Tech Failure: When Fit Hits the Shan

Tech Failure: When Fit Hits the Shan

You’ve probably been there. A bidder calls, unable to access your site. A feature misbehaves. Tech failures are, unfortunately, something that just comes with the territory of online commerce. No matter what service you use, or how reliable it has been in the past, something will, inevitably, go wrong eventually. Count on it.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to despair. While tech failures can be frustrating or embarrassing, you can take some comfort in the knowledge that they happen to even the biggest companies. Amazon Web Services, which holds 45% of the Internet’s infrastructure market, recently made thousands of websites go down when it experienced service outages last month.

So clearly, some things are just going to be completely out of your control. While we tech companies do our best to prevent as many problems as possible, we unfortunately don’t have a tech crystal ball that tells us every possible issue that could arrive in advance. That is the goal, of course, but the reality is that a certain percentage of improvements are only made after learning from mistakes.

But take a deep breath. Being prepared in advance (both mentally and practically) can save you a headache when the dreaded time comes. To start out, we’ve come up with 5 ways to prepare for your online bidding platform crashing, glitching out, or failing in any way.


1.) Cover yourself in your Terms & Conditions.

Your primary concern should be ensuring that you as the auctioneer aren’t exposed to any legal risks. Too many times auctioneers get caught in the middle between their bidders and their sellers, facing legal repercussions from two different parties who feel wronged. The bidders, for being deprived of the ability to buy a certain item, and the sellers, for being deprived of the full value of their consignment.

That’s why it’s important to include clauses in your Terms and Conditions (both on the global House level as well as the Auction or Catalog level) that deflect legal responsibility away from you should the bidding platform go down. Most service providers will already have clauses in their own T&Cs that divert responsibility from themselves, and this can leave the auctioneer as the remaining party of blame. Don’t let yourself get caught off-guard. The higher the value of your auction, the more seriously you should consider this. It is probably even worth hiring a legal professional beforehand to write them for you, ensuring that you are as thoroughly covered as possible. It will definitely be worth the money.


2.) Encourage bidders to use max bids.

Another thing you should always take advantage of is max bids. Any bidding platform worth its salt will allow bidders to utilize this feature, which sets a maximum amount they are willing to spend on an item, and then will auto-bid on their behalf up to the desired value. This is useful for staying active in a timed online auction when they can’t be at a computer, but can also serve as a failsafe should there be any service interruption on the side of any party.

Technical failures could happen anywhere along the chain from web host, to bidding platform, to auctioneer, to bidder. If any one of these links experiences a disconnect, you will need a backup to keep the whole thing from falling apart. The max bid can serve as this. If the bidding platform goes down during a simulcast auction, for instance, and online bidders are suddenly incapable of participating manually in the on-going auction, the max bid will allow the software to keep bids coming in. This will prevent disaster when timing is critical.

Consider a scenario in which bidding on a high-value property has come down to a bidding war between an on-site bidder and an online bidder. If the bidder’s access to the online service goes down with only moments remaining in the auction, the seller could potentially lose out on thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars. If the online bidder had a max bid in place, the system could continue driving up the bid for them, even without them actively participating, preventing the on site bidder from winning for less than they should.

Familiarize yourself with how the max bid system works on your software provider, and be prepared to walk your bidders through the process if need be. Include reminders in auction descriptions and other messages your online bidders will see.


3.) Consider doing a reserve auction.

While some people are averse to the idea of doing a reserve auction, there are certainly instances where it is an appropriate and wise decision. One of these is when conducting a simulcast auction involving very high value items. This decision could save your auction in the event that your online platform malfunctions or crashes mid-event.

Imagine conducting a simulcast auction, and an item comes up that is expected to fetch a high price. Suddenly the online platform, or someone’s internet access, crashes. If this were an absolute auction, the auctioneer would be legally required to continue with the auction, selling the item for potentially far less than it would have gone for in a simulcast auction. With a reserve, the auctioneer would be free to reschedule the auction for another time, with no value lost.

If you would still prefer to conduct an absolute auction for marketing or other reasons, at least prepare some alternate way for online bidders to continue participating. Whether this is a phone line to call into or some other means, having a plan set aside for such an alternative could save the day in a situation of tech failure.


4.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t wait until it’s too late. There’s no shame in asking for help with various mechanical issues concerning your business operation. Whether it be questions about your bidding platform or supplementary services such as payment processors, it’s important to know your system thoroughly ahead of time. Few things feel worse than waiting until a problem confronts you to become aware of the means you might need to fix it. If this happens, you’ll be more stressed, more rushed, and more likely to resolve the issue unfavorably.

Know your platform, and take advantage of all support resources it offers. Whether it’s How-To articles, training videos, user manuals, or help phone lines, familiarize yourself with how to access these resources, and what they contain. Find out what elements of your technology are most likely to give you or your bidders trouble during a real auction scenario. Run test auctions. Many times the biggest problems that crop up in an auction are not actual failures of the software, but simple user error. Familiarize yourself with the most common user errors, as well as the simple fixes for them. This will be something the support people at your bidding platform should be able to identify and help you with.

It also can’t hurt to learn to troubleshoot some things yourself. Of course there will sometimes be problems that are out of your ability to remedy on your own, but many times issues will be something that could be solved with a simple Google search. The reality of the work of IT professionals is that at least half of the answers they provide their clients are simply things they themselves went to a search engine for. Unless the problem is highly specific, there is likely an answer already available on the web. Cut out the middleman and try to locate some of these answers yourself. You might be more capable than you realize.

Reach out to your platform for help with software-specific issues, but don’t be afraid to take your own initiative. There are many resources on the internet, including auctioneer-specific forums, filled with people who have been through the same problems as you, and can point you in the right direction.


5.) Keep a good rapport with your bidders.

It may seem obvious, but the importance of earning the trust and patience of your bidders cannot be overstated. In the past, when auctions were only attended by people who lived within a certain radius of the event, it was much easier to become familiar and learn to work with all of your regulars. People would readily give the auctioneer the benefit of the doubt, and strive to work things out.

Of course, that is not to say that this arrangement doesn’t still exist. It does, but with the ever-increasing move toward online auctions comes increased anonymity and depersonalization. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t strive to make these same connections with your online bidders, even if you don’t know them in real life. While much of this goodwill will be the result of trust built up over numerous successful, mutually beneficial transactions, it can go beyond this. A gesture as simple as reaching out to new bidders as they sign up, thanking them, and pointing them in the right direction will go a long way.



The Takeaway



The bottom line is this: tech failure is almost definitely going to happen to you in some capacity, and it’s far better to be prepared in advance than to let it blindside you. Don’t just acknowledge that it’s a possibility – expect it. Hopefully you’ll never encounter anything major, but if you prepare yourself mentally and practically beforehand, you can mitigate the damage and know what to do in one of those worst-case scenarios. You don’t want to get caught off guard.

All this being said, don’t let fear of failure stop you from taking advantage of the numerous ways technology can vastly improve your business. The benefits far outweigh the potential negatives.




Fit hits the shan every now and then, but you don’t have to go it alone, and you can rest easy with Sharp Auction Engine on your team. Try us out with a free 30-day trial.



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