Sold! How to do an online auction

Auctions can be a fun way to raise money and awareness for a charitable cause, a school-related event, or other purpose. An online auction lets you reach a larger audience while enjoying the same benefits of an in-person auction.

If you set it up correctly, an online auction can be easy and convenient. Here’s how you can hold an online auction successfully.

Planning an online auction

At first, determining how to do an online auction might seem daunting. The setup process for any auction — whether you host it online or in person — comes with plenty of details to consider. Address these details one at a time, and you’ll set your auction up for success.

Begin with the basics:

  • When and where will the auction take place?
  • Which items will be available at the auction?
  • What are the rules for the auction?

One perk of online auctions is that they’re not limited by the amount of time people can visit an in-person auction venue, writes Tatiana Morand at WildApricot. An online auction can run for many hours or even a few days.

The upside to a longer auction is that it lets people view and bid on items at their convenience, though it may also be harder to recreate the energy of an in-person auction. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons when choosing a date, time, and duration for your event.

When you’re planning your auction schedule, consider how you’ll get the word out about the event — including how you’ll share a link to the auction form itself. You may wish to create a web page with information about the auction. Social media sites like Facebook also offer ways to create event listings to easily share auction details.

A second benefit of online auctions is that they offer unlimited display space, meaning you can auction off as many items as you can collect, writes Ilona Bray at Nolo. Remember that you’ll still need images and descriptions for all the items, though, so plan accordingly.

Most audiences understand how an in-person auction works: They attend and bid on items, and those with winning bids can pick up their items as they leave. Online auctions might raise questions from your audience: How will they know they’ve won, and how will they get their items?

Decide on the rules and procedures for your auction in the planning phase so you can inform participants before your online auction begins. For instance, you might explain that you’ll email or call winners, writes Matthew Burnell, founder and CEO at ClickBid Mobile Bidding. Add this information to your website, emails, and other auction-related communications.

Creating an online auction

Once you’ve settled on when the auction will take place, which items will be available, and how you’ll communicate with participants and winners, it’s time to start creating the forms and tables you’ll use to collect and track bids.

While dedicated online bidding tools exist, you can also handle online bidding through free forms and tables available online. Jotform offers free templates for collecting auction bids, and you can customize them for your own organization or event.

Jotform forms connect automatically to Jotform Tables, which you can use to organize information on bids as they come in. You can give auction attendees access to the table so they can see incoming bids, or you can keep the table private in order to hold a silent auction. As bids come in, refresh the table periodically to ensure you’re seeing the most current information.

If your auction is connected to a charity event livestream, you might display the table or share information from it at regular intervals so your audience can track bids. Some livestreaming software even allows you to include banners, chat streams, and other information in the stream itself. That way, your audience can see which items are up for bid, talk to other bidders, or learn who’s won various items.

If your auction has a web page, Facebook Event page, or other online presence, include the URL in the Jotform auction form so bidders can easily refer to the rules or reach someone if they have questions. Easy access to this information can help ensure a more positive online auction experience for your participants.

Learning how to do an online auction isn’t as daunting as it may seem. Many of the same details you have to focus on when setting up an in-person auction are the same for online auctions, and free online tools like Jotform make it easy to collect and display bids. 

This article is originally published on Jun 30, 2022, and updated on Nov 28, 2022.

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