A customer using a smartphone

How to be in two (or five!) places at once

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A customer using a smartphone

By Andy Conde, General Manager Group Auctioneers, Manheim

One of the key trends I have spotted over recent months as we have all adapted to a virtual auction experience is how people have achieved the seemingly impossible. It is not science fiction, no, but people are managing to be in two, three, sometimes even five places at once. What am I talking about, you ask? 

Well, one of our regular buyers turned up the other day in Bristol, Bruntingthorpe and Manchester at the same time. I hear tell he was also at a few of our competitor auction sites as well. How did he manage this mystical feat? It certainly wasn’t Hermione’s time turner from Harry Potter or Bernard’s watch. Nor did he find a cloning machine or get his hands on a Tardis. He did not even have to do a degree in quantum physics.

Instead, he just opened his tablet, mobile phone and computer and sat watching several auctions at once on different browsers. So, I am having a bit of a laugh. But this is an interesting move in the market. Buyers who have sworn for years that they will not attend virtual auctions, that buying online will never catch on, are now turning up in their droves to multiple sales.

I even heard from someone the other day that this had revolutionised their life. Having been completely resistant to online auctions before, they now realised how much time they could save (no more traffic jams on the M6) and how they could access more vehicles than ever before. The opportunities this was opening up for them to spend time on growing their business, rather than being in their business, were significant.

Of course, completely online auctions are a little odd for all of us, albeit we have been offering virtual access via Simulcast for many years now. Us auctioneers have had to have a few tricks up our sleeves to maintain the energy in the ‘room’. I probably should not tell you this, but we have been popping pictures of some of our regular buyers in their usual spots in the auction halls! And we cannot forget the callouts and birthday shouts that come from the rostrum whether we are face-to-face or online. 

We are also realists. If you are listening to three or four sales at the same time or even watching them with the sound off so you don’t get to hear our wonderful patter, then we have to be even clearer with any changes to descriptions. Our clerks are doing a wonderful job typing away as we talk. And the fact we have slowed down the sales, 60 to 70 vehicles an hour instead of 80 to 90, means we’ve got a bit more time to get the message across.

Of course, while we have enjoyed the virtual experience, and seen thousands more buyers engaging compared with this time last year, we are all itching to get back to physical sales when it is safe to do so. We know that an auction is not just about the transaction, buying and selling vehicles. For many of our vendors, it is the chance to get out and take a pulse check on the industry, speak to traders at the front line. 

And for our buyers, nothing beats a bit of social interaction, sharing stories, gaining market insights, and catching up with friends. Many of our buyers have been coming to the auctions for years. There are clear mental health benefits to sharing a problem over a cup of tea and bacon sandwich that it is very difficult to replicate online. Plus, kicking the tyres virtually can be a bit of a challenge!     

Personally, I cannot wait to get our physical sales up and running again but I hope we are able to make the best of both worlds. Buyers who have realised they can access more vehicles through multiple virtual sales should be able to do so. They should be able to continue to benefit from time savings from not travelling or sitting in traffic. 

But we also need to ensure our physical auctions are safe and welcoming spaces where vendors and buyers want to come to chew the fat and pass the time of day. This provides us with a real opportunity to think about what makes the auction experience so special – the entertainment, the relationships and the community – and see how we can build upon that when it is safe to return to the auction hall.       

I recently discussed this topic and more with Cox Automotive Customer Insight and Strategy Director James Davis. To listen to the full interview, click here.

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