Published: 06/07/2011 20:00 - Updated: 06/07/2011 19:58

Is maddening online auction worth it?

Written byBY Jenna MacCulloch

Jenna MacCulloch on the Madbid.com website. Picture: Gary Anthony
Jenna MacCulloch on the Madbid.com website. Picture: Gary Anthony

I'M A big fan of real-life shopping, so purchasing items from the internet has never had much appeal for me.

I prefer to try on, feel and look at clothes, shoes, TVs or whatever I may be about to spend my hard-earned cash on.

When I was asked to use a website named Madbid.com, it's safe to say I was a complete novice. I was sceptical on two levels. One, I glanced at it and didn't understand how it worked and, two, it didn't look like much fun to me.

However, I signed up and promised to give it a fair go. And that part was pretty straightforward - it takes less than five minutes to register, all you need is a UK mobile phone number.

And there's a video tutorial which gives you basic knowledge on how to start bidding. Oh, and a credit or debit card is essential.

At a glance Madbid.com does look like a prize con. Flatscreen TVs, I-pads and Mini Coopers are all being auctioned off at insanely low prices. For example, a Mini Cooper was sold for £6.81.

But it's not dodgy, it's more like gambling in my opinion. On the surface, Madbid.com looks like another version of well-known auction site eBay. However, on closer inspection Madbid.com is completely different.

Bundles of credits which you can use to participate in an auction are available to buy using your debit or credit card. £9.99 buys you 80 credits and on the other end of the scale £374.99 buys you 3750 madbid credits.

This is how it works. If an item is for example an I-pad, you might need at least six credits before you can even place a bid. The items move up a penny in price each time a person places a bid. There is a timer at the side of each bid, for example 45 seconds. As soon as someone places a bid the timer moves towards zero. If you are the highest bid on zero, you win. However, every time a person places a fresh bid, the timer begins again at 45 seconds. It's a long process.

I had 52 bids to play with. I was advised to bid in rookie auctions to help me find my feet. If you have won a prize on madbid.com, you can't enter a Rookie Auction, it's like an auction for beginners only.

However, when I signed in the only thing I could bid for in rookie auctions were bundles of 50 madbid.com credits. Well, that didn't tickle my fancy at all. I'm told things like boxes of chocolates can be found in rookie auctions, but that wasn't my experience. Anyway, I would suspect if I had just spent £9.99 on 80 credits, I wouldn't want to waste any credits bidding for a crummy box of chocolates.

So I just went ahead and tried to bid for GHD midnight collection hair straighteners which was on offer in a live auction. I really wanted them, so for some reason I was quite hopeful. I mean, how many other people are going to be bidding for hair straighteners? Turns out, quite a lot actually.

In fact, before I knew it, I had used 25 credits and I was nowhere near getting those straighteners. I watched this particular auction for around an hour and grew more frustrated. The auction would get down to two seconds, I would bet and then bang the auction would be up to 20 seconds and someone else would bet. It's also quite addictive. I really, really wanted those straighteners, but it was coming up for 5pm and I was leaving work, so that would be that then. I'd spent money on the credits, used them and walked away with nothing.

Now things have been put in place to prevent you walking away from an auction. There is a function available to use named Autobid. This means you can use it to place bids automatically at a specific time and you can instruct how many credits you wish to spend.

And as I subsequently discovered, there is some skill to madbid.com. Timing is the crucial element. If you start bidding on items when many people are leaving work, are in rush hour traffic or are having breakfast, I would imagine there's a bigger chance of winning. But really, I think you have to be quite dedicated to monitor the auctions and it's almost like guessing when you think it might be coming to an end.

You can also use your phone to place bids using SMS. So really you can bid 24 hours a day.

Overall, I do think it is possible to walk away with an outstanding bargain. But I think you would have to spend a lot of money before you work out the patterns and all the tricks which might help you along the way. I would compare it to bingo or the lottery. One week you really might come up trumps, but all the other times it's spending money without any gain. And to me, that's not a winning formula.

There is some kind of attraction with the website. And probably if I had won something I might have the euphoric high and then perhaps I would readily purchase more credits. But that's what I see as the danger, people may win something, even in the Rookie Auctions, and then purchase more credits, because of that winning feeling.

Now maybe I'm just bitter that after 52 credits I didn't get anything, or more to the point, I didn't get new hair straighteners. But this isn't for me. It's too time consuming and I don't have enough spare cash.

However, if you like a gamble and have some spare cash then I would suspect you might love this because of the lure of getting something which appears to be a bargain. For me, though, it's that old saying: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

l Anyone struggling with a gambling problem can visit Gamblers Anonymous at www.gamblersanonymous.org.uk for help and advice.

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