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Building Trust in Transactions (tm)


CQout: There really is life beyond eBay
By Dave Bromley

If you read the popular press you might be forgiven for thinking that there was only one online auction site on the Internet. Ebay with its massive publicity machine grabs all the headlines. In fairness, they do have 95% of the market, but there are some interesting UK-based challengers emerging from the pack.

It's unlikely that any rival will be in a position to seriously challenge eBay for the number one spot. However, I think that there's an opportunity emerging for a UK company to take a fair slice of the market. Recently I've been looking at a range of online auctions and one particularly has caught my eye and my interest. If you haven't yet discovered CQout (pronounced "Seek You Out") I'd recommend you visit the site at www.CQout.com.

This is no "me too" eBay clone but an auction site that has taken its own path to offer online auction buyers and sellers what they claim to want: tighter security, no listing fees and decent customer service. CQout is the only online auction site that I know that charges a one-off registration fee, £2 by credit or debit card, but when you think about it, the logic for doing so is pretty solid.

Although you can browse the site for free, I was initially surprised to find I'd have to pay the registration fee even if I only wanted to buy. Thinking it through, I can see how this can prevent "shill bidding" (a user registering several IDs and then bidding on their own items to push the price up- and believe me, it does happen!). Next time your bid is pushed up several pounds by the seller bidding against you under an alias, you may realise that paying a £2 one-off fee to a site which eliminates this practice is actually very good value.

Debiting your card with this minimal fee (after all, what can you buy for £2 these days?) allows CQout to confirm that a user's address and the other details are genuine. I was also most impressed after I registered to receive a phone call to confirm my acceptance. No doubt another security check and it left me with the impression that here was a company that really cared about security and was not just paying lip service to the concept.

As Tony Newton, a founder Director of CQout told me,
"We know that a registration fee and the associated checks put some potential users off, but if these keep out fraudsters then every genuine user who does join is better off: they know that they're joining a secure, trustworthy trading community. Coupled with our CQ Trusted Seller certification scheme that requires certain high standards, time has proved our registration strategy to be right."

This would most certainly appear to be the case. Despite the fact that they use virtually no advertising and rely instead on recommendation and word of mouth, CQout is now second only to eBay in the UK, judged by the number of items offered for sale.

One feature that will appeal to all auction sellers is the fact that basic listings are free. Enhancement and final listing fees are also considerably lower than eBay's.

CQout launched in 1999. After a slow start, which is typical of most new auction sites, they are now growing rapidly. A year ago they had users in 39 countries: now it is 58. A powerful feature is that users can place and view auctions in their local currency.

Although a general auction site, CQout is gaining a reputation in specialist categories including movie memorabilia and music, and recently seems to be gathering momentum as a result of sellers moving to the site and bringing all their existing customers with them: a clever touch is that some sellers are even offering to refund the CQout registration fee from their first purchase as a means of easing their customers' transition to CQout.

The challenge for any auction site is to attract enough buyers. Free listings will always attract the "well I have nothing to lose" brigade, but unless there are buyers any auction site will eventually fail. Says CQout Managing Director Siamak Bashi, "Lots of players have come and gone since we started in 1999: some spent a fortune on advertising which could never be recouped, others offered everything for free- which doesn't make for a sustainable business. We're in this business for the long haul, which means recognising and remembering that customer service is king." CQout has proved that it can attract users by offering a secure and fair trading environment. It may not be as big, bold and brash as its American rival but it does have a rather friendly reassuring feel that I like. Why don't you visit the site and give it a look, you could be surprised: www.CQout.com

Dave Bromley

Dave Bromley is the publisher of the twice monthly newsletter UK Auction Line and author of The UK Auction Line Double CD video/audio tutorial and "The Path to Power Selling"

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