Most Internet auction sites specialize in person-to-person activity where individual sellers or small businesses sell their items directly to consumers. In these auctions, the seller — not the site — has the merchandise, and often, the site will not take responsibility for any problems that may arise between buyers and sellers. Before using an Internet auction site for the first time, buyers and sellers should read the Terms of Use, and review any information the site offers.


Most Internet auction sites require buyers and sellers to register and obtain a “user account name” (or “screen name”) and password before they can make bids or place items for bid. Passwords need to be kept confidential. If a user shares its password, another person could access the account and buy or sell items without the user's knowledge. That could damage the user's online reputation — and eventually, its bank account.


Some sites require the seller to agree to pay a fee every time it conducts an auction, whether the item is sold or not. Other sites charge a fee only when an item is sold.

How the auction functions

Many sellers set a time limit on bidding and, in some cases, a “reserve price” — the lowest price they will accept for an item. When the bidding closes at the scheduled time, the item is sold to the highest bidder. If no one bids at or above the reserve price, the auction closes without the item being sold.

Some auction sites allow sellers to set a price at which a buyer can purchase the item without competing with other bidders. A buyer can choose to purchase the item for the price the seller has set, without bidding.

After the auction

At the end of a successful auction, the buyer and seller communicate — usually by email — to arrange for payment and delivery.


FTC, Internet Auctions: A Guide for Buyers and Sellers (Mar. 2006) (full-text)

See also

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