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Sunday, November 27, 2016

OMG! The 'Online Manager Guide' for Auto Auctions

Over the years, I have been asked by many GMs to outline a job description detailing what I believe to be the scope of the Online Manager position. Since the introduction of online technology, auctions have been filling this role with no other objective than to set up the events, turn on the equipment, take online customer calls, and contact the technology vendors to report bugs in the system. This was, and continues to be, an extremely minimalistic approach. While it serves to respond to the need of basic functionality, the initiative is completely void of any real effort toward growth.
The first thing that auto auctions need to understand is that the online endeavor cannot seamlessly piggy-back off the brick-and-mortar business model. While each sector may be tasked with reaching the same destination, the journey will only be successful with the proper tools and approach most conducive to the respective landscape. Soon, it will not matter whether you personally feel that the traditional model is the best method for remarketing vehicles, because the customers will ultimately make the decision. The auction's only hope is to prepare for either case scenario with a well constructed foundation that substantiates their ability to cater to both the online and the traditional market with the same degree of authority.
On that note, what do I believe to be an appropriate description for the position of Online Manager?
Well, since you asked... I believe the Online Manager should extract the online business model from the brick-and-mortar infrastructure, and develop the necessary procedures, standards, tracking, digital strategy, reports, and communication channels that are exemplary of a successful online business. The Online Manager should have experience in Business Development, or at least have the entrepreneurial instincts to break through the traditional mindset in an effort to create the virtual appeal needed to grow and maintain an online customer-base. He/she should also measure financial milestones, and set weekly targets.
A few years ago, you may have written this off as being altogether unrealistic. However, with a year-over-year increase in online sales, you've probably developed a more discerning point of view that allows you to find something clarifying in this description - or - makes you feel that your current selection may be somewhat under-qualified for the position. If you are at the point where you realize that your online operation is not optimized for the purpose of growing this segment, take a look at what's new from AuctionVcommerce.
OMG! is a digital solution that was created to guide Online Managers on their mission to manage, monitor, and grow the online business. It does not require a Harvard degree, or an entrepreneurial background. It was developed as an integral part of AuctionVcommerce's effort to move the industry forward within the virtual space. With the Online Manager workflow embedded into the system, and the integration of online data, we are bringing the online initiative into focus using the tools, and the team that you already have in place.
With the ability to review auctioneer/clerk/event performance insights, you are able to address issues concerning the end-user experience, and measure the impact of your promotional campaigns. You can now track customer activity, and receive notifications when online attendance begins to decline. You can also stay on top of all of your technology issues, feature requests, procedures, equipment, passwords, and vendors. When your Online Manager goes on vacation, your centralized Online Manager Guide allows you to operate without interruption. The system also provides financial insight, access to training, guides to best practices, and an entrance to our online auto auction community.
AuctionVcommerce is the industry's only source for online infrastructure support. Our goal is to improve online remarketing no matter which technology you use. If you are looking to take your online initiative to the next level, give us a call at 855-469-7272 Ext 1.
"Think Outside the Blocks!"TM

Friday, October 21, 2016

Reviving the Online Auto Auction

Five years ago, I started traveling the U.S. tasked with installing simulcast, and teaching auto auctions 'which buttons to push'. Unsatisfied, feeling that I wasn't really preparing our customers with a foundation for Internet growth, I developed an online survival course. So, in addition to teaching these auctions how to operate their technology, I delivered a new curriculum with one core philosophy - "Build A Life For Your Business Online".
The message was well received, and I was able to cover more ground in the 3 days I spent with each auction regarding what really needed to be done, and who was responsible for doing it. However, reality was reality. Resources were limited. 3 days was not enough time to embed an entire online business model into the existing infrastructure. So once I left, the effort quickly flat-lined. Auctions reverted back to 'pushing the buttons', and the goal went from 'building a life' to 'surviving auction day'.
Inventory uploaded? Check! Equipment turned on? Check! Do we have a clerk? Check! CR's on all vehicles? Well... let's not get crazy!
Fast forward to today... October 20, 2016. My day was filled with assisting auto dealers through calls, chats, and text messaging. Topics included online registration, technical issues, report requests, post-sale inquiries, and many general auction questions. In addition to engaging dealers by phone, and online, I met with the auction teams to develop strategies that would incorporate new digital methods into the operation. I had a meeting with one auction to coordinate a new online workflow process which included their entire administrative team, and a meeting with another auction to coordinate a weekly promotional sale that would leverage the online platform to lane dealers. Auctions that once didn't have the time, or staff to adjust to the inconvenience of a digital strategy are now revising their policies, allowing customers to communicate through multiple channels, putting their clerks through certification training, integrating the online segment as a part of their company culture, and developing a real online infrastructure!
Do we still have a road ahead of us? Yes. Are we seeing progress in online attendance, participation, and sales? Yes. Has business doubled? No. If it did, would our Auction Members be prepared? Yes. Why? Because, for them, the hard part is over. The most difficult thing they had to do was make a choice to commit to improving their online business. The fear has subsided, and the technology is just not as intimidating as it once was. There is solace in organization, and we are continuing to organize a strong network of auctions looking to move the industry forward in the virtual space. We are building a life for the Traditional Auto Auction, online.
So today, as I sit here, and reflect from 5 years ago until now, I feel extremely proud. I am proud of our members, and I am proud to be a part of this revolution...this revival. Every day I get to experience appreciation from dealers who are extremely pleased with what we are doing. I am also privileged to experience the enthusiasm of auctions dedicated to moving forward. This week we decided to ask dealers, on behalf of each of our members, the following question: "What could our auction do to provide you with a better online auction experience?" For the most part, this is typically a loaded question, and implies a request for negative feedback. So this is how you know you're doing something right!
"I think you guys are doing a fantastic job at your online department, can't think of any improvements needed at this time but love all the improvements you have made recently, just wanted you all to know that! "

Monday, September 26, 2016

Online Manager vs. Online Leader

The Difference Means Growth For Your Online Auto Auction

All anyone knew was that the position needed to be filled. Someone needed to be held accountable. The online events needed to be created... the inventory needed to go up... someone needed to know how to register customers... the computers needed to be turned on... And that, my friends, was the original job description for the 'Online Manager'. Someone needed to maintain the new process. It was right up there with the philosophy that online clerks only needed to be able to click a mouse, and hear.
I've been asked many times what the job description for an Online Manager should look like. The problem I always have with that question is the word Manager. You see,Managers are typically hired to supervise a process that already exists. My belief is that the position truly calls for a Leader - someone who is willing to disrupt the process to maximize the potential of the business. The only way this should scare you is if you don't believe that the person you hired is capable of doing just that.
I'm not talking about someone who comes in with a new idea every day, and attempts to implement it. Leaders are strategic, and they are able to take direction as well as they give it. They are not egotistical. They will not stand in the way of the auction's online success to exert their authority. They do not say things like, "We have to adhere to this procedure, because that is what we do!" They are willing to challenge the system to produce a better outcome. This is technology... it is constantly evolving. Therefore, if you have an Online Manager who cannot easily adapt to change, then your growth potential is limited. A leader is a gateway to success, not a barrier to entry.
The industry has a lot of opportunities for Online Leaders to meet and share ideas. Annual Conferences like the NAAA, IARA, ARN...just to name a few. AuctionVcommerce provides a dedicated focus to the online initiative for a nominal fee, and consults with Online Leaders every day. We've found that Online Leaders ask for direction, but they also provide good feedback based on the experiences they encounter after they've tried new methods. They motivate others to be involved, because they understand that scalability is important. They evaluate outcomes, and make adjustments, rather than just revert back to old methods out of fear. Online Leaders are people who think globally, because they understand that there is opportunity beyond a 300-mile radius of the physical auction. They are people who are comfortable with technology, and they help others become comfortable with the technology. Would you hire a jockey who is afraid of his horse, and expect him to win? The Online Leader is aware of everything that impacts the growth of the online business. They are setting goals, and measuring success.
When I think of an Online Manager, I picture someone who waits for changes to occur. When I think of an Online Leader, I picture someone who is that change.
Just already left your comfort zone when you agreed to take your business online. Now you have to adapt your business model to meet the requirements for online success. Some auctions may say, "But we're not ready for that kind of change." My response? "You will never be ready if you don't even begin to prepare."
Think Outside the Blocks! TM

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Why Consignors Should Expect More Than Technology from Auction Partners

When I first began traveling the country, training Independent Auto Auctions on how to use their online technology, I always asked the Owner or General Manager, “What made you decide to take your business online?” Nine times out of ten, the response was, “[A Consignor] required that we have simulcast in order to receive inventory”. So essentially, auctions were filling the technological requirements without first developing a digital strategy. Why? …Well, it wasn’t required.
 Without any prior experience in online business development, each auction proceeded with a bare-minimum approach to their online expansion. Simulcast providers taught the Online Manager how to register dealers online, upload inventory, and set up the lanes. They showed clerks which buttons to push. In one fell swoop, the online business model was created by default. The experience of the online dealer was not a concern, as this was an added convenience financed by the auction. However, the amount of vehicles being sold online somehow manages to keep growing. The problem is… so are the number of block errors, and online customer complaints.
The question, "What is required to improve online sales?" continues to be answered with, "Better Condition Reports." Therefore, the majority of consignors, if not all, have made the CR a requirement. However, very little emphasis has been placed on the customer experience. I guess the assumption has just been that customers are customers, whether they are in the lane or online. So, they must be getting the same customer service, and the same opportunity to purchase vehicles as those who physically attend the sale… right?
Well, if the answer were ‘yes’, then I wouldn’t be writing this post. So let’s just take a look at the differences.
On sale day, the auction staff is typically inundated with assisting customers at the counter. A ringing phone is often ignored, and answering machines are extremely impersonal. After all, it’s very easy to disregard customers that you can’t see, and most auctions do. Just ask the online customers.
As far as having the same opportunity… The lane customers interact directly with the auctioneer who has undergone training that has not only taught him to effectively present the bidding, but has also enabled him with the skill to incite participation. The lane customers are entitled to approach the block with questions, and in most cases, are given preference over the online buyers. For online customers, the presentation of the bid can be somewhat confusing if the clerk is not able to keep up, has to repeatedly make corrections, fails to change the bid increment, or gets ahead of the auctioneer only to wait for him to catch up. To top it off, the experience varies from lane to lane. There is no consistency from one block to the next, much less, from one auction to another. 
So why hasn’t anyone come up with solutions, or made these observations sooner?
Well… you don’t know what you don’t know! As I mentioned earlier, auctions were not well versed in online business development. Live, interactive auction broadcasts are much different than the static, eBay auction. The industry simply lacked the authority to introduce a business model that could guarantee online success. So, while consignors may have told auctions that they needed to be online… they never stipulated that they actually had to be good at it! How could they? Nobody knew what that meant.
So what’s changed?
The industry now has an online authority that provides multi-channel support, giving online customers access to communication according to their preference.  This authority has analyzed the customer experience, and developed a tool to provide a consistent approach to online clerk training that not only conditions the clerk to keep the pace with the auctioneer, but has also taught them how to engage the online audience, and incite participation – just like the auctioneer! Furthermore, the tool is a simulator that provides clerks with a genuine, live auction environment prior to stepping foot on an auction block - which means customers do not have to suffer the consequence of inexperienced clerk errors. Finally, the clerks are certified, which means stability - from lane to lane, and auction to auction.
 AuctionVcommerce emerged in September of 2015 as an organization focused on advancing the online initiative through customer service, marketing, and training. Auctions have the ability to deliver a virtual sale that replicates the integrity of the traditional auction experience, and AuctionVcommerce provides the affordable resources to make that happen. AVC also provides guidance and support with online auction technology by acting as a liaison between the auction, and the technology vendor. All bases are covered. 
Consignors… we implore you to raise the standards for Online Remarketing.
You made having an online facility a requirement for partnership. Now you have a say in what type of experience you would like your customers to have. Learn how Clerk Certification, and Online Customer Support can increase buyer confidence, and improve online participation. Let's work together to improve the online initiative.
855-998-8266 Ext 4
Think Outside the Blocks! TM 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Building A Better Online Auto Auction

Today I was asked, "What would you do if someone said, I will give you a million dollars if you will turn my online auction around in 2 weeks? What is the first thing you would need to do to make that happen?"
Well, I would start with a reality check! 2 weeks? 
For years, auctions have been unwilling participants in a global conspiracy to conform to the virtual movement. The online platform just went against everything the traditional auto auctions were built on, so why would anyone actually take this seriously? The real question would be, "What would I have to UN-do to make that happen?"
Let's start with accountability. There is a huge dependency on technology vendors to supplement the auction's online segment with customer support, and staff training (which typically goes undocumented). The minute a dealer has a bad online experience, the auction blames the vendor. This practice discredits the auction as an online business. The auction lacks confidence in the technology, which is reflected back to the auction through the dealers' lack of confidence in participating online. 
When you start a new business, or even expand an existing one, there is typically a plan that includes requirements for staffing, training, implementation, and growth. Instead, the online business has been treated like a distant cousin that came for a visit, and grossly overstayed his welcome. At this point you just have to hope that he'll start contributing, or at the very least, pay his own expenses. 
I could go on and on, but the fact of the matter is... Online Auto Auctions got off to a very unhealthy start. Perceptions have been developed. The only difference now is that auctions are beginning to realize that the online business is not going away. So how do you overcome the stigma of operational defects formed throughout nearly a 20-year period? ...Not in 2 weeks!
Commit to a better online strategy -
Think Outside the Blocks! ™

Monday, July 4, 2016

How Can Auto Auctions Improve Dealer Confidence Online?

The Online Perception
Perhaps Buzz is a bit naive... or... maybe Woody has had a bad experience in the past. (For those of you who don't have have kids, I am referencing the image above.) The bottom line is that you have 2 different characters, with 2 different reactions to the same activity: buying vehicles online.  I selected this image because I think it truly reflects the current state of online remarketing as we continue to transition into the digital world. In fact, when you first looked at this image, you may have felt Buzz's enthusiasm, or identified with Woody's pain. What is important to understand is where the perception originated,  and what auctions can do to improve. Before we explore the contributing factors to the online perception, let's take a look at the existing views.
The Traditional View
For some dealers, there is a blatant resistance to buying vehicles online. The auction experience is a time-honored tradition. It is very important to be able to kick the tires, listen to the engine, look under the hood, and close the deal with a firm handshake. In addition, it's important to engage with other local members of the industry.  It's a community.
The Intermediary View
Then there are dealers who are willing to buy online, but have established some  'play-it-safe' rules regarding their activity. For instance, they will only purchase vehicles that are over a specific price point. Some restrict their online purchases to Factory, Fleet Lease, or Institutional events. The majority will not purchase without a detailed condition report. Then there are those that may attend online, but send in a rep to touch the vehicle. Last but not least, you have the buyers who believe the Internet to be a great tool to conduct the preliminary research, but revert to traditionalism when it comes to the actual purchasing.
The Revolutionary View
The world is in a rush, enabled through an onslaught of innovative technology that makes 'waiting' a thing of the past. 'Time' has increased in value, and options are virtually unlimited. Why attend a single, local auction when one can simultaneously view multiple online venues, reaching beyond the geographical proximity of the dealership? If it can't be done from a mobile phone, it's not worth doing. 
These dealers are not the majority, but the numbers are definitely increasing, and are expected to rise as Millennials begin to occupy positions in remarketing once held by traditionalists. You do not have to be clairvoyant to predict that there will be a shift from lane attendance to simulcast - that is - if a new technology doesn't emerge to disrupt the entire industry altogether. 

The 'X' Factor

Now back to Buzz and Woody. What makes Buzz so confident while Woody appears to be on the verge of a panic attack? A good majority of the industry will tell you that it has to do with the condition report, and the age of the vehicle. However, when I look at similar, successful online business models, I see an unlimited capacity for online sales. One that is not restricted through a single criteria, but instead, is based on the infrastructure of the business as a whole. 

The Anti-Online Auction

To date, the majority of brick-and-mortar auctions have become simulcast-enabled. Another way to say it is... they've put their business online. Meanwhile, here's what they didn't do... create an online business
A dealer performs a keyword search for an online auto auction. He views the auction's website, which offers enough information to prompt him to register. He attends the event, and realizes that there is so much he doesn't know about this auction. He has a few questions. He attempts to call the auction, but it is sale day, so he is not able to get through. He proceeds to message the online clerk who doesn't respond. Finally, he decides to bid on a vehicle, and just as he thinks he won the bid, his offer is retracted, all bids are closed, and the vehicle is sold to the floor. 
Now let's say that this dealer bids on another vehicle, and is successful. He has the vehicle transported 500 miles to his location, only to find that the transmission is making a very distinct noise. He looks back to the condition report to find that there were no announcements, and nothing was mentioned during the broadcast. The process to arbitrate the vehicle is arduous, and in the end, he learns that he will not be reimbursed for the cost of transportation.  What's more? he paid an additional fee to enjoy this convenience.
What is the common denominator in this dealer's entire experience? Is it the condition report? Is it the age of the vehicle? Or do you think the process could've been greatly improved with a stronger online infrastructure that was globally sound, and provided adequate resources for communication?
It seems as though the burden of a good online experience weighs primarily on the dealer's ability to overcome the lack of an online infrastructure.  Essentially, the auctions are waiting for the dealers to adapt rather than adapting to the dealers. Why? Mostly because they don't know what they don't know. 
If you're a dealer, and you buy at online auctions, we are looking for your feedback. Voice your concerns, or your satisfaction. This is an opportunity to improve the online experience. You will be heard. Click here to locate and review an online auction now!
Think Outside The Blocks

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Waking Up to The Digital Reality: Why the Auto Auction Industry Should Self-Disrupt

For many, the hardest part about adapting, is breaking from routine. When you have gotten to the point where you feel like you've trained your staff well enough to do the job in their sleep, you are more apt to reject any new procedures, no matter how much opportunity they present, or how much efficiency they may create. After all, with nothing to indicate that your business is in jeopardy, why do anything? Especially if your business seems to be thriving.  So rather than disrupt your operation, you continue to do things the way they've always been done. If and when the time comes, you will deploy the methods you need to save your business, because of course you will see the attack coming from a mile away... Right?
Well, let's ask Blockbuster Video. Once the undisputed leader of video rentals, BlockBuster began to attribute a large portion of revenue to late fees. Prompted by a $40 fee for a late return, Reed Hastings - a disgruntled customer - founded Netflix... (you've heard of them right?) Not only did Netflix abolish the late fee, but they also proceeded to reinvent the way customers obtained video rentals. They established a strong position in the digital space, allowing customers to purchase movies on demand. Customers demonstrated their opposition to BlockBuster's disproportionate penalties by subscribing to Netflix, who provided convenient access at a reasonable price. By 2010, the brick-and-mortar video giant once valued at $8.5 Billion, had been brought to its demise. 
This is just one example. In most cases, unlike the BlockBuster scenario, the disruption is too sudden to formulate a counter attack. All eyes are on the web, and even simple applications now have the ability to disable traditional markets.  Consider what email and digital payment systems have done to the United States Post Office; what digital photography has done to Kodak; and what Amazon has done to bookstores. The iPhone alone has consolidated what used to be several devices. Social Media has replaced personal encounters. Uber has waged a war on the Taxi Cab industry, and WhatsApp is challenging the telecommunications industry as we speak. 
With the constant availability of the Internet through a multitude of devices, the growing acceptance of shopping online, and a new generation becoming more fluent in the virtual environment, it is safe to say that the Auto Auction Industry should be afraid... very afraid! It is called 'disruption', because you do not see it coming, and there are currently many technologies targeting the traditional auction format. My belief is that the only way for the Auto Auction Industry to sustain itself is to self-disrupt. This is not to say that auctions should perform a complete overhaul of their core business model, but that they should place a stronger emphasis on the development of the virtual equivalent. By simultaneously supporting both traditional and modern methods of operation, auto auctions will find themselves in a stronger position to disrupt the disruptors. 
To find out more about improving your online position, call 855-998-8266
"Think Outside the Blocks!"

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Deny Your Customer, and Your Customer Will Deny You!

One of the hardest parts about transitioning an old school business to the modern age of digital, is the belief that everything must be done in person. "Customers have to be able to kick the tires!" "You have to shake the customer's hand, and look them in the eye!" These statements are the low-hanging fruit of digital disruption. What if that isn't what the customer wants. What if the customer wants a choice?
To quote Rear Admiral Grace Hopper,"The most damaging phrase in the language is: `It's always been done that way.'" If your intention is to build an online business, then you must succumb to the expectations of the online customer - And why wouldn't you? These customers are not typically 9-5 oriented, and they are willing to explore your information. They will chat, call, or navigate through your self-help portal any time, day or night, if you let them. While searching your site, they may have a quick question that they will just as quickly dismiss if they have to pick up the phone, and make a call. However, when a customer has the option to send a message via chat, then they actually initiate the sales process. This is an advantage that is completely overlooked by traditionalists.
Online customers are not the type to hound you about implementing new features. If you have it, then you have it. If you don't, they will keep it moving until they find an online business that does. Without the burden of travel, online customers are able to sift through businesses like the pages of a newspaper... (which they no longer receive, because they prefer to read the digital version). In other words, you need to know your customers before you decide to make decisions for them. Deny your customers the service options they want, and they will deny you the business you need!
Think Outside the Blocks!

Monday, April 11, 2016

What Message Are You Sending To Online Customers?

The Customer Perspective
Your lane customers show up to the sale, and they are welcomed with greetings from the staff, Early Bird Specials, free lunch, a chance to win prizes by participating in physical activities after the sale... It's all part of the physical auction experience. The online customer logs in... no incentive to attend, no acknowledgment of their presence, the fear that floor bidders will be shown preference, and an added fee for the privilege of being able to purchase online. What are we saying to online customers?

This scenario is the condensed version all of the discouraging factors I have seen at various auctions throughout the country.  These practices were implemented through the direction of the simulcast vendor, the perception of the auctioneer, and despite the absence of research and development. Live Auction Broadcasts were sold to the auctions as an enhancement, not as a virtual expansion. Therefore the perception not taken into consideration was that of the online customer. This is probably due to the fact that, back then, online attendance was extremely low, and online options were limited.

Why Do We Tax the Online Customer?
I remember working at the auction, and having the simulcast provider sell us on the idea that we could make money by charging our online buyers an added fee for the convenience of shopping online. Looking back, I see that this was a tactic to counter our reaction to the investment we would be making in licensing the software. Now, compared to other platforms, it's almost as if customers are being fined for attending the online event. Additionally, when a buyer makes the decision to purchase vehicles, he has to factor in that added cost, which reduces the motivation to buy. I think it's safe to assume that motivated buyers lead to higher conversion rates. I am also going to assume that the revenue from the buy-fee would be more lucrative than an online tax. 

The Digital Revolution
In the last issue, I distributed an article on digital disruption, and the impact it has had on Fortune 500 companies. The moral of the story was that managers who did not direct a healthy initiative towards virtual development were unable to compete with advancements in online automation that reduced operating costs and created greater efficiency for customers within their industry. They also went on to point out that the digital revolution is reaching all industries. Let's look at the evidence in wholesale remarketing. Auctions are now beginning to compete with former consignors as new platforms are emerging, branding dedicated marketplaces for companies like GM, Hertz, and most recently, the dealerships. In order to counter this disruption, we need to focus on the advantages the online auction facility brings to the digital customer. We have to undo all of the wrongs, and eliminate anything that may discourage customers from online participation.

How To Counter The Attack 
AuctionVcommerce was developed for this exact purpose. So of course we're going to recommend membership. In the midst of this digital revolution, it is imperative to align your organization with others  looking to preserve the future of the industry. You can continue to enhance your technology as part of the plan, but at the end of the day... Did you provide your online customers with a memorable experience? Were your online customers able to enjoy your virtual facility without unnecessary inconveniences? Most importantly... will your online customers be back?

Current Position
In our review of the auction data that we have accumulated over the last 5 months, we have made the following assessments: Across the board, the ratio between online attendance and online participation is extremely low. Increased attendance, for the most part, does not impact the percentage of participation as it should. Active bidders tend to be the same core group week to week with a small variation of random participants. Meanwhile, there also seems to be a dedicated group of observers, or at least, attendees with ongoing records of low to no participation. 

What Now?
Collectively, we are developing the standards that will serve to transition the traditional auction model to the virtual space. Our goal is to open the discussion with Auction Owners, Officers, General Managers, and anyone else involved in the decision making process. You have read my personal point of view on auction fees, and online incentives. I would like to know where you stand on both of these issues. Please respond with answers to the following:
  1. What is your point of view with regard to online fees?
  2. What incentives do you currently provide, or would you be willing to provide to online customers?

AuctionVcommerce is followed by National Consignors and Auto Remarketers on LinkedIn. We provide insight, resources, and thought provoking articles to build awareness and credibility for the online auctions we support. Click Here to Follow Us.