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Buying from auctions

Pick up some bargains and equip your business on the cheap

Get a Piece of the Auction to Cut Office Costs

I'll start by saying that I am not an auction fanatic. In fact, friends who wax happily about their countless hours of online bidding to collect a complete set of obscure dessert plates have always baffled me. Far from appreciating the amazing deals they finagled, I found myself thinking they would be pounds richer if they'd remained blissfully ignorant of the existence of this collectible tableware.

So it was with a bit of scepticism that I approached the question of whether online auctions offer a good way for small businesses to save money on office and business equipment. But I was surprised by what I found. It definitely is a trade-off of time vs. money. But with a bit of research, an investment of time and some last-minute bidding restraint, you can save serious cash on office equipment.

Much of the office equipment at auctions is used or refurbished, but savings of 20% to 40% over the retail price for a new machine may make a few scratches and nicks quite acceptable. And, on occasion, you'll even find new equipment, complete with warranty.

Seek and Ye Shall Find

eBay, the Web's biggest auction site, has a surprisingly large selection of office equipment as well as a variety of business equipment. There were more than 50 fax machines for sale the week I monitored it, and even more copiers.

The selection doesn't stop there. The Business Exchange section of eBay lists everything from calculators to catering equipment and to a great extent you score on price, if you don't mind what may be a used machine. For higher-priced items, the savings can be striking.

Caveat Emptor

However, buyer beware is the watch-phrase for buying at online auctions. The classic risk of buying at auction is getting so caught up in the bidding that you pay more than you had intended. While I'm sure people get auction-frantic bidding on a particularly nice piece of jewellery or those sought-after dessert plates, it's a bit hard to imagine someone going into a bidding frenzy over an especially lovely graphics card. But you can overpay for office equipment at auction. Make sure you know whether the item you are considering is new or used, and do some research to determine what a reasonable price is before you bid, and to set a maximum price in your mind so you don't overbid.

Luckily, doing research online is fast and easy, at least for standard office equipment. By surfing sites like DealTime, which lets you make comparisons between the offerings from different sites, it was easy to get exact prices for many items and to get reasonable comparisons based on features for others.

For more specialised equipment, you may find a niche site can help with price comparisons. These are easy enough to track down via the search engines. You can also review closed auctions on eBay to find the going rate for your desired item at auction. Read carefully, though. Many high-priced items with an affordable-looking "close" price actually had no winning bidder, either because no one offered the "reserve" (minimum sale) price or because no one bid. If you don't look closely, you may think someone got a great deal, when in fact no one bought the item.

What next?

Want a cheaper way to make calls and connect to the internet to complement your office bargains? Join BT Business Broadband Voice and get up to two virtual phone lines with inclusive calls to other subscribers and a great call plan.

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