RAA Students Take up the bidorbuy Auction Challenge

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At the beginning of their six-month entrepreneurial course, sixty students of the Raymond Ackerman Academy in Soweto had a chance to explore e-business opportunities by selling on bidorbuy.

bidorbuy Crazy Auction certificateIt was akin to learning to swim by jumping into the deep end. The 2010 generation of students of the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development in Soweto probably did not count on being initiated into the world of entrepreneurship at the very outset of their six-month long course. And yet, that is exactly what happened to them: they were challenged to try selling online through bidorbuy.

The Raymond Ackerman Academy (RAA) runs two six-month programmes per year, the first starting in January and the second in July. The objective of the programme is to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds make a success of their future through education and access to opportunities. The challenge of selling on bidorbuy was first offered to the scholars who enrolled in January 2010.

The sixty new RAA learners were divided into groups, taken to the Chinese shopping mall in Johannesburg, given R500 and three hours to buy whatever they thought would sell well on the bidorbuy Crazy Wednesday auctions.

Crazy Wednesday auctions – which, incidentally, start on Tuesdays at noon and may last until midnight on Wednesdays – are the most popular event on the decade old, 450,000-users strong South African online auction site and marketplace, bidorbuy.

For buyers, the R1 Crazy Wednesday auctions are a shopping dream come true. Since all auctions must open at R1, without reserve, there is always that tantalising possibility that this time you will pull off what amounts to once-in-a-lifetime bargain.

For sellers, the same event is an opportunity to benefit from the bidding wars and achieve a higher than expected price for a collectible or difficult to find item; to get rid of “unsalable” items at prices that, though low, are satisfactory; to sell consumables at a discount and still make a profit; or even to take a calculated loss in order to attract buyers to their other wares on the site.

As even the cursory overview given above shows, the simple R1 no-reserve auctions that regularly unfold on bidorbuy bring into play many considerations that sellers need to take into account, from choosing what to sell to making correct assumptions about consumer behaviour.

The sixty RAA students who participated in the bidorbuy Crazy Wednesday challenge may not have come out of their baptism by fire with more money in their pockets. Some of about one hundred items they posted made a profit; most did not.

At the beginning of the challenge, the learners attended a three-hour seminar to learn the basics of selling on bidorbuy. Armed with a cash loan, they went on a three hour shopping spree in a Johannesburg Chinese mall to source the items to re-sell. Most acquired decent and “safe” items, like handbags and jewellery. One team displayed notable ingenuity and initiative: they bought an ordinary soccer ball, but then had several Bafana Bafana players sign it.

When it came to listing the items on the site, several learners needed extra help, because they did not have previous experience with the internet. The aftermath of the auctions – packing and shipping the items – was the most difficult part of the exercise. Some teams handled it more adroitly than others and came to the “fulfilment meeting” with filled-in labels, ready to be stuck on the parcels.

Before anyone draws any hasty conclusions from the fact that no team made a clean profit, it must be said that all RAA contestants appeared on bidorbuy from, so to say, nowhere, without any ratings to their names. Ratings are very important on an online marketplace like bidorbuy, where individuals trade with other individuals, and buyers are wary of buying from sellers with zero ratings. In real life, a novice seller would probably first buy a few items, hang around on the Forum, make himself or herself known to the community, and only then plunge into actual selling.

The RAA contestants did not have time to build their online reputation gradually. However, even a blitz exposure to an online marketplace gave them some valuable insights into what it takes to make a good e-entrepreneur. First and foremost, it showed them that it is possible to start an online business with minimal capital, or even without any capital. For example, some participants were quick to notice that they could very well list paintings and artefacts created by members of their community on bidorbuy on consignment, and share the takings once the works get sold.

bidorbuy director Andy Higgins likes to say that it is possible to make an online entrepreneur out of anyone who possesses basic computer skills and is willing to put in some hard work. In that light, it is only fair to say that all sixty contestants from the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development have a fair chance to succeed as online entrepreneurs, if they set their minds on it. 

Read more in the bidorbuy Press Release Students in the bidorbuy Auction Challenge.

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