How To Make More Money in Online Auctions

B2B Platforms Can Entice Bids By Focusing on Auction Design

Nov 21, 2019
As Featured In 
Management Science

To get more participants in online auctions and drive up the winning bid prices, two things matter: how long an auction is active and the day of the week it closes, finds new research from Maryland Smith’s Wedad Elmaghraby.

Elmaghraby’s research, forthcoming in Management Science, focuses on online business-to-business (B2B) auction platforms, which retailers use to sell their unsold or returned inventory to discount stores and wholesale liquidators.

Elmaghraby and her co-authors looked at how shortening or lengthening auctions impacted the number of buyers bidding in online auctions. They find that adjusting the listing policy (supply) – specifically, the days on which auctions close/end and how long they remain open – influences whether potential buyers place bids or wait and can increase sellers’ revenues by several percentage points.

“One one hand,” the researchers write, “increasing supply by having more auctions end on a given day can profitably incentivize more participation in auctions. But auctions ending the same day cannibalize each other and actually drive down prices that day.”

The researchers used data from a leading online platform that manages auctions to liquidate excess or returned inventory for more than 30 big-box retailers, including Costco, Walmart, Sears and Home Depot. The auctions work like an eBay auction, lasting from one to four days, with a winner-takes-all bundle of similar products – electronics, household appliances, furniture or apparel – up for grabs. For the study, the researchers honed in on iPhone auctions.

They culled through auction data to design the optimal listing policy. They found that concentrating auctions’ ending times to certain days of the week leads to a 7.3 percent increase in a platform’s revenues. The researchers also say the auction platform can boost revenues if it implements a recommendation system to selectively inform sellers and bidders of the number of auctions currently open on the platform. They say the right system would increase the level of competition among bidders on days that the incoming supply is higher than average, once again helping to profitably match supply with demand.

“Mitigating Monitoring Costs via Auction Listing Policies” is featured in Management Science.

About the Author(s)

Wedad J. Elmaghraby is a Professor of Operations Management and Management Science at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, College Park. Her research interests are at the interface of operations management, economics and behavioral decision making. Her current research includes (1)  online auctions in business-to-business secondary markets, (2) online platforms to promote sustainable business paradigms, (3) the role of returns in learning demand and (4) behavioral factors in business-to-business contract design.

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