Internet 'Auctioneers' on the Block

By Cato, Jason | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 20, 2008 | Go to article overview

Internet 'Auctioneers' on the Block


Cato, Jason, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Niki Campbell doesn't know a lick of staccato-styled auctioneer- speak, but she's a pro at getting other people's things sold at online auction sites.

"We don't really look at ourselves as auctioneers. We're a consignment business," said Campbell, owner of Quick2Sell in Mars. "It really isn't an auction house."

Lawmakers in Harrisburg are considering whether to require businesses that act as drop-off sites for third-party Internet auction sales to register with the state as auctioneers. Meetings between politicians and stakeholders on each side of this issue are scheduled next month, with the first set for Feb. 6 in Harrisburg.

Sen. Rob Wonderling, R-Montgomery, introduced a bill last year that would exempt drop-off businesses for online auctions from state registration or licensing.

Rep. Michael Sturla, D-Lancaster County, introduced an opposing bill that would amend the 1983 Auctioneer and Auction License Act to require the Internet auction drop-off businesses to pay the state an annual $100 registration fee and be bonded up to $5,000, which would allow consumers to recoup money in the event of fraud.

Sturla's bill would make it illegal for businesses to sell other people's things through Internet auction houses without being registered with the state, but electronic auctioneer brokers would not have to undergo a two-year apprenticeship or 20 hours of auctioneering college courses required of traditional auctioneers.

Geri Sarfert, a spokeswoman for Wonderling, said such requirements are unwarranted.

"It shouldn't even be a question," Sarfert said. "These people are not conducting auctions. ... It's a market protection issue for auctioneers. That's the only reason it's moving forward in our mind."

Phil Wesel, a Chester County auctioneer and member of the Pennsylvania Auctioneers Association who helped Sturla craft the legislation, said that isn't the case at all.

"It's not targeted to hinder or kill drop-off stores. It's just designed to bring them into compliance with laws in this commonwealth," Wesel said. "They're engaged in the exact same behavior as an auctioneer and ought to be held to the same standard."

Campbell disagreed.

"It's really not an accurate comparison," she said, "because I don't auction anything."

There are about 400 drop-off businesses in Pennsylvania that facilitate the auction of other people's belongings through online auction houses such as eBay, Wesel said. …

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