Using Overstock.com Auctions
A search for antiquarian and collectible books on Overstock.com
By Carl Burnham
As booksellers, we are always seeking new avenues to market our items to attract new customers. Overstock.com is one such avenue that we have explored for listing books on auction. Publicly traded on NASDAQ as OSTK, the Utah based company Overstock is a closeout retailer for brand-name items at discounted prices. Through their website, Overstock serves as an online distributor for suppliers to use to sell off their oversupply of inventory through shopping, books, music, movies, and travel sections. Recently, Overstock has expanded into providing a marketplace for buyers and sellers to come together through auctions. You may have also seen one of several commercials by Overstock that has the spokesperson Sabine Ehrenfeld, a model, behind a stark white background. Ehrenfeld has gained quite a following online just from representing Overstock through the national television commercial spots.
The menu structure is similar to eBay's, with the capability to search auctions by Department, and organize results by auctions ending first, newly listed, the lowest priced, the highest priced, fewest bid, and most bids. Each auction sort page also displays sellers, their ratings, and time left for each auction.
The categories which will be of interest in the auctions section will be primarily Books, Collectibles, and Entertainment Memorabilia. The active items that were listed in these categories were 5,206 Books, 6,364 Collectibles, and 476 items in Entertainment Memorabilia. The highest price book listed was an unpublished story by Hunter Thompson, going for $2,999 (no bids). The next highest book appeared at $299. A random search on "Franklin Library" (popular with our customers) revealed no books. A search on "signed" came up with 52 books. To be fair, this analysis was done on a Monday, the day after Easter, so there may usually be more items listed for auction.
By comparison, on the same day eBay listed 570,659 Books, 1,744,496
Collectibles, and 292,271 Entertainment Memorabilia items. The quantity of listings should be no surprise considering that eBay recently celebrated its tenth year anniversary online and has steadily increased its market. The highest price book listed was a Webster's Holy Bible and Companion Book from 1833 going for $18,500 (no bids). The next highest book that appeared was for the same price. The same search on Franklin Library revealed 459 books listed, while "signed" displayed 10,362 books.
Using Overstock.com Auctions
Bookseller's home page on Overstock.com
When listing an item for auction the procedure is very similar as on eBay, except there are fewer pages to scroll through. Insertion, closing, and auction upgrading (such as highlighted in bold, featured, or reserve price set) fees are somewhat less than eBay. For example, a book that sells on auction for $9.99 will have a 23 cent insertion fee (compared to 35 cents on eBay), plus 3.25% charged as the closing price (compared to 5.25% on eBay). If an item does not sell, no closing fee is charged. A seller can specify a "Make It Mine" price once their rating gets above a minimum initial level, which can be compared to the "Buy It Now" feature offered by eBay. A free listing software (OLister) is available for download which makes it easier to list multiple items at one time.
With Overstock, there is no way to search on completed auctions to do research on an item as with eBay (although you have to be a registered user and logged in to access). Web pages are sometimes slow to load, likely due to the site utilizing cgi scripts and large images. Even slower page loads have been a common complaint with eBay as well, which uses a banner ad service which bogs down web pages (I view this as a form of spam). In addition, having to login multiple times to do searches can be cumbersome. The monetary benefits of such measures must continue to outweigh the hassles it brings. As we utilize cable for the Internet with fast processors, I can only imagine the frustrating experience that dial up users continue to have with such sites from a usability standpoint.
Overstock has a long way to go before becoming a viable mainstream alternative to Goliaths such as eBay. We have had some initial sales through Overstock, and our overall impression is lukewarm. It provides an additional avenue for booksellers to market to attract customers and is relatively inexpensive and simple to list with.
Carl Burnham can be reached online at www.SouthpointBooks.com