If you need something specific, you'll probably find it on one of the best online auction sites. These are the places you go to shop for rare, hard to find items that may have sold out or been discontinued in regular shops. You'll also find items sold second-hand and used, which will save you money on whatever it is you need (baby clothes are hugely popular here), and you'll be able to sell all your unwanted goods here too. Online auction sites work both ways, and they can be very different experiences dependent on whether you're buying or selling.
So what are the best online auction sites? Well, most will be familiar with our top pick, which is eBay. That's the best place for very general shopping - you can usually find most mainstream stuff on there like tech, clothes, furniture, and other every day items. However, dig a little deeper into the online auction world and you'll start to find sites that cater nicely to specific niches or ways of buying.
Most online auction sites charge fees for sellers - usually listing charges and a percentage of the final sale price - although not all do, and some will structure their fees differently. There's usually no charge for buying from online auction sites, although some insist on you signing up to their service to access the listings.
We'd also issue a note of caution when using online auction sites - sellers are usually private, and you never really know the quality of an item before it shows up, so you need to prepare yourself for a different kind of shopping experience.
1. eBay.com: Best online auction site overall
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The biggest name in online auction sites, eBay, should generally be your first port of call for selling or buying online with other users. Simply put, with over 180 million registered users and growing, your products are much more likely to sell, and you're much more likely to find what you want here.
The site is incredibly straightforward to use, too, with options for listing items internationally, a comprehensive rating system, and plenty of payment methods available. A mixture of auction-style bidding and Buy It Now options means you can always choose what works best for you, with auctions tending to lead to better deals.
This comes at a cost, though. Literally. eBay is pretty pricey when it comes to the fees it charges, and while sellers get a certain number of listings for free each month, they're still charged a commission for each sale. There are fees for many other upgraded features, too, so it can get expensive.
Still, for so many eyes on products, you can't beat eBay, and there's an excellent reason it's so popular - it's incredibly simple to use.
2. eBid.net: Best value online auction site
eBid prides itself on being a cheap way to list items. It's always free to list with no limit, and the maximum sales fee is 5%. Even better, if you plan on using it frequently, you can sign up for a lifetime seller's plan and benefit from even more bonuses like free photos and no final value fees, amongst others, to save money in the long term.
It's a useful option if you plan on selling a lot, but you'll need to be a little cautious. That's because eBid has significantly fewer users than eBay. It's active across the world but only has around 3 million registered users, which can make a difference to your sales chances.
On the other hand, it does mean that users browsing your items may be more tempted with less competition to entice them away. Despite the smaller userbase, eBid is a tempting option if you want to get away from eBay's overwhelming nature and the expensive fees thanks to its fee system and easy to use interface.
3. Webstore.com: Best for rare finds
Webstore does things differently from the competition because it's entirely donation-supported, meaning there are no fees to pay. Unusually, it also allows users to buy some items without signing up for an account, although this is down to the seller's discretion. This combination of features means that Webstore is quite popular amongst those listing unusual or rare items, and it's certainly charming in its quirkiness.
However, it also means you don't have much come back if there's a problem. Support is basic and via email (or physical mail!), and there's no resolution center with issues having to be resolved between buyer and seller. The website is also appallingly designed by modern standards, but it is functional at least.
That may sound like a lot of negatives, but you'll be surprised at the quirky things you can find here, making it a more attractive proposition than you'd expect. You might not use it as religiously as eBay, but it's surprising what you can come across with an occasional browse.
4. Bonanza.com: Best for extra features
With enthusiasm for the unusual, Bonanza almost seems like Etsy with categories that capture a sentiment as much as it does a product type. That could make it a perfect place for gift ideas as well as for selling. Bonanza appreciates it's up against it with competition as you can easily copy your items across from eBay, Amazon, and Etsy, as well as use its well-designed photo editor to correct images on the site itself.
Predictably then, the big issue here is that not many people use Bonanza, so you won't get the reach you would with more significant sites. It also has quite limited support with email only or live chat if you're willing to pay more.
On the plus side, fees are relatively well priced, and you can choose to sign up for a professional account to boost your credibility.
Bonanza has some neat ideas that make you want to use it more often. It just needs more users to be a must-visit site.
5. Auction Zip - Best traditional online auction site
If you love the thrill of standing in an auction hall and making a 'proper' bid, then Auction Zip is for you. It captures that same spirit, allowing you to bid in real-time for various items. Those items are quite unusual a lot of the time, which can make things more appealing. It's simple to use, and you can pay through the usual methods, potentially bagging yourself an eccentric result.
However, those same advantages are Auction Zip's disadvantages. It's a fascinating site, but some of the items are a little too strange, and it's not always convenient to need to be available for the bidding process.
We can't help but admire the ambition here, though, and purely as something to browse through and occasionally take a shot on, Auction Zip is far more gripping than larger sites. It's almost addictive watching the bidding unfold. Just look out for its limited customer support, which could cause issues.
How we researched the best online auction sites
We browsed each online auction site and checked multiple different factors. That includes how easy they were to look through as a guest, along with how simple the sign-up process was and how quickly you could get started. We also searched for a mixture of common and unusual items to see the breadth of what each online auction site offered.
We also researched the fee structure for each site extensively and consulted how simple it was to get in touch with the site if an issue arose. Finally, we looked at how users could resolve issues between buyer and seller if any occurred.
How much does it cost to sell on an online auction site?
Online auction sites have many ways of eating into the bottom line of your sales. Here are the most common fees you need to consider:
- Subscription fees can range between $2 and $299 per month. The fees depend on how much you sell and what seller tools you want to incorporate in your store.
- Seller verification fees are often free but can sometimes cost between $10 and $29. Some sites require monthly payments to maintain the verification.
- Final value fees are the percentage each auction site takes from every sale you make. These percentages range between 0.75 and 10 percent and vary depending on how much the final bid is. Sites like eBay and eBid have flat rates that stay consistent with each sale.
What’s the difference between a listing and a Web Store?
A single item that you list in an auction is a listing. A listing has a description of the product, a suggested selling price and photos. Unfortunately, most sites will only let you list a certain number of items for free before charging you for each listing. If you want to avoid this fee and have many items to sell, look into opening a web store.
A web store lets you pay a monthly subscription for lower listing fees and fewer fees overall. Buyers can browse all your listings in one place, instead of finding you by searching for the individual items.
Are online auctions safe?
Auction fraud usually occurs when a seller doesn’t ship a purchased item. It can also happen when you accidentally purchase black-market goods and are subject to numerous hidden fees. It’s important to research any seller you’re buying from. Be cautious of sellers outside your country or any who ask that you mail payments to a P.O. box.
If you make a purchase on an auction site, be sure to pay with a credit card or another payment option where you can dispute the charges if you don’t receive the items. Don’t mail a check and never send cash.
Five tips for buying smarter at online auction sites
1. Compare prices: Sometimes, when you're buying new items on an online auction site, you can pay way more than the cost of the item at a regular retailer. This usually happens when the item is hard to find, like a PS5, but we regularly see listings asking for well above the MSRP for things that are readily available.
2. Read the item description carefully: You need to know exactly what you're getting, so always read the item description before you buy. Don't just look at the pictures - read about what you're getting, and what's included. So many people are tripped up by getting a completely different item to what they thought, or missing components, or even just getting the box itself.
3. Prepare for shipping: If you're bidding on an item, and you're considering exactly how much you're willing to pay, don't forget to factor shipping into your calculations. Most sites list shipping fees upfront, and they can be high. Others don't, and that's when the price can really stack up if you're not careful.
4. Ask questions: Most sellers on online auction sites are keen to get the best prices for their listings, so they'll usually happily answer any questions you may have. If a seller doesn't reply to questions, or is dismissive, that's a red flag and you should avoid that particular item listing.
5. Know your refund rights: This is super important. While sellers may say different things about their listings, you need to know exactly what the auction site's policy is on refunds and returns. That way you're covered if you need to send anything back or refuse payment. If in doubt, always take photos of your item as it arrives, so you have evidence that it isn't what you thought you were getting, or is broken.