It's not just for selling Beanie Babies anymore. Auction sites are turning their attention on the increasingly lucrative business to business market. Even eBay, the King Kong of consumer auctions, has stepped into the ring. Its Business Exchange is just one of a number of auction sites, including Auction.com, USBid.com, and even InventoryBuySell.com.
Through e-auctioneers, companies can sell or buy a range of surplus products and services. At FreeMarkets.com, for instance, a buyer in the automotive or manufacturing industry might link up with a seller hawking metal stampings, plastic injection molding, or blow molded parts. "We give the sellers quick exposure to a broad marketplace," says Dermott Ryan, vice president of marketing for TradeOut.com. "That marketplace will give them quick feedback on the pricing about what the product is worth."
But auction sites aren't the only game in town. Barter or "exchange" sites, like LassoBucks.com, Ubarter.com, and BarterTrust.com, take the concept of matchmaking several steps further. Say you want to sell 100 available hours of golf lessons. Just list your good or service, name a price in dollar amounts, and sell. Instead of receiving real money, the seller has its account in trade dollars. Those trade dollars are then used to buy a good or service within that exchange.
"Barter allows you to retain the retail value of your product or service," says Julia Mason Ochinero, director of corporate communications at BigVine.com. "People who are buying don't feel like it's cheapened. It helps maintain the brand and pricing integrity."
Some industries are better suited to barter, namely the restaurant trade and some professional services, including law and accounting firms. "We have a saying here that a bartered dinner tastes better," Ochinero says. "If you sit down to a steak and you got it on barter, you don't feel like you've given anything up,"
Just one caveat emptor: Know the site's policies and who to blame if the deal goes bad. Ubid.com recently was sued by buyers who thought they had bid on 959 Pentium PCs, each with a minimum price of $3. Actually, the sellers had mistyped: They had three PCs, and wanted $959 a piece.
Some purchases are too important not to get the best deal possible, but others are too important to take any chances.