John and I ran the checkout table at the SAMA, or St. Andrew’s Medical Assistance, event last Sunday night. Thanks to our many generous volunteers, donors, and guests, SAMA’s Middle Eastern Feast and Auction were a delightful success. We are still counting up expenses and collecting payments.
For auction catalog and bidder management and check out, we used the Auction!, Version 3 product of Auction Systems, Inc. in Colorado Springs, CO. In general, Auction! worked well for our relatively-small charity auction (about 200 people and 70 items). Below is my view of the positives and negatives of the product. Bear in mind that I am a 26 year veteran UNIX user and I love my Mac laptop. I have been publishing hypertext documents for 16 years. I only use a PC when there is no alternative. Auction! is a PC-based product.
- The Auction! product was easy to buy and was shipped promptly. A down loadable version was available immediately.
- The Auction! product worked well out of the box. That is, I was able to make it work without more than a quick read of the documentation.
- The design incorporates many good ideas on managing a charity auction that I would not have otherwise known.
- Auction Systems’ tech support staff pick up on the first ring and are cheerful and helpful once they understand the question.
- Tech support was available by pager on the event day. We did not have time to ask them any questions but I liked knowing I could if there was a total mess up.
- I liked the Hint button – a good error checker.
- The design has many assumptions which are not documented about how auctions are best run. For a first time auction manager, this is a challenge. The information is implied but not explicit. There is minimal introduction to running an auction and why the product features are set up as they are.
- There is no way to export the catalog to HTML for web page display. It is possible to export a PDF version. I ended up typing auction item information twice – once into Auction! and again for the SAMA web page.
- The catalog does not allow the inclusion of photos. We prepared a JPG photo of each item for our SAMA web page. When I asked how to include these in the printed catalog, Auction Systems’ tech support staff actually suggested that I use scissors and a glue stick!
- Document formats can only be changed within tight limits. For example, it was very convenient to be able to print labels with the bidder names and numbers to put on the back of each catalog. However, I could not resize the bid numbers to be really big. So, one of the SAMA team had to write the bidder number by hand on each catalog under the label. This allowed the catalog to be used as a bidder paddle.
- When printing checkout receipts, the minutes-long print cycle required by Auction! became a major bottleneck. Sending a print command is a lengthy 5-step process that took several minutes each time:
- create the document or report
- click Print
- review the preview print document
- click Print
- pick the target printer
- The single-user software version was a challenge to use even for our small auction – many activities required multitasking. (For example, I could not answer a question about who won an item at the same time as printing out a checkout receipt.) We needed the higher-priced network version. I am not sure the single-user version is appropriate for any auction.
John guessed that the Auction! software was written 5 to 10 years ago and is “good enough” – so a wholesale rewrite has not happened. The design is showing its age. Nonetheless, I plan to use Auction! again now that I have some experience.