By Tan Weizhen
A number of auction sites set up by Singaporeans have hit the Internet in the last few months.
Ever since word got out earlier this year that Yahoo was shutting down its highly popular Auctions Singapore site, more than 10 such portals have been set up by Singaporeans.
The action follows a worldwide trend of users turning away from global giant eBay and setting up their own niche sites.
Many of those who set up the new sites say they were turned off by what they called eBay's 'high fees'.
Others say setting up their own sites allowed them to customise features, such as having different niche categories, messaging systems and forums.
Although local auction sites have been around for some time, their numbers began climbing in June, when the Yahoo site became inaccessible. It was finally shut down on Monday, a casualty of Yahoo's decision to focus on other business areas.
Auction sites are highly popular among Internet users because they offer the chance of landing a great bargain. Singaporeans, avid bargain-hunters in their own right, are no exception.
No numbers on the savings to be had here are available, but according to a University of Maryland study, Americans who bought items from eBay instead of regular stores last year saved US$19 billion (S$27 billion).
Among the new Singapore sites is www.chupr.com, created by two National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduates, Mr Leong Hanyang, 25, and Mr Huang Renzhi, 24.
Mr Leong, a Yahoo Auctions user for four years, said he had been looking for an alternative since his favourite site went down. He tried eBay, but found it 'too complex', while others were hard to navigate and not user-friendly.
'eBay had too many bells and whistles, with their many rules and fees,' he said, so the pair decided to set up their own simple site to 'keep the spirit of trading'.
Another local site, www.99auction.com, was created by businessman Kent Kwok, 42, and a partner in April.
Said Mr Kwok: 'We got a whiff of the impending demise of Yahoo Auctions in April and sent out e-mail invites to all those who bought items from me in the past to join my new site.'
He said the initial response was not good, and only a few hundred people signed up. But when Yahoo finally closed, his site's membership grew to a few thousand, he said.
Many of the local sites have features that eBay does not have.
Chupr.com, for instance, has a 'Live wanted ad' feature, where people can list what they are looking for, while 99auction.com has a feature which enables sellers to give a negative or neutral rating on buyers, a function which eBay used to have but removed recently.
Auction lovers, meanwhile, are happy that they have so many choices now.
'I can compare different prices across sites now. Chances of landing a better deal are higher. Local and overseas auctions sites offer different things so I get more choice,' said administrator Dora Tay, 36.
The trend of international users turning away from eBay is a worldwide one, according to research firm Euromonitor.
Said research analyst Ramon Gonzalez Manes: 'Punters will no longer stick to one single site. There are a myriad new options...with a growing amount of smaller tailor-made online auction websites.'
But users concede that such niche sites have a drawback: a relatively small following. While eBay has 84 million users worldwide, the bigger Singapore sites have communities that number only in the tens of thousands. This means the variety of items being sold is poorer.
Said eBay South-east Asia vice-president Dan Neary: 'We still have an edge over local auction sites because of the size of our community users, and our strength in the business of overseas transactions.'
Small or not, there are some bargains to be had on local sites. At www.tatarah.com.sg, one of the bigger Singapore sites, for example, was this listing of a choice bargain as a one-off promotion: Ferrari Cap with 2 Free Grandstand Tickets ($996) to Singapore's First NightRace: Retail - $996. Sold - $29.94.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on September 25, 2008.