Trolling for deals? You should try the new auction site in the military exchanges' online mall.
The bid for everything — regardless of what the item is — starts at $1. And since the site is limited to authorized exchange patrons, you're bidding only against your comrades in the military community.
In the first two months after Exchange Auctions opened Nov. 28, there were 6,482 successful bids for items such as jewelry, collectibles, sports memorabilia, toys and watches. About 18,000 unique visitors made more than 46,000 visits to the site.
The company that runs the auction site, Always at Market, also manages other auction sites, including http://www.propertyroom.com/">www.propertyroom.com, http://ubid.com/">uBid.com and http://www.shopnbc.com/">www.shopnbc.com.
The exchanges' online mall is separate from the online store that offers the same wares sold in brick-and-mortar exchanges. The mall includes separate stores that act as concessionaires, offering online discounts on their own products to military customers.
What's in it for the military patrons and the exchanges? To be included in the Exchange Online Mall, a vendor must agree to give something extra to the customer, such as a discount or free shipping. An auction site makes that more challenging, so the military customer gets Bid Bucks — 5 percent of each winning bid is placed into an account that accumulates credits you can use toward your next winning bid.
For example, if you buy a watch for $100, $5 in Bid Bucks will be placed in your account. You must use the Bid Bucks within the following month, or you lose them.
The exchanges get a percentage of each successful auction bid.
How do you get there? Log on to your exchange online mall, http://www.aafes.com/">www.aafes.com, http://www.usmc-mccs.org/">www.usmc-mccs.org, https://www.navy-nex.com/">www.navy-nex.com or http://www.cg-exchange.com/">www.cg-exchange.com, and click on the auction icon.
Once you get into the auction site, you register with a separate username and password. Be aware that the username will be shown in the bidding history of the item, so you might not want to use your full name.
You also must provide credit card information before you bid. The site captures the information in a secure environment, said Don Walker, merchandise manager for the exchange online mall, which is managed by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.
You also can take the credit card information out at any time — perhaps until you want to bid the next time — or change credit card information, too, if you want to use a different card.
Details are provided about the items up for bid, but if you don't think it's enough information, you don't have to bid. When you do bid, the site will tell you the shipping charges. For example, the shipping charge would have been $9.99 on the pair of earrings I bid — and lost — on.
I'd suggest using the "proxy bid" feature. This lets you decide in advance the maximum amount you want to spend on an item. The auction will automatically up your bid to the next increment each time someone else bids, up to your maximum bid. Each item has specific bidding increments. For example, the earrings required bids in $2 increments.
Using the proxy bid will help keep your spending under control instead of continually bidding to beat the competition.
You also get e-mails when you are outbid. There's a time limit for each item, generally a few days.
Not many electronics items were on the site at this writing, but Walker said the company plans to start bringing in more electronics items as traffic builds, "and they can make sure it doesn't go out at $1," he said.
The items for auction come from a variety of sources, Walker said. In some cases, Always at Market has contracts for specific items, such as watches.
"Most of it is stumbling across other retailers' misfortunes," he said.
Always at Market got $2 million in sports memorabilia because of a company's bankruptcy, and worked a deal with the bank, he said.
New items constantly come up on the site for bids.
As always, do your research before you bid to make sure you're getting a good deal. And don't forget to consider the shipping charges in your price deliberations.
By the numbers
• $225: Final price of a Muhammad Ali signed photo sold on Exchange Auctions.
• $9.50: Cost of a $149 set of earrings.
• $21: Cost of a $995 watch.