Andrew Swallow looks at the development of online stock sales.
Covid-19 has driven interest and use of online livestock trading channels to new heights, and agents across the country have been busy promoting the various mechanisms they offer. A new option from South Island-based Peter Walsh Associates (PWA) is Livebid, an online Helmsman auction with live commentary for the closing half hour.
“We want to personalise online selling so it’s something more than sitting in front of a flat screen going ping, ping, ping,” business principal, Peter Walsh, told Country-Wide.
Auctions open typically 48 hours before the deadline for bidding concludes and, once registered, photos, videos, descriptions and prices of lots offered can be viewed and bids placed. Registration is a one-off process so a simple log-in for future auctions. Besides giving potential buyers more time to view lots and place bids, the simultaneous offer of multiple lines or lots in a Helmsman auction allows buyers to switch backwards to lots in the catalogue, as well as forwards.
The commentary team come online for the last half hour to discuss the stock offered, auction progress and, for initial auctions at least, the bidding process.
Walsh compares it to the analysis offered by a commentator panel for a sports event.
“The aim is to make it come alive and be more interesting. We’re trying to add a bit of character to the process.”
PWA general manager Jesse Dargue says Covid-19 created the opportunity to launch Livebid but it will remain an option for sellers even when restrictions eased.
“We’ve felt for some time online auctions have a place in the New Zealand industry but what’s been missing is the human side, the familiarity of the auctioneers who can talk about the stock as the auctions are happening.
“They can also talk about the online auction process because a lot of this is quite daunting for some people.”
Questions can be asked during auctions by using a chatbox online, or by phoning in. Walsh says he doesn’t see Livebid replacing bidr and StockX, which the firm also uses, or spelling an end to saleyard or on-farm auctions: it’s just another option which for some sellers, and hopefully a lot of buyers, will prove to have advantages.
About 310 registrations for Livebid had been received when the first auction closed April 17 with 95 viewing online as the auction came to a head at 1.30pm. Bids in the last minute of an auction extend the bidding window by a further minute, and if a bid is placed in that minute, another minute is added, and so on, until bidding ceases. Last-minute bids saw the April 17 auction close at 1.35pm.
After the event, Walsh said it was very good for a first run. The only disappointment was they didn’t sell some in-calf R2 heifers.
“Everything else sold at least up to expectation.”
For full results, and details of upcoming auctions, see www.livebid.co.nz
Users pleased with online livestock sales
The Covid-19 enforced closure of saleyards nationwide is driving a surge of interest in online livestock trading platforms such as bidr and Stock X.
For many, it’s the first time using, or at least looking at, such sites but some farm businesses have several seasons’ experience of trading through them already.
One such outfit is Tuna Nui Station, near Hastings, a 1250-hectare mainly trading stock operation run across two blocks roughly 20 minutes west of Hastings, Hawke’s Bay.
“It’s the traceability that you get with Stock X that I like,” operations manager Kieran Wills says. “You know exactly who you’re selling to or who you are buying from.”
Commission of 2.5% compared to 5% or more through saleyards or agents also appeals, as does secure and swift payment.
“If everybody’s happy there’s no waiting two weeks for the funds to come through. If cashflow’s a bit tight, that can be really useful.”
The secure aspect comes through Stock X holding payments in a trust account while the deal is physically completed. As a seller, you’re notified when payment reaches the trust account and that’s the cue to release the stock. As a buyer, you know your payment is held by Stock X until you give the all clear that the stock received were as described in the listing.
Wills says the station’s had a couple of deals when there was a discrepancy to sort out, one when they bought some ewes and lambs that weren’t as heavy as advertised due to a seller estimating weights, and another when they unwittingly sold some “Magpie” yearling dairy bulls as Friesians.
“We didn’t realise they were part Kiwi-cross and lower value. [Stock X-agent] Digby went to look at them and we duly adjusted the price. It’s a very good system.”
Wills says when selling stock on the platform he frequently gets potential buyers call him to discuss what’s offered, and sometimes they come to view them too. As a seller he photographs and/or videos the stock he’s offering then lists them with a start price, a ‘Buy Now’ price and a reserve.
“Stock X can give some guidance on where to set prices.”
His advice to new users is to be bluntly honest about what’s for sale.
“If you do that, you’ll get a good reputation and do a lot of repeat business.”
He’s also used the platform as a buyer, and finds the option to set up alerts for when certain categories of stock are listed useful.
“You don’t have to keep going on there to check if anything new has been listed, and if the market’s hot you can get on and get whatever it is you’re after bought, if there’s a buy now price on the listing.”
Arranging transport is the buyer’s responsibility. “Typically I ring the vendor and discuss when they want them gone by.”
Paul Scott, a South Canterbury Hereford stud breeder, used online platform bidr for his bull sale last year and was planning to do so again this year even before Covid-19 became a factor.
“I’m not sure whether the Covid scenario will help or hinder.”
His sale is scheduled to run the evening after the regional bull walks, May 20 this year, so even though the auction is online, potential buyers should have had the opportunity to view them in the paddock prior. Good photos and video are key so there’s “a reasonable amount of camera work” preparing for the bidr auction, and, of course, all the normal tests and scans still have to be done, he says. Even though all the bulls’ details are available online, he still produces a catalogue and mails that to potential clients too.
Automated text reminders for auctions are sent out by bidr on the day of a sale.
Scott says it’s important potential buyers have done their homework before an online livestock auction, especially when buying stud stock, and he’s confident that with good communication and organisation, pre-auction viewing of bulls should still be possible under Covid-19 restrictions.
Then, if buyers are happy with what they have seen in the flesh they can bid online in a rational way to ensure they get good value for money, and avoid potentially having to attend a large gathering of people which might be problematic at the moment.
“Attending a physical sale can also take a huge chunk of time whereas this auction will run in the evening for half an hour.
“I’m hoping more people do start to use [these platforms] so they become more mainstream because there are so many advantages for all concerned.”
Kellogg study conclusions
South Canterbury-based livestock agent Richard Harley studied Australia’s long-established online livestock sales channel, AuctionsPlus, as part of his Kellogg’s Rural Leaders course last year.
It’s now Australia’s largest single market place for sheep and cattle and his study concluded that success could be replicated by an online platform here, to the benefit of all industry stakeholders, improving traceability and efficiency. However, to initially gain traction, a successful online platform would need full support of stock agents.
“While this is an electronic marketplace, people are at its core,” he wrote.
Speaking to Country-Wide recently he suggested the Covid-19 lockdown could catalyse a move to online trading here, but agent involvement remained a key factor in uptake.
“Farmers decide on a daily basis whether to complete all sorts of jobs themselves, or whether it’s more efficient or they’ll get a better result if they pay someone to do it for them, and livestock transactions are no different.”
Australia’s agents using AuctionsPlus must complete assessor courses and are graded according to their skill and experience. It’s a standard New Zealand’s industry should aspire to, he added.
Harley’s report is available at www.ruralleaders.co.nz/Kellogg-our-insights. It was released July 2019.
- Online Helmsman sale with commentary.
- Single or multiple vendors.
- Auto-extends for last minute bids.
- Commission comparable to on-farm or saleyard rates.