). I argue that even though this is certainly a possible benefit, it is not a necessary attribute for your online success. We have many customers that conduct internet-only auctions for the bidders in their own backyard. They have trained their existing customer base to bid online in lieu of attending an actual live auction.

If You Build it, They Will Come = FAIL
What would happen if you conducted an auction in a new location and didn’t advertise? Your bidder turnout would be horrible at best. That is exactly what will happen if you conduct an internet-only auction without advertising.  An internet-only auction must be marketed the same as you would market a regular live auction. In fact, if your traditional customer base is accustomed to attending live auctions, I will argue that for your first few internet-only auctions you need to market even MORE than regular.

Preview Too
An internet-only auction can have a preview just the same that a live auction can. Sometimes bidders will go to preview prior to bidding online. Sometimes bidders will see an item online that they want to look at closer prior to bidding. Either way, a preview is a vital tool that adds a layer of honesty and openness to your bidders. Additionally, it saves you from exhaustively describing and picturing each and every item (especially the lower dollar items that may not justify the time/expense).

Show Me the Money
A concern with internet-only auctions is payment, or lack thereof. Feedback from our customers has been that non-payment issues are commensurate with regular live auctions. One step you can take to help with this issue is to require authenticate credit card information before an internet bidder is allowed to bid. Additionally, I recommend that you explicitly state in your terms and conditions that you reserve the right to use the bidder’s credit card for payment in part or in full for any successful bids.

Stagger Close
Assume your catalog has 400 lots in it. We don’t want all 400 lots to close at exactly the same time. Instead, we want each lot to close a little bit after the previous lot. If we set the stagger time to 15 seconds and have lot 1 close at 5:00:00pm, then lot 2 will close at 5:00:15 and lot 3 will close at 5:00:30 and so on. This allows someone interested in multiple lots to have time to bid on those multiple lots. In the case of a 400 lot auction with a 15 second close, the duration of the internet auction will be approximately 100 minutes.

Soft-Close > Sniping
Typical internet-only auctions (think eBay) are susceptible to a practice called sniping. Auction sniping is the practice of a bidder waiting until the very last second to place a winning bid on an item with the hope that other bidders do not have time to raise their bid. The intent of sniping is to win an item below the potential high bid (market value). Using a soft-close in your online auction will eliminate this practice. A lot using a soft-close ending time will automatically have its bidding time extended if a bid is placed in those last few minutes. Assuming a soft-close setting of 3 minutes, if a bidder waits until the very last second to place a bid on lot 5, the bidding on lot 5 is extended for 3 more minutes. This gives other bidders 3 more minutes to re-raise their bid. It is not uncommon for a high-interest lot to extend hours past its original close time because multiple bidders keep bidding and extending the close time on the lot.

Linked Soft-Close
Linked soft-close is an extension of the soft-close functionality. It allows you to link multiple lots together so that when one lot is extended via soft-close, all other linked lots will also be extended. This is especially handy when you have multiple similar items. For example, say you have two tractors in your auction. These two tractors are identical except that one has much lower hours than the other. As a bidder, my preference is to win this lower-hour tractor and so I place a bid on it. Other bidders are also bidding on it and after several rounds of soft-close extensions, the bidding price has exceeded my budget. Here is the good part: Because both tractors are linked together for soft-close, the other higher-hour tractor is still open for bidding (even if no one was bidding on it). So now I am able to start bidding on this second best tractor and I eventually win it. If these two tractors were not linked together, the higher-hour tractor could have already closed.

Tech-Phobic
A common misconception is that internet-only auctions exclude all other bids. This is wrong. Just because you are conducting an internet-only auction doesn’t mean you can’t accept bids manually (in person, phone, faxed, etc.). There are some tech-phobic bidders that will refuse to bid online and that is okay; their money spends just the same. You can accept their bids, enter them into Auction Flex, and Auction Flex has the built-in capability to push these “floor” bids to the internet so that these bids compete with the internet bidders.

Auction Day Labor = Nada
On a live auction day consider the additional staff that has to be brought in; cashiers, clerks, ringmen, runners, etc., etc. Now consider the additional staff required to conduct an internet-only auction on closing day — none. Instead of finding 8 people to come work your auction for 6 hours once every 2 weeks, you can have 1 or 2 people who steadily describe/image lots and help customers with pickups. This can have the drastic affect of stabilizing your labor requirements.

Shipping – The Headache-Maker
If you are conducting internet-only auctions to your backyard bidders, shipping is not a concern. Backyard internet bidders tend to come pick up their merchandise. If you do have to arrange shipping I highly suggest forming a working relationship with two or more shippers so that you don’t have to handle the shipping yourself. In your terms and conditions make it clear that the bidder will deal with the shipping companies directly to arrange for packaging and shipping. Now you are not responsible for packaging, broken merchandise, etc. and that is a beautiful thing. The shipping company will be happy for the business (they’re built for this) and you don’t have to pull your hair out dealing with this issue.

But Live Auctions are So Much Better
As an auctioneer, you will naturally be inclined to perceive an auction without a bid-caller as a travesty of magnanimous proportion. I’m not going to argue the merits of live vs online as the pros and cons list could go on for a very, very long time. The variables that determine what makes a successful internet-only auction are specific to you, your bidders and consignors, and regional variables that only you can answer.

One Size Does NOT Fit All
Some types of auctions just beg to be conducted using an internet-only format. Other auctions have no business being conducted solely on the internet. You should consider internet-only auctions as yet another potential method to use in fulfilling your fiduciary obligation to your consignors to get the best possible price. Additionally, don’t discount the potential that internet-only auctions have to reduce your costs which can, of course, provide you a competitive advantage and/or increase your profits.

Categories: Auctions, Computers, Software Tags:

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:

Booklet Style Catalogs

December 8th, 2009 No comments

Like a Book, But Smaller
Occasionally we get requests from our customers to print booklet style catalogs. A booklet style catalog is one that is center stapled and both sides of each page are printed. Think of a paperback book, only with fewer pages (unless your auction is really, really big).

Paper Shrinkage
A booklet is typically printed so that there are two pages of the catalog per side of 8.5×11 sheet of paper. You do this by turning the page landscape and then printing two smaller pages, 2 to a page (referred to as 2 up). Here is what that looks like:

SheetLandscape  BookletPage1Page2

So, in the above example we printed 2 pages on the front side of a sheet of paper. Now we turn that sheet of paper over and print 2 more pages on the back side. Compared to a typical catalog that is printed single-sided 1-up, this is a significant savings in paper. 

There’s Always a Catch
There is a catch to booklet printing and you probably have already thought of it. When you stack those papers into a pile and staple the middle, those pages have to be in a very particular order. Rather than try to explain, take a moment to look at this diagram:

BookletPageOrderExplained

We’ve taken an 8-page catalog and printed it on 2 sheets of paper. Page 8 and 1 are on the front of sheet 1, page 2 and 7 are on the back of sheet 1, page 6 and 3 are on the front of sheet 2, page 4 and 5 are on the back of sheet 2. It’s easy to get confused when looking at this, so to understand how this works just grab a couple sheets of paper and do this exercise. Write Page 8 (to the left) and Page 1 (to the right) on the front of the 1st sheet of paper. Turn sheet 1 over (left to right) and write Page 2 (to the left) and Page 7 (to the right). Grab your second sheet of paper and write Page 6 (to the left) and Page 3 (to the right). Turn sheet 2 over and write Page 4 (to the left) and Page 5 (to the right). Place sheet 1 (with Page 8 and Page 1 visible) on top of sheet 2 (with Page 6 and Page 3 visible), fold in the middle and you will see your booklet come to life.

Booklety Goodness
I know you were probably hoping that I would tell you that the booklet printing capability is built into Auction Flex. Unfortunately, that is not the case. But fear not, I have some great 3rd party tools that provide this functionality and here’s the best part; these tools exist outside of Auction Flex which means you can use them for anything you want to print booklet style, not just Auction Flex catalogs!

  • http://www.bookletcreator.com  this one is an online tool and it’s free. You upload a regular PDF and it converts it to a booklet PDF for you.
  • http://www.fineprint.com/products/fineprint/index.html  this one is $49.95 but is very, very slick and easy to use. It acts as a printer in your system so there are not intermediary steps. You print to the FinePrint printer and then FinePrint walks you through the steps of booklet creation.

The Auto-Flippa-Roo
If you are lucky you already have a printer that can actually print both sides of a single sheet of paper in one pass. The printer literally prints a sheet of paper, flips it over, prints the other side, and then spits it out. This type of printing is called duplex printing and if you already have one of these printers, congratulations! I don’t and I’m a little bit jealous. Here are your instructions:

  • Using BookletCreator.com – Just print the auction catalog of your choice from Auction Flex to a PDF. Upload this PDF to bookletcreator.com. Take the returned booklet-style PDF and print it to your duplex printer using your printer’s duplex printer capabilities.
  • Using FinePrint – Just print the auction catalog of your choice from AuctionFlex to the FinePrint printer in your system and follow the FinePrint instructions. FinePrint will then send the output to your physical printer.

When you are done printing a booklet catalog with your fancy duplex printer you will have a stack of paper that is ready for stapling.

The Manual Flippa-Roo
Lack of a duplex capable printer doesn’t mean you are locked out of printing booklet-style catalogs. It just means you’re going to have to work a little harder. 

Here are your steps using BookletCreator.com

  1. Print a catalog from Auction Flex to a PDF
  2. Upload the PDF catalog to BookletCreator.com
  3. Open new booklet-style PDF in your PDF viewing program (I use Foxit PDF Reader)
  4.  Start by printing only the odd numbered sheets
  5. Feed the stack of paper back into the printer (now upside-down)
  6. Now print the even numbered sheets.

Here are your steps using FinePrint

  1. Print a catalog from Auction Flex to the FinePrint printer in your system.
  2. Follow the FinePrint instructions to print the odd pages first, flip the stack, and then print the even pages.

It might take a little bit of experimentation with your printer to get the hang of which way to turn and flip the 1/2 printed pages, so once you figure it out, tape a little cheatsheet to the printer for next time.

Duplexity
If you decide to print booklet style catalogs for each and every auction then I would definitely invest in a duplex printer. A quick search on Amazon turned up quite a few very reasonably priced duplex laser printers.

You’re also going to need a long-reach booklet stapler to reach the middle of the sheets.

Acta est Fabula Plaudite
I am a fan of booklet style catalogs; they are easier to flip back and forth between pages and are easier to carry around.  They look a little bit more sophisticated than the the standard full-sheet floppy catalog and with all the paper you will save, look for Greenpeace to come knocking at your door with your eco-friendly business person of the year award.

Categories: Software Tags:

Microsoft Security Essentials

November 10th, 2009 1 comment

Microsoft-Security-EssentialsWhat’s In a Name Anyways?
Well, it doesn’t get any awards for having a catchy name, however Microsoft’s new anti-virus offering titled ‘Microsoft Security Essentials’  is a good product with a great price tag; free. I guess Microsoft Anti-Virus was too self-explanatory a name for the marketing gurus in Redmond. To be fair, however, MSE (my un-official abbreviation for Microsoft Security Essentials) is more than just anti-virus. It protects against spyware and other nasties too.

Liberation with a Capital L
MSE runs quietly, in the background, without pestering prompts, balloons, or any other annoyances. For that alone it deserves kudos. The reality is that you could open notepad and make the same claim. This leads to the most important question: Does MSE do a good job protecting your computer from viruses/spyware/etc.? The answer, so far, seems to be yes. The reviews I’ve read make the case that MSE is as good as other offerings from AVG, McAfee, Symantec, etc. The difference is that MSE is blissfully quiet! And did I mention free?

Bundles of Grief
My biggest complaint against most of the other anti-virus offerings (ahem… McAfee, Symantec) is that they want to bundle their anti-virus with “complete” internet security suites. Yuck! These bundles eat system resources,  slow your computer to a crawl, and cause instability issues. When you install anti-virus it should NOT come with a firewall, intrusion prevention, active web-filtering, pre-emptive cognitive destination avoidance, and a hands-free parallel parking system.  Just say NO to these bloat-ware suites!

My New Number One
I have been recommending AVG for years now but I am officially changing my recommendation to MSE. You heard it here first! I wouldn’t go out of my way to switch from AVG to MSE, but I would definitely uninstall McAfee or Symantec for MSE. Just my two cents.

Download Microsoft Security Essentials

Categories: Computers, Software Tags:

Backups, Backups, Backups

October 9th, 2009 2 comments

BackupToDiskConfessions of an OCD Backup-Maker
I have a confession to make; I habitually make backups…. and then I backup the backup… and then I have a program that automatically backs up my backup to an off-site backup. I’m a little bit OCD like that. But let’s not judge me. Let’s turn this around. When was the last time you made a backup? Was it a good backup or a bad backup (what’s the difference… keep reading)? I’m going to give you some suggestions on making good backups and provide some online tools to make even better backups. You ready? Here we go.

External Hard Drives Are Your Friend
An external hard drive is a type of hard disk drive which is typically connected to your computer via a USB cable. These devices are great for storing backups because they are cheap and large. You can easily find a 500GB external hard drive for $100. At the end of every day you can simply backup all your files to the external hard drive. Because the typical external hard drive is so large you can even keep multiple backups of the same files. For instance, when I backup files I will create a folder and name it based on the date. So, for today I would create a folder called 20091009 (military format for 2009 Oct 9th – it sorts better this way) and then I would backup my important files to that folder. A week from now I would create a folder called 20091016 and I would backup to that folder. I like to make dated backup because if I ever need to go back in time to a revision of a file from weeks (or months) ago, I can. Now, if your computer’s hard drive dies, you have backups of all your important files at the ready. Fix your old computer or buy a new computer, restore those important files and you’re off to the races.

Thumb Drives Are Your Super-Portable Friend
Thumb drives are small (pocket-size) USB devices that, when plugged into your computer, show up as a small hard drive. Thumb drives typically have a much smaller capacity than external hard drives but they have the advantage of being much more portable. Just like an external hard drive, you can copy files from your hard drive onto the USB thumb drive. Again, if your computer dies, you have backups.

Location, Location, Location
So, you’re feeling pretty smug about those backed up files aren’t you? And, a lot of you are going to leave that external hard drive right next to the computer, or you’re going to take that thumb drive and store it in your laptop bag with your laptop. Congratulations; you are now hosed if someone breaks into your office and steals everything, or someone steals your laptop bag on a trip, or if there is a fire, or if your 4 year-old nephew decides your laptop (with the thumbdrive sticking out of the USB port) is a fish and sets it free in the pond out back. In any event you get the idea that storing your backup with your computer is a bad idea. So, when you go to the store to buy that backup device, buy 2 (or more) of them. You need at least 2 because you always, always, want to keep one of them off-site, away from the computer that you are backing up. Now, if someone steals your laptop bag, or the entire contents of your office, or you have a fire, or a flood, or whatever; you’ve got an offsite backup. 

But I Am Lazy, and/or Forgetful
I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust myself to make backups manually. If you are like me, and just want the backups to create themselves then you are in luck; there is a solution. Online Backups. There are quite a few online backup providers out there. The big players are Mozy and Carbonite. They will provide a small program that you install that will automatically backup your important files to a secure offsite location via the internet. Their programs allow you to simply choose what files/folders to backup, when to back them up, and you are done.  Mozy even offers a free personal account that includes 2 gigabytes of disk space! The caveat here is that your computer needs an internet connection and needs to be turned on to make the backups… but the backups are automatic and that is worth the price of admission (which can be free). Now, if something bad happens, you have an online backup that you can access from anywhere.

How Do I Choose?
Here’s the thing about backups. There is no such thing as too many of them. Make backups to an external hard drive, and backup to thumb drives, and use an online backup service.

Categories: Computers, Software Tags:

Safe Computing is a Choice

August 31st, 2009 2 comments

CautionTape_238x208Safety, Security, & Serendipity
There are many dangers inherent with computing on the internet. Viruses, worms, and spyware are the most omnipresent. It is a choice to engage in safe practices that protect you from these threats. Rather than approach this topic generically, I thought I would let you know specifically what setup and programs I use, and let you glean from it what you will.

The Hated One
Despite the fact that Windows Vista is a much-maligned operating system, the fact remains that it is more difficult to hack than Windows XP. In Vista there is a separation of regular processes and administrative-level processes that is lacking in Windows XP. I use Windows Vista and I won’t hesitate to use Windows 7 when it becomes available.

Anti-Virus
My favorite anti-virus program is AVG (there is a free version available for personal use). I have used many anti-virus programs in the past, but AVG has found the sweet-spot between performance and protection. Other anti-virus programs (ahem… McAfee & Norton) have reputations for being resource hogs. Beyond that, McAfee & Norton want to install a whole suite of add-on programs and I just don’t want them. AVG provides a simple, anti-virus-only software solution without all the rest of the garbage.

SpyWare
My choice here is Ad-Aware and they also have a free version for personal use. That isn’t to say Ad-Aware is any better than the dozens of other products out there. It’s just the one I use.

Safe Browsing
I use FireFox with NoScript for everyday browsing and I use Internet Explorer when I’m going to known sites (webmail, fedex.com, etc.).  What is NoScript? NoScript is an add-on to FireFox that disallows scripts from running automatically. Since a majority of vulnerabilities depend on scripting, the NoScript add-on makes your random internet browsing much, much safer. I would like to warn you, however, that it can make browsing some sites difficult. In those instances, you can always pop open IE to view that particular page/site and then go back to FireFox/NoScript when you are done.

Windows Updates
It goes without saying that you need to keep your version of Windows up-to-date by running Windows Updates. The sooner you install patches, the better off you are. The moment Microsoft releases a patch, hackers are reverse-engineering the patch with the goal of exploiting the vulnerability. In some instances, these exploits arrive within days of the patch being released. That is your window of safety… days.

The Finish
So there you have it. A little peek into my setup and practices. These combined safety measures are a lot like hiking through bear-country with pepper-spray. You are safer, but if you think they make you invincible, you are going to get eaten. Just as you wouldn’t slap a grizzly bear in the face, don’t download anything from a website that you don’t know and trust, otherwise you’re just asking for trouble.

Categories: Computers, 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:

Microsoft Office 2007 Ribbons

May 28th, 2009 No comments
Office 2007

Office 2007

When I first installed Microsoft Office 2007  I hated the new ribbons that replaced the old toolbars and drop-down menus. I especially despised the new ribbons in my favorite Office application, Excel. Determined to not be averse to change – to instead embrace change with the knowledge that change is good – I plodded ahead with the ribbons. I endured the lost productivity of constantly searching out where my commonly used functions were relocated. I justified the slow-going with the knowledge that once I conquered the learning curve I would be just as efficient as I used to be. Well, 18 months later I still can’t find anything without searching, and searching, and searching and I’ve finally given up. Office 2007 ribbons just plain stink! I’m a power-user, and if after 18 months my productivity is still hurting, then it’s not my fault. I gave it a fair chance.

I can live with the idea that some user interface team at Microsoft provided evidence through diligent research that the new ribbon interface helps a subset of users… heck, it might even help the majority of users. What I can’t forgive, however, is knowing that same group of UI experts was responsible for NOT including classic menus too. I HATE the ribbons. HATE. HATE. HATE. If you do a Google search on the phrase “Office Ribbons Suck” you will get thousands of results indicating I’m not alone. The vitriol for the ribbon is widespread and we will be heard! Microsoft should have absolutely, positively included the ability to show classic menus… but they didn’t. Shame on you, Microsoft. 

The beauty of capitalism is that where there is a void, there is someone willing to fill the void. Several companies have come to the rescue with add-ons to Office that will re-create our classic and beloved menus and toolbars. Unfortunately they are not free… but I can assure you they are worth every penny of the $20 bucks or so that they cost. If you are ready to end your misery check these out:

Office – Toolbar Toggle

Excel Only – MrExcel

Categories: Software Tags: