One of the best places to get bottles of whisky from outside the United Kingdom or Europe is the online auction sites. If you struggle to get well priced and interesting bottles of whisky then an online site selling thousands of bottles each month is a great place to find something out of the ordinary.
What is the process of buying at auction like though and what are the risks? In this post I will look at discussing the process of buying via my auction site of choice, Scotch Whisky Auctions. I have bought eight bottles from this auction site now which is not a lot by most people’s auction histories I am sure but it is enough over the last 8 months to get an idea of how the system works.
Before the Auction
If you have not registered with the auction site now is the time to do it. The SWA site requires a £6 fee for creating an account. This should at least mean everyone on the site is an interested party so lots should not be carelessly over bid by people with no intention of paying.
The First Day of the Auction
Auctions run once a month for 9 days starting on a Friday afternoon and finishing a week on Sunday evening after 7pm (more on that later). This is the time to check out all the lots and pick the ones you might bid on. There will be thousands of lots each month so this process will take a fair amount of time. There will be something for everyone in each auction. New releases, old antique bottles, merchandise and run of mill bottles you might find in a supermarket for example.
Each lot will have high resolution photographs and a few paragraphs of explanation of what the bottle is. They are all searchable and you can search back to previous auctions to see what money that bottle has made in the past. This should give you some sort of idea what you can expect to be paying and what price would represent a bargain!
Once I have found a bottle I think I might like to win I add it to my watchlist. This is a separate list which you can add items to and get quick access to check the progress of bids. I use this as my filtered list of all lots I will be trying my luck on. The current version of the website has a hollow star icon on each page which means the lot is not in your watch list. Clicking on the icon will fill in the star and this represents a lot in your list.
Bidding in the Auction
If you are ready to participate and make a binding bid then you can do this easily in one of two ways. Either you can log on to the website or you can download the website app and do all your bidding from your mobile phone.
The online auction auctions sites are really best explained as a niche hybrid version of Ebay and a traditional auction house. The system works the same as Ebay in that you make a bid greater than the current winning bid in increments of five pounds and the person with the highest bid when the auction closes wins the bottle.
The close of the auction is after 7pm on the Sunday. The software running the auction is actually quite interesting. To balance the needs of both buyers and sellers the system will monitor auction activity from 7pm and at a random time after bidding activity has died down on the site the auction will officially close.
This aids both buyers and sellers because buyers are not conned out of winning lots by sniping software, something that has always plagued Ebay for example. Sellers are also not disadvantaged because the random close time after bidding slows means each lot maximises its return to the seller.
Winning a Lot
The winner of each lot pays the auction house their winning bid plus commission and any postage charges. The SWA commission is 10% plus VAT and postage depends on the number of bottles you win per auction and where you want it delivered to. SWA have a really excellent service where they will store the winnings for up to 6 months for free so you can accumulate bottles and save on postage if you live a great distance from Glasgow. I am lucky however because I work around the corner from the head office of this site so I can collect directly for free.
Please do not be too jealous of me though!
What have a Learned
The first thing I learnt after I did my first auction was it is damn addictive. Each month without fail I will be combing the lots looking for something interesting or a must have bottle. The auction is a great place to find bottles you have never heard of which you can then research about later.
The next thing I have learnt is the majority of the bidding happens the last few days of the auction. So many times I have thought I am going to win bottles are unbelievable prices for the bid activity to take all my lots and exceed my budgets. That is all in the fun of course but at the time you find yourself begging the auction to close now!!
Lastly, I have never had any problems with the SWA site. The bottles have always been as described. There has never been problems accessing the site or getting replies from emails. If you go into the office to collect winnings or drop of bottles to add to the auction they seem a professional and well resourced company you should trust with your money.
The only real risk for buyers is buying a fake bottle of whisky. The auction site will do there best to check bottles for authenticity but the policy at SWA is to refund your money if there is ever any doubt after you get your bottles in the post. I have not had to do this so I cannot say how easy this refund process if but I have no reason to suspect it wouldn’t be pretty straight forward.
3 thoughts on “What is it like to buy a bottle at auction?”
That was a really interesting read. I stumbled upon whisky auction sites occasionally (mostly when I googled sold-out or highly limited whiskies), but never signed up to any of them. That’s mostly because the bottles I found usually ended up in price ranges I have not yet reached…
I have managed to grab a few bargains. Below rrp bottles are rare at auction but the buzz is huge if you manage it
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I will definitely look into this. Thanks for sharing your experiences and impressions here.