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Encyclopedia > Reverse auction

A reverse auction (also called procurement auction, e-auction, sourcing event, e-sourcing or eRA) is a tool used in industrial business-to-business procurement. It is a type of auction in which the role of the buyer and seller are reversed, with the primary objective to drive purchase prices downward. In an ordinary auction (also known as a forward auction), buyers compete to obtain a good or service. In a reverse auction, sellers compete to obtain business. This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ...



gained popularity in the late 1990s as a result of the emergence of Internet-based online auction tools. Pioneer of online reverse auctions, FreeMarkets, was founded in 1995 by former McKinsey consultant and General Electric executive Glen Meakem after he failed to find internal backing for the idea of a reverse auction division at GE. Meakem hired McKinsey colleague Sam Kinney who developed much of the intellectual property behind FreeMarkets. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA, FreeMarkets built teams of "market makers" and "commodity managers" to manage the process of running the online tender process and set up market operations to manage auctions on a global basis. This article is about the American company. ... This article is about the American company. ... McKinsey & Company is a privately owned management consulting firm. ... City nickname: The Steel City Location in the state of Pennsylvania Founded 1758 Mayor Tom Murphy (Dem) Area  - Total  - Water 151. ...

The company's growth was aided greatly by the hype of the dot-com boom era. FreeMarkets customers included BP plc, United Technologies, Visteon, H.J. Heinz, Phelps Dodge, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell, to name a few. Dozens of competing start-up reverse auction service providers such as EU-Supply, Procuri and CommerceOne, and established companies such as General Motors (an early FreeMarkets customer) and SAP, rushed to join the reverse auction marketspace. BP plc (LSE: BP), NYSE: BP, TYO: 5051 ), formerly known as British Petroleum, is a British energy company / multinational oil company (oil major) with headquarters in London. ... United Technologies Corporation (UTC) (NYSE: UTX) is a major multinational corporation based in Hartford, Connecticut. ... Visteon is an automotive parts company spun off from the Ford Motor Company. ... H. J. Heinz Company, commonly known as just Heinz, famous for its 57 Varieties slogan, was founded in 1869 by Henry John Heinz in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania. ... Phelps Dodge Corporation NYSE: PD was founded in 1834 by Anson Greene Phelps and William E. Dodge. ... Exxon Mobil Corporation or ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM), headquartered in Irving, Texas, is an oil producer and distributor formed on November 30, 1999, by the merger of Exxon and Mobil. ... Royal Dutch Shell PLC is a multinational oil company (oil major) of British and Dutch origins. ... General Motors Corporation, also known as GM, is the worlds largest auto company by annual production volume as of 2006, and the second largest by sales volume as of the first half of 2007, behind Toyota Motor Corporation. ... The abbreviation, acronym, or initialism SAP has several different meanings: SAP AG, a German software company, or its various products such as SAP R/3 or SAP Business Information Warehouse second audio program (television) Session Announcement Protocol Soritong audio player Simple As Possible Computer Architecture Structural Adjustment Program of the...

Although FreeMarkets survived the winding down of the dot-com boom, by the early 2000s it was apparent that its business model was really like an old-economy consulting firm with some sophisticated proprietary software. Online reverse auctions started to become mainstream and the prices that FreeMarkets had commanded for its services dropped significantly. This led to a consolidation of the reverse auction service marketplace.

Fortune magazine published an article in March 2000 describing the early days of reverse auctions[1].

(In the past few years mobile reverse auction have evolved. Unlike B2B reverse auctions, mobile reverse auction is B2C and allow consumers to bid on products for pennies. The lowest unique bid wins.) This article does not cite any references or sources. ...


Reverse auction is a tool used by many purchasing and supply management organizations for spend management, as part of strategic sourcing and overall supply management activities. This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... Strategic sourcing is a systematic procurement process that continuously improves and re-evaluates the purchasing activities of a company. ...

In a typical auction, the seller puts an item up for sale. Multiple buyers bid for the item and depending on the nature of the auction (English or Dutch), and one or more of the highest bidders buy the goods at a price determined at the conclusion of the bidding. In an English auction (also called an Open-outcry auction), the auctioneer begins the auction with the reserve price (lowest acceptable price) and then takes larger and larger bids from the customers until no one will increase the bid. ...

In a reverse auction, a buyer contracts with a market maker to help make the necessary preparations to conduct the reverse auction. This includes: finding new suppliers, training new and incumbent suppliers, organizing the auction, managing the auction event, and providing auction data to buyers to facilitate decision making.

The market maker, on behalf of the buyer, issues a request for quotation (RFQ) to purchase a particular item or group of items (called a "lot"). At the designated day and time, several suppliers, typically 5-20, log on to the auction site and will input several quotes over a 30-90 minute period. These quotes reflect the prices at which they are willing to supply the requested good or service. For other meanings, see RFP (disambiguation) RFP is an acronym for request for proposal, a business term referring to a request for bids on a specific product or service. ...

Quoting performed in real-time via the Internet results in dynamic bidding. This helps achieve rapid downward price pressure that is not normally attainable using traditional static 3-quote paper-based bidding processes.

The prices that buyers obtain in the reverse auction reflect the narrow market which it created at the moment in time when the auction is held. Thus, it is possible that better value - i.e. lower prices, as well as better quality, delivery performance, technical capabilities, etc. - could be obtained from suppliers not engaged in the bidding or by other means such as collaborative cost management and joint process improvement.

The buyer may award contracts to the supplier who bid the lowest price. Or, a buyer could award contracts to suppliers who bid higher prices depending upon the buyer's specific needs with regards to quality, lead-time, capacity, or other value-adding capabilities. However, buyers frequently award contracts to incumbent (i.e. current) suppliers, even if prices are higher than the lowest bids, because the switching costs to move work to a new supplier are higher than the potential savings that can be realized. This outcome, while very attractive to buyers, is often strongly criticized by both new and incumbent suppliers.

The use of Optimization software has become popular since about 2002 to help buyers determine which supplier to source the work to. It includes relevant buyer and seller business data, including constraints. In mathematics, the term optimization, or mathematical programming, refers to the study of problems in which one seeks to minimize or maximize a real function by systematically choosing the values of real or integer variables from within an allowed set. ...

Reverse auctions are used to fill both large and small value contracts for public and private commercial organizations. In addition to items traditionally thought of as commodities, reverse auctions are also used to source buyer-designed goods and services, and has even been used to source reverse auction providers. The first time this occurred was in August of 2001, by America West Airlines (now US Airways) using FreeMarkets software. US Airways is an American low-cost airline[1] headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, owned by US Airways Group, Inc. ...

The majority of purchasing spend subject to reverse auctions over the years has been in the category of buyer-designed goods, followed by services, and then commodity items. Today, an average of 5% of total corporate spending is sourced using reverse auctions. This figure was higher in past years, indicating the goods and services to which reverse auctions can be successfully applied is limited [1].

Issues and Opportunities

Buyers, sellers, and market makers should adhere to auction rules and industry codes of conduct for the use of reverse auctions, if they exist. Problems arise when one or more parties fail to conform to auction rules. This can range from simple cries of "foul" to litigation.

Buyers should not assume that reverse auctions will, in every case, deliver savings - either on a unit price or total cost basis. Reverse auction savings can range from negative (i.e. it costs the buyer money) to neutral (i.e. no savings) to positive savings (average gross of 10-20%, but net savings is typically half or less).

A true representation of savings can not be achieved if unit price-focused purchasing metrics such as "purchase price variance," "purchase order variance," or "material price variance" are used. Instead, total cost savings must be calculated, inclusive of direct and indirect losses associated with using reverse actions, implementing reverse auction results, subsequent procurement activity, and related activities such as customer returns, defective goods or services, warranty expense, litigation, etc.

Suppliers are advised to determine if a value proposition exists for them that would warrant their participation.

Some have characterized reverse auctions as a technologically-assisted form of zero-sum power-based bargaining, or as "going in reverse" with respect to developing buyer-seller relationships, collaboration, and purchasing process improvement. Reverse auctions have also been criticized as "bid shopping" - when a buyer uses a supplier's bid to obtain lower prices from other suppliers.

Suppliers seeking to avoid reverse auctions can create unique intellectual property, expand the value propositions for its customers by creating new products and services, or seek to extend or improve collaborative activities with their customers.

Reverse auctions used in industrial business-to-business procurement and spend management activities remains controversial, both within buying organizations, among suppliers, and among the academics who study them. As such, buyers considering the use reverse auctions should carefully evaluate all available information, both favorable and unfavorable, to ensure that informed business decisions are made.


[1] Beall, S., Carter, C., Carter, P., Germer, T., Hendrick, T., Jap, S., Kaufmann, L., Maciejewski, D., Monczka, R., and Peterson, K., (2003), “The Role of Reverse Auctions in Strategic Sourcing, CAPS Research Report,” CAPS Research, Tempe, AZ, http://www.capsresearch.org See: SAP BID engine

External links

Links to non-commercial sources of reverse auction research and general information:

Information on Buyer-Seller Collaboration

• Bounds G., "Toyota Supplier Development", in Cases in Quality, G. Bounds, Editor, R.D. Irwin Co., Chicago, IL, 1996, pp. 3-25

• Bounds G., Shaw, A., and Gillard, J., "Partnering the Honda Way", in Cases in Quality, G. Bounds, Editor, R.D. Irwin Co., Chicago, IL, 1996, pp. 26-56

• Dyer, J. and Nobeoka, K., "Creating and Managing a High-Performance Knowledge Sharing Network: The Toyota Case," Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 21, 2000, pp. 345-367

• Liker, J. and Choi, T., “Building Deep Supplier Relationships,” Harvard Business Review, Vol. 82, No. 12, December 2004, pp. 104-113

• Womack, J., Jones, D., and Roos, D., The Machine that Changed the World, Rawson Associates, New York, NY, 1990, Chapter 6

See also

  Results from FactBites:
IACT Reverse Auction Purchasing (275 words)
Though a relatively new concept to government, reverse auction purchasing is a well-established practice in the private sector.
Reverse Auction Purchasing allows vendors you select to compete for your business through a competitive bidding environment.
Reverse Auction Purchasing has helped local governments in Indiana and other states save an average of 10% on the amount budgeted for products and equipment.
Reverse auction - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1489 words)
It is a type of auction in which the role of the buyer and seller are reversed, with the primary objective to drive purchase prices downward.
Reverse auction is a tool used by many purchasing and supply management organizations for spend management, as part of strategic sourcing and overall all supply management activities.
Reverse auctions are used to fill both large and small value contracts for public and private commercial organizations.
  More results at FactBites »



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