What You Need to Know About Auctions

Tonight I attended my first-ever action.

It was the annual benefit auction for my local library. It feels slightly funny that I’ve never been to it before. I’ve been employed to photograph their live auction items every year that they’ve had the event, but just never felt like spending the $35 to attend. This year, however, one of the board members paid for tickets for the entire staff. With an offer like that, how could I refuse?


I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the night.

Sure, obviously, there would be a dude running numbers like a tongue twister. I also knew they had a silent auction as well. Additionally, the librarians told me that every year there is delicious food catered to the event. If nothing else, I knew there would be good food and friends. I knew it would probably be enjoyable, but I didn’t realize how fascinating it would be.


It turns out, auctions rely on a LOT of psychological games.

I didn’t realize they used so much psychology at first. Then I began talking with one of my fellow library workers, who told me about his cousin’s experience at auctioneer school. Here are several that he pointed out to me throughout the evening:

Semi-subliminal messaging.

Auctioneers are made to learn all sorts of tongue twisters in attempt to figure out what words are the most natural for them to say. Then, each auctioneer is told to pick a short sentence or two to bable in between raising the bid. You know how in between numbers they sound like they are saying gibberish? Those few seconds are for semi-subliminal messages. They will state things such as “bid ‘er up!”, “just money”, and “really good deal”.


“Just a little more…”

Another tactic they use is to start the bidding with high number increments. As the bidding slows down, they begin to suggest smaller ones. People are more likely to jump on slight increases, such as $10, $15, or $25 towards the end. Before they know it, the price has jumped another $100!


Emotional appeals

In between bids, it was not uncommon to hear emotionally satisfying or stirring sayings. “It’s all for a good cause!” “It’s only money.” “Thank you, mam!” “This is the only one you’ll ever see!” “Last chance!”


The silent auction had a bit of psychology to it, too.

Imagine if Ebay hosted a live event. There are a number of tables with various items. Each table’s auction ends at a different point in the evening. Of course, you’re going to have things you want on a variety of tables. Here’s the thing: they announce when the tables are ending, but they do not announce who won. In fact, they don’t even say how to find out if you won. As it turns out, you have to go seek out the checkout area people to ask if you won anything each time a table closes. Most folks will not leave their friends and food to go to that trouble. So, in the end, there is the potential that they spent way more money than they otherwise would have, due to placing bids all across the room.


My conclusion…

You want to be really careful if you ever attend an auction. Keep tabs on everything you’ve bid on, and keep a budget in mind that you’re willing to spend. The auction environment is engineered for overspending. Between the psychology, the excitement of the people, and all of the cool stuff, it could be really easy to go overboard! Also, if they serve booze, watch your intake. I suspect a slightly drunk mind will be a lot more willing to part with its money. 


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