Encouraging participation

Perhaps the most critical factor in the success of an auction is getting a large enough number of people to participate in it.

For a fish club -- and a seller -- the worst kind of auction is one where lots sell for a dollar or two each. This almost always happens when there's only one person interested in buying a lot. Unfortunately, having even a few lots sell "for cheap" drives down the perceived value of all the lots in the auction, making normally high-value lots sell for less than they should.

In order for a given lot to sell for what it's worth, at least two people need to really want it. To figure out how to get that "critical mass", we need to examine exactly how users participate in an auction.

Users' interaction with this site looks like this:

  1. Visit the site
  2. See a lot they like
  3. Sign up for an account
  4. Place a bid
  5. Up their bid if they are outbid

At each step, some number of people will give up for whatever reason -- that's "friction" in this process. A graph of that friction looks something like this:

Ideally, every user who viewed a lot would win at least a lot or two, meaning there would be very little decrease as you move down the above graph.

Looking at points where this graph narrows allow us to spot ways to make this site work more smoothly for users. For example, the large change between all views (purple) and views from users (yellow) suggests that a big hold-up is how difficult the sign-up process is. To help with this, I've added the ability to sign in with Google to the site. 52% of our existing users use Gmail anyway, so this should help make things more straightforward.

But, there's another way to interpret this graph: What if people aren't signing up because they don't see anything they want badly enough to bid on?

Looking at the number of users who actually bid tells an interesting story.

This chart shows everyone who viewed lots in the TFCB 2020 Annual Auction. Of these people, only some (yellow) created an account, and even fewer (green) actually placed bids.

It's difficult to say exactly why this is. But, we can look at the number of lots that users (only users with an account) bid on.

On the right, there are obviously a good number of people who bid on many lots -- thank you to those people, without you these auctions wouldn't be possible! But, there are almost as many who don't bid on anything at all. The lack of users buying just a couple lots suggests that -- for many folks -- it's just not worth the trouble of committing to go to a place to pick up fish. In an effort to reach these people, I've added a bidding incentive option to auctions. When creating an auction, you can give people a credit in the amount that you choose when they place their first bid in an auction. This obviously decreases the club's profit in an auction, but bringing in an additional 5-10 people can easily drive prices up enough to justify the cost of this incentive. Remember: it's all about getting to that critical mass where at least 2 people must have any given lot.

One thing to remember about these charts is that they only include people who visited the auction site. We can't know how many people are (for example) aware of your club, but don't know about the auction, or have heard about the auction but didn't have a link for the site. Perhaps a more accurate funnel chart would look like this:

Click a label to toggle visibility.

Ultimately, for your auction to succeed, it will be easier to expand the number of people who know about it, rather than relying on this site to bring in people by itself.