It seems that more and more of the Internet-active people I know have taken the plunge into the world of electronic commerce. Many 'Net-surfers are shedding their apprehensions about buying things online, and have begun buying everything from books to CD's to computers to coffee via the World Wide Web. And now there's yet another way to shop online -- the Web auction.
Not being much of an auction-aficionado in the real world, I haven't ventured far into the world of online auctions just yet. But if the sheer number of Web auction sites is any indication, online auctions are taking off in a big way.
Online auctions are essentially Web sites where people can place bids on items from a list displayed there. An auction for a particular item or group of items may last an hour or several days, and the bidding typically starts at just a few dollars.
To participate in an online auction, most sites require you to register by providing certain information about yourself -- your name, your shipping address, billing address, e-mail address and credit card information. You'll probably also choose a user name and password to use whenever you log into the site so that your personal information can be stored and retrieved for use each time you log in.
Be sure you read the rules carefully when you decide to participate in an online auction. In most cases, a bid cannot be retracted, and all sales are usually considered final. Some of the items sold at online auctions are new, and some are used or refurbished. Be sure you are familiar with how a particular auction site indicates this.
Bids are typically submitted through the auction site's Web page, using a special bid form. If your bid is the highest, you get an e-mail message to indicate this, and the item will be shipped to you. You'll also probably be charged for shipping expenses.
What sorts of things can you purchase through an online auction? It seems that a fairly large portion of the online auction business has to do with computers, hardware and software. But other consumer electronics -- home stereo systems, televisions, small appliances, etc. -- are also quite popular. There are online auctions for sports equipment (especially golf equipment), celebrity autographs and photos, hobby items, collectibles of all kinds, coins, stamps, antiques, and much more. Some online auction sites deal mostly in new equipment, such as manufacturers' overruns and the like, while other sites are intended for more interaction between individual buyers and sellers.
One of the busiest sites on the Web right now is http://www.ebay.com. This site is one where a lot of transactions take place between individuals, and there are hundreds of auctions taking place there every day. Another very popular auction site is http://www.webauction.com. If you're looking for a good index of online auction sites, try the Auction Insider site at http://www.auctioninsider.com/. This site lists dozens of online auctions covering all kinds of items, and it's a good place to start exploring the online auction scene.
-- Doug Heacock is executive director of the Kansas Research and Educational Network at Kansas University. You may address questions to him in care of the Lawrence Journal-World, 609 N.H., Lawrence 66044, or e-mail him at heacock