Everything You Need to Know About Bidding and Buying in Online Auctions

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Online auctions have exploded in popularity over the past few years, and it’s easy to see why. There are many advantages for both online buyers and sellers. Buyers can easily search for items on their computers or smart devices and find a huge variety of items. Sellers have access to an extensive network of potential customers and can sell their items quickly and efficiently. If you’re new to online auctions or want to learn more about the process, these are the fundamentals of bidding and buying in online auctions.

What is an Online Auction?

An online auction is a platform that helps people sell or buy items on the internet. The first online auction websites date back to 1995. That was the year that Pierre Omidyar launched eBay and Jerry Kaplan created Onsale.com. Both auction websites allowed buyers to bid on items, and the person who bid the most won the item. Onsale sold the items directly to the buyers as a business to consumer (B2C) service, while eBay allowed customers to sell to other customers as a (C2C) service.

A typical online auction website has a search function that you can use to search for items by keyword, category, city, or region. Some of the better online auction sites like MaxSold are highly localized and will only show you items available in your area. Item listings include pictures of the item, as well as a brief description, measurements, and whether the item is used or new. The listings also have features that allow buyers to place bids on the item.

Who Uses Online Auctions?

According to IBISWorld, an industry research company, the market size of the online auction industry in the United States grew 12.1% per year between 2016 and 2021. The National Consumers League conducted a survey that revealed that nearly one-third of American adults have participated in an online auction. That adds up to about 35.6 million people. Clearly, online auctions appeal to a large number of people, and that number is growing.

Sellers use online auctions to sell single items or large volumes of items. They may be having an estate sale to clear out a home after the loss of a loved one. They could be downsizing, making a long-distance move, or just want to pass on a collection. Buyers could include new homeowners, students, bargain-hunters, collectors, antique dealers, or environmentally conscious consumers looking for second-hand items. Many people who use online auctions are sustainably minded and want to keep usable items out of landfills.

What Can I Buy or Sell in an Online Auction?

One of the best things about an online auction is that you can buy or sell almost anything. Sellers who are liquidating their homes can use online auctions to sell everything from furniture to artworks, electronics, jewelry, toys, antiques, tools, and more. Other sellers may list only a few items that they want to find a good home for. Buyers will find that an online auction is similar to an online thrift store because you can find so many different items at great prices.

How Do Online Auctions Work?

Every online auction website has different policies and procedures for sellers and buyers. However, there are a few basic steps that are similar across all platforms. This is what you can expect when you use an online auction site.

Steps for Sellers

The first step with most online auction sites is to register as a seller. You will have to provide basic information like your name, email address, and the city where you are selling your items. Some sites will have to approve you before you can list your items. Others will let you post your items immediately. 

Many online selling platforms are seller-managed. This means that you will need to manage most aspects of the sale yourself, including taking photographs, cataloging your items, uploading items to the site with pictures and descriptions, and managing pickups. Most auction sites will collect payments for you and take a fee from the sale. 

Online bidding periods usually range anywhere from three to 10 days. Sometimes you can extend the auction longer. Some sites will keep the auction open as long as there are consistent bids coming in. Most auction sites allow sellers to keep track of their items through an online seller portal or profile.

If you need help with larger volumes of items or estate sales, MaxSold offers full-service auctions. A MaxSold auction includes a team of professionals who will manage nearly every aspect of the sale, from photographing and cataloging items to marketing and billing. 

Steps for Buyers​

Bidding and buying in online auctions is incredibly easy. Online auction sites are usually very easy to use with clear search functions, multiple photos, and easy-to-find bidding buttons. You can bid anytime you like because the auctions are open 24/7 until the closing date. Plus, you can bid from the comfort of your home, office, or anywhere you have internet.

Most online auction sites require you to register as a buyer. You will have to provide basic information like your name and email address. Many sites will also require valid credit card information. This is so they can confirm that you’re a real person and can pay for the items you bid on. Most online auction websites do not charge you a fee to sign up. 

Once you have signed up, you can begin online bidding. You can search for specific items or look through the auction catalogs to see if anything catches your eye. When you find something you like, you can place a bid on it. Often the listing will tell you what your minimum bid must be. If you’re new to online bidding, it helps to do a bit of research about how to bid in online auctions.

Many online auctions will allow you to start with a bid low. For example, everything at MaxSold has a starting bid of $1, from the cleaning supplies under the sink to the car in the driveway. By starting bids at $1, you can bid as much as you are willing to pay and you can increase your bid any time up until the close of the auction. The listing will tell you the closing date and time. 

Some platforms allow you to enter a maximum bid. To do this, you enter the maximum amount you want to pay for that item. Then you can bid whatever you like on the item and the platform will automatically increase your bid every time someone outbids you. The system will only do this up to your maximum bid amount. This is one strategy you can use to maximize your chances of winning an item.

In most cases, buyers cannot retract a bid once they have placed it. This is to make the online bidding fair for other buyers and the seller. If you are the highest bidder on an item, you win the item and must pay for it. The form of payment depends on what payment portals the platform accepts.

Be sure to check the terms and conditions to see if the seller will ship the item or if you have to pick it up. If you have to pick it up, either the platform or the seller will give you the address details. When you pick up an item, you will need to bring some form of ID and a receipt of the sale if possible. This is so you can prove that you were the one who made the purchase. 

The Benefits of Bidding on and Buying Items From Online Auctions

These are just a few reasons why more people are opting to buy from online auctions instead of traditional shops, yard sales, or e-commerce sites.


Why visit multiple shops or websites when you can find everything you need in one place? Virtual auctions feature large catalogs with a diverse mix of items. Some buyers can furnish a whole house from just one auction. Plus, buyers can access the catalogs and monitor bids anytime from any online device.


Second-hand auction items can be incredibly great value, especially in online auctions. For example, MaxSold auctions start at $1 per item. You may make a low bid on something and find that no one outbids you. If you do find yourself in a bidding war, you can still win the item at a fraction of the price it would cost if you bought it new.

Rare Items

 Auctions are the best places to shop for one-of-a-kind items like jewelry, antique furniture, books, and artwork. Many sellers are auctioning off items that have been in their family homes for generations. Therefore, the odds of discovering rare and hard-to-find items are very high.

No Need To Be There In Person

Auction houses and yard sales require you to be there in person to bid or buy. Moreover, they operate on a first-come-first-serve basis, so if you show up later than other buyers, you may miss out on good items. Not so with online auctions. Virtual auctions usually span several days and every bidder has the same chance to hunt for gems.

What Customers Say About Buying From Online Auctions

MaxSold is a brilliant idea! I am a buyer and I have been able to get so many things, including my washer. When my washer went out, MaxSold was the first thing that came to mind! I was not in a good position at the time. Recently widowed, I had limited funds and low and behold I was able to get a washing machine for less than $100, a break that I desperately needed.”

- Rhonda Haddock Northcutt

“Maxsold is a fabulous place to shop for any items you don’t mind being used, the staff during pick up are friendly and helpful. Some items I purchased are very unique and I would not have found them anywhere else. Love when I find something interesting."

- Rita Tran

“Fabulous place to find unique items, high-quality furniture, everyday needs, at very reasonable prices. You choose what you want to spend. It’s fun! I have never had a negative experience and I have been using this for a few years. Everyone has been very friendly during the pandemic and continuing following Covid practices. Try it. You’ll like it!”

- Leslie McGill

The Benefits of Selling Items on Online Auctions

Sellers also have many reasons for choosing online auctions over other platforms. These are just a few of the advantages.

Less Work

A professional auction team can help with every step of the selling process. This could include photographing, cataloging, marketing, and payments. You won’t have to deal with multiple emails or phone calls with buyers because the company will handle that. This gives you more time to focus on your day-to-day life. All you need to do is sit back and watch the sales come in.

Faster Sales

Internet auctions have set time limits that encourage buyers to snap up items fast. You can also reach a wide audience of potential buyers. This makes it more likely that your items will sell. Even large estate sales can sell on an internet auction in as little as 14 days.

More Buyers Can Increase Bid Value

Well-known auction sites attract large numbers of buyers, which can result in more bids on your items. This often leads to an intense bidding competition where buyers consistently raise their bids to try to beat out the other buyers. Some sites like MaxSold also have features in place so that bidding continues as long as people keep making bids. This can lead to vast increases in the bid value of your item.

What Customers Say About Selling on Online Auctions

“MaxSold seller App and the other elements necessary to create a money making auction are very easy to use. The system is super transparent for clients, support when needed is outstanding and the realized funds are better than ever!”

- Todd Irvine

“The MaxSold experience was extremely satisfying! The preparatory team and the pickup team were pleasant and efficient. The lots were prepared so that the maximum number of items were sold. I highly recommend MaxSold to help dispose of items that you no longer need, or at a critical moving stage such as downsizing.”

- Gillian Garneau

“On the whole I had a very good experience as a downsizing/moving seller. I found MaxSold very organized in their system. Customer service contacted me as the process moved forward to make sure I was comfortable and progressing. As far as the auction, it went very smoothly. The buyers showed great discipline in keeping their pickup times, even with a tropical storm approaching. 96% of my lots sold and all of that inventory was taken away without me having to do any of the lifting. MaxSold even coordinated with a couple of buyers and myself for different pickup times. I have confidently begun a second auction to finish clearing the house before the closing.”

- rcden

What Is the Difference Between a Live Auction and an Online Auction?

Live auctions and online auctions have the same goal of selling items to the highest bidder. However, the online bidding process is slightly different from a live event.

At a live auction, an auctioneer goes through each item individually. Buyers must be there in person to place bids or send a representative to bid on behalf of them. Bidders can raise their hand or a buyer’s ID card to place a bid. The bidding continues until no more bids come in, and the last person to bid wins the item. Once a lot has been sold, the auction ends. Live auctions usually only last for one day.

Online auctions can last for up to 14 days. During that time, buyers can register, search for the items they want, and place bids on those items. Buyers can monitor each auction item in real time and raise bids as needed. Many sites also allow buyers to place a maximum bid so that the system can automatically raise bids as needed. Timed auctions end at a predetermined date and time. At that time, the highest bidder wins the item.

How Can I Win in Online Auctions?

The main goal of online bidding is to win the items you bid on without spending too much money. But how to win when there are other people vying for the same items? These are a few strategies you can use to maximize your chances of winning.

Stay Active in the Auction

If you really have your heart set on a particular item, you need to be vigilant. Keep checking the auction to see if other people are outbidding you. When someone outbids you, raise your bid so that you are the highest bidder. Not only will this put you ahead of the competition, but it can also unnerve them. Other bidders may feel discouraged if you are constantly countering their bids. This may cause them to give up on the item altogether.

Use Maximum Bids

Maximum bids can help you win auction items. This is a system where you decide the maximum amount of money you want to spend on an item. Enter that into the auction website and the system will automatically raise your bid in increments every time someone outbids you. The system will only raise your bids to the maximum budget you set. This is useful because you don’t have to constantly monitor the auction and raise your bid manually.

Bid Late in the Auction

You can also place bids close to the auction closing time. The idea is that other bidders may not notice that the bid has gone up. If they don’t make another bid, you could win the item. However, many online auction companies have systems in place to prevent bid sniping at the last minute. For example, MaxSold has a soft close feature that extends the auction for an additional two minutes every time a bid is made in the last two minutes of the auction.

What are the Best Online Auction Sites?

There are numerous auction sites online, but not all offer quality service. You want to choose one that is trustworthy, well-respected, and able to deliver results. These are some of the best online auction sites to buy and sell goods. 


MaxSold specializes in estate sales, downsizing, and clearing excess items out of homes, so buyers will find a huge variety of items up for grabs. Buyers can find everything from furniture to tools, electronics, carpets, toys, and more. Basically, anything you can find inside the house, garage, or shed is on offer. In addition, the company has teams of experts across the United States and Canada, which makes the online auctions accessible to buyers in a wide range of cities and regions. No matter which auction you join, buyers can expect fast turnarounds from purchase to pickup.


Launched in 1995, eBay was one of the first online auction sites. eBay is similar to an online thrift store because it has multiple categories of second-hand items, including toys and hobbies, sporting goods, electronics, and entertainment memorabilia. You can also find some new items on the site. Buyers can join for free, but sellers must pay fees. The fees differ depending on the product and listing. Sellers may have to pay listing fees, final sale fees, or upgrade fees for enhanced listings.


If you’re interested in property investment, Auction.com specializes in real estate auctions. The site features thousands of properties across the United States. The listings are residential properties that are bank-owned, short-sale, or foreclosures. Most are homes, while others are empty lots. The auctions last three days, and deals can close in as little as five weeks. Bidders must be prepared to deposit 5% of the sale or $2,500 (whichever is more) one day before the auction closing date.


Find out when live auctions are taking place across the United States and bid from the comfort of your own home with AuctionZip. The platform allows auctioneers to post their upcoming auctions and items for those auctions. Buyers can sign up to join the auctions and bid on the items in real time without having to physically be at the auction. The only downside is that you have to be online when the auction is taking place to take part.


GovDeals helps government and educational agencies auction off confiscated and surplus items. There are many categories to choose from, including vehicle equipment and parts, recyclable materials, arts and crafts, and more. You can even find decommissioned ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars. Registration is free for buyers. However, this is not a site where the general public can sell goods. The company only works with local agencies to source items.

Charity Auctions Today

Charity Auctions Today helps non-profit organizations set up auctions to raise money for good causes. The platform makes it easy to create an auction with customizable templates and various payment methods. There are different packages available depending on an organization’s needs. If you’re tight on funds, you can set up a free account and only pay if you raise money at the end of an event.

How Does MaxSold Differ From Other Online Auction Platforms?

MaxSold has a rich history that dates back to 1956. This was the year that founder Barry Gordon’s father started an auction business. The younger Gordon went on to become a licensed appraiser and auctioneer in 1978. Since then, he has earned a place in the National Auctioneers Association Hall of Fame. Today MaxSold has locations across North America and they continue to expand their presence every year. In fact, MaxSold has been featured on the Financial Times list of growing companies for three years in a row.

MaxSold also makes it easy for buyers to find unique treasures and great bargains. The site is highly localized so that you can see all the auctions available in your area with just one click. However, if you want to look at other areas, you can search for items in different cities as well. The listings are informative and include clear photos and details about the conditions of the items. Payment is easy and hassle-free, and unlike many other auction sites, MaxSold has a customer support line for buyers to aid in protecting buyer’s rights.

Online auctions are mutually beneficial for buyers and sellers. Buyers can come across incredible finds at great prices. These could include antiques, collectibles, home furnishings and decor, rare parts, and more. Sellers can find new homes for large quantities of items or single pieces. The auction platforms connect buyers and sellers who live in the same cities, making it easy for both parties to do business safely and efficiently. Register with MaxSold today to hunt for gems, start bidding and save money, all from the comfort of your home.

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