Many of us have come across penny auction websites, and almost all of them follow the same line of thought: buy credits and bid, win the item and it’s yours. Bid4Africa is following two key trends, and has one or two twists in how they operate, which in my mind give the site far more potential.
The first is that to buy bids, you send an SMS. The SMS costs you R10, and you in turn buy 100 credits (worth R10). While many readers may think this is only for the lower LSM market, they would be wrong: all of us have SMS capabilities on our phones. However, not all of us have credit cards, or at least cards that can be used online. For those of us with a prepaid cellphone package and no bank account, this website is an option. For those of us with a contract package, it is just as simple. The only drawback here might be that the only denomination is R10, and some bidders may wish to buy 1000 credits, or more, and not send so many SMSes.
Another major difference is the bidding timer. Usually, when the time left drops below 10 seconds, a new bid renews the time to 10 seconds. This kept auctions going for days, and on previous penny auction websites that I’ve seen, people complained heavily about this, claiming that the website itself had “bots” that were bidding whenever humans were not, just to keep the auction ticking along. One quick search for Smokoo onMyBroadBand will show a number of threads where that website was accused of gambling, being a scam, etc. Not so with Bid4Africa.com – when a timer appears, that is the amount of time left. I’m not sure how they verify who bid last just before the clock ends, but I suppose technology solves this objectively.
Their offering is also priced more affordably: R10 gives you 100 credits, while most South African penny auction websites used a ratio of R5 equals just one single bid. Here’s an iPod Touch that recently went for R41,95 and the delivery is always free. (Of course, the price is not all that Bid4Africa receives.) I must admit, it’s tempting to bid at this early stage of the website’s lifespan – less people subscribed means less bidders to push you off the winning spot.
I have seen penny auction websites from numerous parts of the world, but very few that actually have traction in South Africa. Since launching, Bid4Africa has already climbed to 200 users in its first week and the site is now well-visited daily. Opening it up on your mobile induces responsive design, and it shows up well on all smartphones. Try it and see.
My sources tell me they are planning a massive advertising campaign, even using television. It will be interesting to see how far they can take this newer, better version of an already existing business model.
About the author: Jess Green is a digital entrepreneur, passionate about tech, web and mobile. Follow him on Twitter on @jessello.