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Although eBay may be the Web’s auction giant, that doesn’t mean it’s the only game in town. Bidz.com runs “live auctions” that are meant to give users the excitement of being at a real auction house, all from the comfort of their desk chairs.

Although eBay may be the Web’s auction giant, that doesn’t mean it’s the only game in town. Culver City-based Bidz.com runs “live auctions” that are meant to give users the excitement of being at a real auction house, all from the comfort of their desk chairs. With standard auctions, and an in-house staff of gemologists, Bidz is looking to become the David to the Goliath eBay. Company COO Matthew Mills chats about cash in the mail, Russian limos, and getting what you want in three minutes.

How did the company get started?

The idea came from our CEO, who was the owner of the largest pawn shop chain on the East Coast. After eBay launched, he started selling merchandise on the site. After just two or three months of doing that, he got an envelope stuffed full of one dollar bills from a lady in Japan, and he thought, hey, this could be a pretty good business. So we started our own site.

What was your primary focus?

We started with something that we’re experts in, and that’s jewelry. Once we became well known for having quality jewelry, companies were coming to us to liquidate merchandise, and we built it up from there. We started offering other items like perfume, belts, even art. We’re moving now toward offering more varieties of merchandise.

How is the site different from other auction sites like eBay?

There’s more of a thrill to it. Our auctions are real auctions. There’s one option for a three-minute auction, where it starts and finishes in three minutes, and you can see who you’re bidding against. It feels like kind of game sometimes, because you’re fighting for an item and it can be very exciting.

Also, we recognized that on eBay you can’t call anyone, you don’t get any customer service. You can’t pick up the phone and get in touch with the people who are selling. We figured that since we own all the merchandise, we should be available to people who have questions about what we’re selling.

Who are the sellers on your site?

We have 450 certified merchants. We don’t just let anybody with a credit card set up and sell. They have to go through a screening process and we put them through a serious amount of scrutiny, including background checks. We’re committed to staying fraud-free. Customers are starting to become more aware the fraud is prevalent, and we want them to know they’re protected on our site. If something did happen, and we had to kick a certified merchant off our site, we’d pay the customers ourselves.

What are some of the more interesting items sold from the site?

People are always interested in seeing items that have some kind of celebrity attached to them. We helped Robert Downey Jr. sell his 1958 Porche Speedster. We’ve had a number of pieces of Anna Nicole Smith’s jewelry. One really exciting auction was a presidential limousine from Russia. We’re selling all the right things and making sure to have good items available. Nobody’s going to try and sell livers and kidneys on our site.

Because of eBay’s success, there have been many more competitors in the online auction space lately. How do you compete?

It’s true that we’re seeing big companies doing auctions now, like MSN, Yahoo, Lycos, and places like that. But they’re all trying to copy eBay, and you can’t have 50 companies doing the same thing. The reason that we’ve been successful is that we’re different. We service the customer in a way that has brought us almost 3 million customers so far. We’re the only one that’s standing next to eBay, and that’s a pretty great feeling.

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