More and more clearly, a troubling picture of online auction addiction is emerging. While there are no hard numbers yet, the anecdotal evidence is pretty compelling. And we shouldn’t be surprised. Already a decade ago, the alarm was sounding: in 1999, Elizabeth Weise wrote in USA Today, “Take the thrill of gambling, the excitement of computer games, the enjoyment of collecting, and the desire to get a good deal, and sprinkle it with a little of the old hunter-gatherer instinct. Suddenly, you’ve got several million people hooked on on-line auctions.” Now factor in the remarkable growth of eBay, the pre-eminent auction site, in the ten years since, and the problem looms large indeed.
And though one swallow doesn’t make a summer, individual online auction addictions have been persuasively chronicled. For an eye-opening parade of horrors, simply look over the photos. Out-of-control auction buying is so significant a problem that in a recent issue of the Journal of Retailing, Nancy Ridgway and her colleagues discuss the possibility of internet retailers identifying and assisting compulsive buyers, at the very least, by not enabling them with endless tempting offers. Thus far, eBay appears markedly cool to the idea
We’ll be keeping an eye on this phenomenon and will bring you the data when hard numbers emerge. Meanwhile, don’t wait for confirmation. For the problem shopper, internet auctions are, quite simply, a perfect storm of temptations. Don’t expose yourself! Stay entirely out of this weather.