Wednesday, September 30, 2009

RockyBid Under Attack Again

RockyBid just sent this email to users:

I regret to inform you that at this time we are currently suffering from technical difficulties in the form of a second malicious DDOS attack on our website and server. We will have up and running as soon as we have shielded ourselves from this attack. While not common DDOS attacks have already crippled other well known websites such as Twitter and Gmail. You can check out this website for more information on DDOS attacks and how it works I want to assure you we are doing everything possible to mitigate this attack while maintaining the integrity of our website and the security and privacy of our customers. Rest assured that due to the nature of the attack no private information is in any danger. We will reverse and re-list all auctions that conclude during the DDOS related downtime, in order to allow for a fair bidding environment.We appreciate your patience as we deal with this issue in a timely fashion. Thank you for being a part of the Rockybid family and we hope to get you bidding soon.

All the best,

The Customer Service Team at
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Auction Squirrel Ships Products

I have been fairly skeptical of The Auction Squirrel since they launched last week for reasons I blogged about here. Namely, I'm getting tired of new penny auction sites that launch yet do nothing different. I know it looks like easy money, but even if it was it no longer is. If there are nearly 100 sites competing with you and you aren't special you have a fundamental business problem. If your plan to address this problem is to call yourselves "new and exciting" or "the best penny auction site" or "the number one penny auction site," you have an even bigger problem. The fact that there are big sites like Swoopo and BidCactus makes it even harder to compete (FYI - I keep mentioning these two because their traffic is 10 times as high as the next closest competitors).

So, needless to say, I was none too excited to see The Squirrel pop-up last Wednesday. However, while their site traffic is low and bidding activity meager, The Squirrel appears to be a legitimate business with no shill bidders and one that actually ships products. I spoke with two people last week who won items on The Squirrel and one person today reported that they received the gift card they won. In the penny auction industry being able to confirm that a site is shipping items and not shill bidding is a substantial victory it its own right.
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Monday, September 28, 2009

Winnit is gambling

Sorry I've been away so long. Would you believe I was busy rescuing orphans from burning buildings? What about tigers, I was rescuing orphans from tigers? Yeah, my wife didn't believe it either.

What brought me back was reading the How it works from
Winnit members bid against each other by placing their guess for the lowest, unique amount on any given product, which results in a winning price that equates to a small fraction of retail cost. The goal is to be the first (and only!) member to bid a price as close to zero as possible without guessing a price that someone else has already bid.
Yeah, this is just gambling, and I'll tell you why.

Imagine that you are the last person to bid. Let's say you are bidding on the Porsche Cayman and you've decided to bid no more than $10. Assume for the sake of argument, that of the 1000 possible bids (that is, 1¢ to $10.00), 9999 are already taken. You don't know that, of course, but it would still be a good bet: $4 for a 1000-to-1 chance of winning a $50,000 car (even after the $10,000 - $20,000 you'd pay in taxes).

But which one should you pick?

Should you pick 1¢? That's cheap, which is good, but being cheap, someone already must have picked it. Should you pick $10 then? The price will have frightened off everybody else! Ooh, everybody else who doesn't realize that what you just realized, that a higher price is more likely to be unique. On the other hand...

But after a moment, this reverie is broken by the obvious: you only have to pay your bid if you win. And be serious, is there any difference paying 1¢ for a new Porsche or $10? Of course not: either way, it's effectively a free car. And if you feel this way, so does everybody else. None of the 1000 possible bids is really any different from any of the others. Picking the winning price is just a matter of luck.

And there's a name for any game where winning is just a matter of luck: gambling.

Interestingly, if the system awarded the victory highest unique bid, it would become less like gambling. While there is obviously no meaningful difference between paying 1¢ and $10 for a sports-car, there is difference between paying $10,000 and $20,000. They are both great deals, but they are still quite distinguishable. So, at least in theory, you could plumb the psychology of your opponents and make yourself more likely win by picking the price none of them would.

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Pposh Up For Sale: Asking a pretty penny

Penny Auction Watch just broke the story that is up for sale. Pposh is the penny auction site focused on travel packages that employed some very suspicious practices after launching late this summer. According to Website Broker, where Pposh is listed for sale, the site has a monthly income of $3000, expenses of $350 and an asking price of $500,000.

As someone with a little bit of experience in the private equity world, let me evaluate this deal for all you prospective buyers, free of charge.

While PAW said some Pposh employees were not getting paid, let's just assume this is a wash and that it really only costs $350 a month to operate Pposh. That brings EBITDA to $31,800 per year. With the asking price of $500,000 you are looking at about a 16x multiple for Pposh. That's on the very high side, a good multiple on a brick and mortar operation of similar size might be 4 or 5x. However, before we declare Pposh overpriced by nearly $350,000, let's dig a little deeper and evaluate it's business potential, market potential, competition and barriers to entry ie let's do a quick and simple SWOT analysis:

Strengths: The site looks good for a penny auction.

Weaknesses: As I have long argued, the only barrier to entry in this space is credibility, Pposh has none. In fact, for such a young site Pposh actually has a very bad reputation (see earlier posts on PAW and Penny Auction Insider). They have no site traffic. Travel packages have huge inherent challenges. For example, selling a flight from one city to another requires the bidder to be in one of those cities and have a need or desire to go to the other city within a limited window of time. This severely limits the number of potential customers.

Opportunities: I believe there is a lot of room for growth in the penny auction industry.

Threats: Pposh has no barriers to entry. There are nearly 100 sites offering similar services for a similar price. The only thing that makes Pposh unique is its product set - travel packages - which poses inherent challenges, and even if there was an attractive market here, more established sites could easily enter this market and leverage their existing customer base to win this sector. There are many larger, more established penny auction sites with experienced management teams and some with VC funding.

In conclusion, Pposh has a weak business model in a competitive industry with no barriers to entry. Pposh has very little site traffic and what reputation it does have is negative. The stated costs are far lower than would be required to adequately run the site and income potential is small given the limited customer set in travel auctions. One big problem is that if expenses are only $350 per month, Pposh can't actually be selling much of anything, which raises questions about the legitimacy of their earnings. According to the Pposh ended auction page they sell over a dozen items a day, including expensive travel packages, car rentals, flights, computers and other electronics. Clearly, Pposh is either not counting the products it sells in its expenses or not actually selling products, which is something we accused them of doing weeks ago. This is very suspicious and appears to be one big fraud.

After doing a basic analysis of the company fundamentals, I believe is overvalued by approximately $500,000 and wouldn't pay a single cent for the "company."

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Nick Lachey's Latest "Project" is Penny Auction Site

Last week on the Rachael Ray Show former pop sensation, 98 Degrees band member and reality TV star Nick Lachey told Rachel he is working on a new "project" called, a lowest unique bidder auction like Dubli. I don't know if Nick is an investor, a partner or what, but having a celebrity in the penny auction arena is pretty interesting. is auctioning off a 2010 Porsche Cayman, but it doesn't end for 63 more days.

Here are a few quotes from the interview:

Nick: "It's a really, really, really cool website I'm a part of now."

Rachael: "You can literally win it for a couple of bucks, isn't that weird?"

To see the part of the interview where Nick talks about click here.

To see the rest of the interview where Nick and Rachael talk about Jessica Simpson, the break-up and all that jazz, click here.

For contrast, here is an interview with Foundation Capital's Charles Moldow, who invested $4.5 million in Project Fair Bid along with two other VCs.
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Friday, September 25, 2009

Update from The Auction Squirrel

The Auction Squirrel recently posted this announcement on their site:

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More on The Auction Squirrel

I don't know what happened but The Auction Squirrel doesn't have any live auctions right now. They ended all auctions last night and then earlier today posted a message on the site that said they were switching to a new server. After a period of down time they are now back, but still with no live auctions. I spoke with two people yesterday who said they won items on The Squirrel, and for extremely low prices, which makes me think they have no shill bidders. However, I don't know what the lack of auctions means.

The Squirrel, which opened for business on Wednesday, has sold 92 items so far with a total cost to the site of approximately $3,400 (assuming they buy at retail and bidpacks cost nothing) and collected about $39 in auction fees. Since all Auction Squirrel auctions are of the 1 cent variety this means about 3900 bids were cast. Each Auction Squirrel bid costs $0.80 (slightly less if larger bidpacks are purchased), meaning The Squirrel collected at most about $3120 (rounding). Total bids + auction fees = $3159. However, I believe The Squirrel made much less than this because it gave away three free bids to every new user and because about 1/3 of all auctions were for bidpacks, meaning many placed bids were actually won not purchased. Based on these calculations I expect the site made very little money from bidpack sales, maybe $1000.

If my assumptions are correct, The Squirrel took a hit of over $2,000 from their first two days in operation. Given that they paid $800 for the SwoopoClone software, maybe $80 for a month of hosting + domain registration and $20 for the Squirrel graphic, that would bring total costs to date to $4,300 on revenues of $1,039 ($39 from auctions and $1000 from bids).

As I have previously stated, there are two major problems with penny auctions. 1) They can easily cheat you by using shill bidders and 2) They could go out of business and never send you any of your winnings or refund your money. The Auction Squirrel falls into the second category. If The Squirrel folded up shop today and never came back there is nothing anybody could do about it. No one is going to sue the owner of the Squirrel for a $300 XBox 360 (the most expensive item sold), which means the owner of The Squirrel could simply walk away today. Of course they would suffer a loss of $800 spent on software and maybe $100 on other miscellaneous things.

The real question is whether the owner of the Squirrel thinks they can turn their losses these first two days into a sustainable profit going forward. After all, the sunk cost fallacy applies to auction players as well as site owners.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Penny Panties - Nope I'm not kidding

"Think Swoopo meets Victoria Secret," the latest penny auction site (sigh) is none other than Penny Panties - a niche site akin to PennyPurses and PennyLaptop, which specializes in, you guessed it, women's panties. Penny Panties hasn't launched yet and they have Google Adwords on their site which makes me wonder if they are serious.

I've often dreamed of making a spoof penny auction site. I almost did after seeing The Auction Squirrel, I was going to call it The Auction Beaver with the tagline "Woodn't you like to win!" Penny Panties has the tagline "Not how your grandmother bought panties." If I hadn't just seen sites like The Auction Squirrel and Poor Daddy's Penny Auction House go live I would have certainly believed Penny Panties to be a spoof, but alas I don't think there is anything in the penny auction universe that can surprise me anymore.

Penny Panties has an email sign-up list if you feel so inclined.
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Day 2: The Auction Squirrel

So today is the second day of operations over at The Auction Squirrel. I've been following the site with an unexpected degree of interest since it's launch at noon yesterday. I think The Auction Squirrel holds my interest because I've never watched a penny auction site go from pre-launch into open-for-business mode before. I also don't see how the Squirrel could possibly make it (with nearly 100 similar sites out there), which gives it a bit of an underdog feel. I am also very curious to see what the Squirrel's strategy is because as I've loosely monitored it's progress these past two days I've seen it sell everything for less than $1. Clearly this cannot be sustained for very long and I don't see them spending any money on Adwords so I don't know how they are planning on getting enough traffic - and bidders - to make the site sustainable. I think with penny auctions the most important thing for bidders is not that they can get a good deal on your site but that they can trust you. Bidders need to believe there are no shill bidders and that they will actually receive there winnings before they spend money. This is the biggest hurdle for a penny auction site and I think the several largest sites, namely Swoopo and BidCactus, have been able to win customers' trust, this is why they are so successful. I would like to see if and how The Squirrel is able to build trust with users.

I'm going to make The Auction Squirrel my little case study. I'll monitor their progress and share my thoughts with the community. If you have any experience with The Squirrel, please share it with me. I am especially interested in hearing from people who have won things on the site. Thanks for your help with this!
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Auction Squirrel Goes Live

I spent a few minutes over at The Auction Squirrel shortly after their launch at noon today. There were only three or four people bidding at most and I noticed a few usernames from other auction sites like janyce16 and drbud57, however, I also read on the Penny Auction Watch forum that there are now some copycat usernames out there, so I don't know if we are talking about the "real" janyce16 and drbud57. I also noticed that on the auction for the Bed Bath & Beyond giftcard (pictured below), the site stalled at 1 second and never recovered. I stayed on the page for about 30 seconds and when I hit refresh the card was gone. I suppose drbud57, who was the high bidder at the time, won that one. It's hard to fault the site for being a bit glitchy on the first day, if Blogger wasn't writing the code on this site I'm sure there would be lots of bugs. Either way, with such low bidding activity it looks like there are some good deals to be had, that is if drbud57 let's you win anything.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Swoopo's Days are Numbered: Auction Squirrel is Here!

This placeholder for the soon to be launched penny auction site The Auction Squirrel speaks for itself. I hope Swoopo has a contingency plan. For more on The Auction Squirrel see my earlier post Does the world really need another penny auction site?. FYI I added the "Our prices are nuts!" bit, that wasn't really on the Auction Squirrel page - but it probably should be.
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Great Forum Post Over at PAW

I really enjoyed reading this thread - you can learn a lot about the mentality of a penny auction player from this forum:
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Monday, September 21, 2009

Does the world really need another penny auction site?

Calling all entrepreneurs, please, stop launching new penny auction sites. Today I saw an ad for Poor Daddy's Penny Auction House, and while I like the name and the simple cartoon-ish feel of the logo, I found myself saying,"Really, does the world really need another penny auction site?"

I know we're in a recession and you don't have anything better to do. I know you can buy the software out of the box for less than $1,000. I know you don't have to know anything about computers or even have a phone number. I know running these sites require no special knowledge or expertise, even the inventory you can buy straight off of I know, I know. But does the world really need another penny auction site?

The problem is that while anyone can go through the steps above, very few people can do them well. Running a business requires business sense, and when you create a virtually identical copy of a website that already has 95 (literally, 95!) copycat sites out there, you are an idiot.

Take some advice and start a blog about penny auctions. I promise it will be far more lucrative.
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Expanding Penny Auction Universe: Part 2

So earlier I blogged about how the penny auction universe is expanding. We went from 1 (Swoopo) to 95 penny auction sites in about a year. Whoa! Actually, Swoopo was in the EU for a few years before it came to the US, but like most things, this blog is US-centric.

However, not only is the penny auction universe getting larger, it's also diversifying. There is now a wide range of sites and products, you can go for sites with or without bidbutlers, true penny auctions, or alternatives like the 12 cent-step variety at Swoopo. Penny auction sites are selling a wide variety of products and even a few cars.

Now, entrepreneurs are taking entertainment shopping in new directions. We blogged about SevenSnap, a bid-fee app for the iPhone and Penny Auction Watch recently blogged about Rackup and CircusPop.

Rackup was featured at the TechCrunch50 conference in San Francisco earlier this week and TechCrunch blogged about them here. Rackup seems like a great way to get gift cards on the cheap. Users enter a virtual room and when the auction starts they can click to buy the featured gift card. The first 10 people get the card with a varying bonus from between 3% and 100% of additional money on the card for free depending on when they clicked "buy." The earlier they click, the higher the bonus. However, if more than 10 people buy then the earlier people get kicked out and must enter again at the beginning of the list (lowest bonus). It's a little confusing, but the TechCrunch video explains it all clearly. The most important point is that if you want to buy a gift card anyway, you might as well do it on Rackup - the worst you can do is a 3% bonus and the best you can do is a 100% bonus. It costs nothing to play but companies that feature their gift cards are charged an 8% transaction fee. No wonder the TC50 conference-goers loved this one, we do!

Another interesting concept in online bargain hunting is CircusPop. This company charges users for bids ($0.75 - in bidpacks) which can then be used to "check" the price of an item for sale, until then prices are hidden. If users like the price, they can buy the item from CircusPop the same way they would at at traditional e-tailor like Amazon. CircusPop says that their prices only go down because every time someone views the price of an item, that price drops by $0.25. The site guarantees that users will find the lowest prices or their bids will be refunded. Like with Rackup for giftcards, the worst a user can do on CircusPop is get the product for the retail price, and it seems there is an opportunity to get the item for a substantial discount. CircusPop launched a few days ago and seems to have generated a fair amount of buzz (they have 700+ facebook members, as Penny Auction Watch pointed out).
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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Penny Auctions Under Siege

Last night BidRodeo informed us hackers were attacking their site. This is the second time in about a week BidRodeo has experienced a cyber attack according to BidRodeo's Weronika Cybulska. Apparently there have been no interruptions to bidding this time, however during the last attack on September 8th, the site experienced delays. During that outage Bidrodeo honored all ended auctions and also refunded all bids to losing bidders, Cybulska said.

Penny Auction Watch also reported that Rocky Bid was under attack about a week ago. All of the attacks appear to be denial-of-service (DOS) attacks where hackers flood a target's servers with so many requests for information that most or all of the server's bandwidth is consumed. During a DOS attack legitimate users either cannot access the target site or experience a dramatically slower connection. If anyone tried to read the Michael Jackson death story on the LA Times or New York Times websites in the first 30 minutes after the news broke, you know what it feels like to try to access content on a site that is overloaded with requests for data. The good news is that these penny auction site hackers are not trying to steal personal information, just temporarily disrupt access to the site.

DOS attacks are fairly common and Google, Facebook and Twitter have all recently been attacked. Twitter, which is notoriously cheap on bandwidth, was down for hours after the attack while Google experienced only minor interruptions.

Cybulska said she didn't know why BidRodeo was being attacked, but suspected it might be a user who is trying to eliminate the competition in order to win an item on the cheap. It might also be a competing site trying to get users to defect.

Penny Auction Insider will continue to report on DOS attacks to penny auction sites and provide updates when sites are under attack.

Steven Seagal was unavailable for comment on this article.
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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Understanding Ended Auction Prices

I'm still not over thinking about the Mini Cooper that Swoopo auctioned off last week. The selling price was just under $4,000 for the $24,550 car. Why did the car sell for such a low price? Since this was an auction, you might reasonably conclude that $4,000 was the highest price any of the bidders was willing to pay for the car, even though the winner got a phenomenal deal. This thinking might also be used when looking at other ended auctions where the auction price was a fraction of the retail value. If a TV that retails for $1000 sells for $100 does that mean $100 was the most any of the auction participants was willing to pay for it? The answer, as you might have guessed, is no. Sometimes we see items sell for more than their MSRP and sometimes we see those same items sell for a fraction of the retail price. I see this happen a lot with bidpacks on Swoopo - the ended auction prices are all over the board. The question is why? It might have to do with auction dynamics like how many people are watching an item or whether any known "hawks" (game theory) are playing. But I think it has more to do with psychology and the bystander effect. I'll elaborate.

Psychologists have determined that the grater the number of people observing an emergency situation, the less likely they are to assist. This is not because they are apathetic, but because they believe someone else will help. This is the bystander effect. In penny auctions, I believe the same theory applies. If the group of bidders believes the ending price should be significantly higher than it currently is, they logically assume casting a bid at this time will only cost them money since surely someone will bid over them. Thus, no one wants to bid just yet because doing so is a waste of $0.60. However, as the clock winds down to zero someone has to bid or the auction is over. Often, bidders will hold out till the last second hoping someone else will bid and increase the auction time. These bidders will place a bid only if it seems like no one else is going to. We see this happen all the time on Swoopo, and I saw it happen repeatedly during the auction for the Mini. As the clock ticks down to zero there is a pause and then two or three bids come in at the last second.

I think that when items go for shockingly low prices (even by penny auction standards) it's because bidders believe someone else will "save" the auction by bidding to prolong the ending time. When all of the bidders think this, no one bids and the auction expires. All of the bidders who did not win are upset because they would have loved to purchase the item for the closing price, but hoped that someone else would extend the auction time.

So how does one use this information to their advantage during an auction? By knowing that anytime you are the high bidder, even early on in the auction, there is a chance you win the item - not because no one wants the item, but because they all think someone else is going to bid first. The odds of you being the lucky high bidder in this situation are not good, but odds of winning should only be considered relative to similar alternatives, right? Just for fun I looked into California lottery odds and if I had my choice I'd spend $0.60 on a small shot of winning a Mini for $4,000 over a 1 in 240,000 chance of winning $500, the top prize, on the Let it Dough scratch-off lottery ticket.

But not to get confused, on this blog we maintain penny auctions are not gambling. However, the element of chance is introduced through the bystander effect.
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

All The Penny Auction Traffic Data One Could Ever Want

Wow, someone has gone and done my work for me. has a list of traffic for 95 penny auction sites (more than I knew existed) which will be updated daily, the site claims. has stats from Alexa, QuantCast and Compete and ranks the results using a weighted average to determine at PAT rank. Nice work, my only request would be to see it on a graph, and if the site calculates monthly change that would be amazing. Either way, hats off to for compiling this data in what appears to be an act of altruism (academic?).
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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Penny Auction Traffic Data for August's monthly traffic scores for August are out. Below is a graph of the top 39 penny auction sites by unique monthly traffic. We see that Swoopo and Bidcactus are far ahead of the competition and that the distribution of sites follows a long tail pattern. So does this fit the Chris Anderson "selling less of more" philosophy of ecommerce 2.0? No, not really, more of a coincidence I think.

One of my friends made an interesting point when I showed him this chart. What if Swoopo owns Bidcactus, he asked. While we have absolutely no reason to believe this is true, it does make for interesting dinner table conversation. What if, in order to dominate the market Swoopo opened a second site, which happens to have a very similar color scheme and aesthetic, and funded that site from their own operations. Bidcactus does spend a huge amount of money on AdWords, after all.

Either way, I think I'm going to start calling Swoopo "Coke" and Bidcactus "Pepsi." The Dr. Pepper Snapple Group of the group has yet to be decided but there are a few strong contenders including BidRodeo and Rocky Bid as well as newcomers and Winners24. This is actually the first time I've visited Winners24 and their site looks pretty clean.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

The Penny Auction Universe is Expanding

It must have been lonely for Swoopo back around this time last year when they were the only penny auction or "entertainment shopping" site in the US. However, since then dozens of copycat sites have sprung up, 54 to be exact as of my count earlier today. Of these 54 sites, 36 are active, 2 are preparing to launch and the rest are either dead or in a coma.

From an economic perspective, watching the penny auction universe is fascinating, we are witnessing an industry develop in hyper-speed. When there are low or no barriers to entry, as in this industry, new firms can freely enter the market. They do so as long as there are profits (perceived profits that is) to be had. This time last year, Swoopo developed an industry in the United States in which there were highly attractive profit margins. Soon, competitors entered the market. This was relatively easy to do because all that is required to operate a penny auction company is a website and a contract with a drop-shipper (essentially outsourced inventory management). Soon we saw dozens of new penny auction sites. However, there is a point at which the market for penny auctions becomes saturated and profits are reduced until some of the less competitive firms exit the market and profit margins are driven to a stabilization point (equilibrium) where firms neither enter nor exit the market. However, in practice things tend not to work out as cleanly as they are stated in theory. In the penny auction industry we have seen firms exit the market (Hasteno for example), but we do not know if this is due to over-saturation in the market or to operational or personal difficulties encountered by individual firms.

Also, theory assumes market participants to be rational and knowledgeable, a set of qualities human beings often fail to exude. Theoretically we expect new penny auction sites to open only if it makes sense for them from an opportunity cost perspective. Well, in a recession like this, one can argue that opportunity costs are pretty low. I wouldn't be surprised if several of the penny auction sites out there are run by unemployed IT guys who are trying to keep the lights on between business cycles. Also, since it can be hard to tell how much money a site is making, new competitors might enter the market only to find the profit margins are not as high as they expected. I suspect this is what is happening now with some of the sites that have just launched or plan to launch soon.

There is not enough room in this market for 30+ penny auction sites and many will be eliminated, the question is how long can they hold on for before exiting the market. This leads to a problem for the consumer which is that sites that are under stress and slowly going under have a stronger incentive to behave badly. I fear that many of these 30+ sites are going to damage their customers be failing to deliver product, failing to redeem bids or committing outright fraud before they bow out of the penny auction race for good.
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Swoopo Mini Cooper Sells for $3939.36

Swoopo's auction for a new 2009 Mini Cooper convertible with a street price of $24,550 ended minutes ago at a fraction of that price. The winning bidder, CaCO3, won with 2655 bids and will pay a total price (bids + ending auction price) of $5,532.96 + a $550 delivery charge.

32,828 bids were cast in the auction which started last Wednesday and stretched across Labor Day weekend. If Swoopo collected full revenue from each bid (they didn't) their take from bids would be just under $20,000 which when added to the final selling price of $3939.36 brings them pretty close to price of the car. While we don't know what Swoopo's purchase price of this car was we have no reason to believe they bought at a substantial discount, meaning they almost certainty lost money on this item.

I originally guessed the car would sell for around $18,000, which to me allowed for the winner to take a small margin that I perceived as sufficient compensation for the risks and efforts involved in acquiring the car. Boy was I wrong. Now Swoopo has a bit of a dilemma, do they put another car up because people saw what a great deal it is or do they never mention this day again? I expect we won't be seeing another car on Swoopo anytime soon.
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Here's an Honest Penny Auction Site

I've been using this lazy Labor Day to take inventory of all the penny auction sites out there. I want to see how many old ones are still active and how many new ones have sprung-up, at last count the field stood at 52. I'll post the full report later, but in the meantime I thought I'd share this landing page announcement from Hasteno, perhaps the last honest penny auction.

I don't know what it was about Hasteno that caused it to fail, the name and the color scheme are two obvious choices. However, if one thing is clear it's that in this industry there will have to be lots of losers. With more than 50 penny auction sites currently in existence and more starting-up all the time the market is simply too small to support all these sites. Economies of scale and credibility should allow the top few sites to dominate the industry while others fail and die out. Credibility might be the largest barrier to entry and if this is the case Swoopo should be just fine - I think the guys over at August Capital who plunged $10mm into Swoopo should breath easy - although, I really don't know what their exit strategy is. I can't imagine seeing SWPO on my Bloomberg Terminal anytime soon.

I'll post the full report later today, and FYI the Swoopo Mini auction is now at just under $4,000 with no sign of stopping anytime soon.
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Friday, September 4, 2009

A Post All Penny Auction Players Need to Read

Penny Auction Watch has an incredible story about shill bidding at new site Pardoo. They really did their detective work on this one. Nice job.
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Swoopo's Mini Cooper auction stopped being exciting hours ago, now in marathon phase

If one thing has become clear from Swoopo's auction of the red Mini Cooper convertible, it's that they need a better (quicker) format for selling expensive stuff. The Swoopo bidding model works well for moderately priced items, but a $24,550 car is going to take forever to sell. I understand Swoopo wants to minimize the risk of the car selling too cheaply (like the $1.24 Honda over at Rocky Bid) and so putting the Mini up in a 24 hour auction was smart. It increases the number of people who see the auction and gives them time to prepare to bid. However, as the auction approaches the 48 hour mark, with a price of just over $800, we here at Penny Auction Insider are starting to experiencing mental fatigue and wonder how much longer this thing will go for. I speculated earlier that I thought the car might eventually sell for around $18,000. Even if the car sells for $10,000 we've got a long, long way to go.

In the future I think Swoopo should tweak the auction format for expensive items like the Mini. A faster countdown or less time added to extend the clock with new bids might be a good solution.

The Mini has a current price of $806.40 with about 30 minutes on the clock. Last night we saw the time go to under one minute before spiking due to a BidButler war. Why anyone would exercise their BidButler so early in the auction escapes me. We'll continue to follow this auction and provide updates on the blog.
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Thursday, September 3, 2009

With just under 4 hours to go Swoopo's Mini Cooper auction at $109

The price of the 2009 Mini Cooper convertible Swoopo put up for auction yesterday is at about $109 with just under 4 hours to go. Should Swoopo be concerned that the price of this $24,550 car has risen to just over $100 (910 bids) as time winds down on the 24 hour auction?

No. We observe two things about everyone who has bid thus far. 1. They are placing single bids, not using BidButler and 2. They're not seriously trying to win the car, at least not yet.

Any serious contenders for the Mini won't jump in until the auction approaches closing or until it goes into overtime. Once the auction nears close I think we're going to see a huge increase in bidding activity and see the price rise quickly from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. However, there is always the chance that bidders feel winning the car is so unobtainable that they don't try and someone scoops it on the cheap, but I find this outcome unlikely. I think bidders will be reluctant to use BidButler and that we're going to see a lot of single bidders in a very long, drawn out bidding war. But who knows, I could be completely wrong in my predictions. We have never seen an item like this on Swoopo before so it's hard to tell how bidders will react.

Also, I received an email last night from someone close to Swoopo who asked not to be named but who said my break-even estimates for this auction are too low. This person said I failed to calculate the cost of acquiring customers and that I should give it another shot. I'll scratch my head on this one for a while and post something later.
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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Updated: Swoopo Auctions Mini Cooper

Update 8:08 pm EST:

We are watching this Swoopo auction for the Mini Cooper very carefully, as I am sure Swoopo executives are, and wanted to let everyone know what the magic number is. Assuming everyone paid full price for their bids and Swoopo paid full price for the car, the selling price of the car needs to be $4091 for Swoopo to break even. If 24% of users are bidding with FreeBids or bids subsidized through winning bidpacks, etc., the car needs to sell for $5168. Anything over that is pure profit for the company, and we do expect the car to go for well over $5168. However, this auction for the Mini Cooper introduces one dynamic not seen in auctions for less expensive products: the winner needs to be able to pay for the item. Most Americans do not buy new cars in cash, instead they finance or lease and most often trade in an old car. I speculate that most people bidding on Swoopo don't have $24,550 to buy a car with, or even $20,000 or $15,000, this will limit the number of people who are competing for the car. Of course, the winner could borrow money from the in-laws, but that complicates things.

My prediction is that this is going to be be a wildly successful auction for Swoopo and also that someone is going to get a great deal on the car - not a $1.24 great deal like at Rocky Bid - more like an $18,000 good deal.

End of update, original post follows

Today Swoopo put a red Mini Cooper convertible up for auction. The auction lasts 24 hours and each bid raises the auction price by 12 cents. As of 4:46 EST the price was $6.60. This is the first time Swoopo has offered such an expensive item, valued at $24,550, and the second time (to our knowledge) a penny auction site has auctioned a car. The first was Rocky Bid which sold a Honda Insight for $1.24 back in June. Rocky Bid lost some serious money on their auction, but tried to use the event to generate strong PR for the site. How Swoopo's Mini Cooper auction goes is anyone's guess, but they have much stronger site traffic than Rocky Bid did in June - that site said there were just two bidders when the Honda Insight auction closed for $1.24.

We will watch this auction closely and update the blog accordingly.
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SevenSnap: A New Take on Entertainment Shopping

SevenSnap is a new take on entertainment shopping, and no it's not a penny auction site, marking a refreshing change of pace for this blogger who is getting pretty tired of new penny auction sites popping up every day claiming to be the industry leader or exciting and new, when really they're just copying what's already out there.

Not so with SevenSnap, a truly innovative take on entertainment shopping. SevenSnap is an iPhone app (with plans to produce a web-based version later) where users purchase time credits and then use those credits to enter a virtual room with a featured product, such as a MacBook Pro, and other bidders. The price of the item starts falling as soon as someone enters the room (starting at retail) and the speed of decline depends on the number of people in the room - as fast as $100 a minute if the room has many users. The first person to buy gets the item at that price and then the price resets for everyone else in the room.

SevenSnap is a pure price discrimination model where the person with the highest willingness to pay in the room gets the product at whatever their threshold price is. This price must certainly be less than the retail price of the item or else people would just go to their favorite store to buy. I expect there could be some decent deals on SevenSnap but that really depends on the type of people in the room and all it takes is one person who is willing to buy at close to retail to ruin it for everyone else.

The SevenSnap app is not in the app store yet which has led some people to speculate on whether Apple would even approve the program. Apple has been notoriously cloistered about its approval process and created a firestorm of controversy this summer with its decision to block certain Google-developed apps as well as for its re-engineering of iTunes to block the Palm Pre from accessing that platform. I expect SevenSnap looked into the likelihood of Apple approving its app before it went to the trouble of developing it, but with the app store nothing is for certain.

SevenSnap has a cool video demonstration that you should probably watch once or twice.
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