Please read this article before you plan to buy something at Catawiki, or especially when you plan to sell something there! In it I summarize direct and indirect experiences with Catawiki to a view of them that Catawiki tries to hide thoroughly, but what everybody should have of it. Catawiki presents itself as an expert auction house with sense of business and as a reliable intermediary, but it appears to be an ordinary online auction service that, behind a façade of an auction house, tries to drag in as much money as possible. After reading this article it will probably be less of a surprise to you that Catawiki is a “fast-growing online auction site”.
Some links unfortunately refer to Dutch sites and texts, sorry for that. Catawiki started here in the Netherlands, so we have most experiences with them here. I try to prevent people from abroad to gain the same experiences!
Catawiki (Assen, Netherlands, 2008) started as an online wiki-based compendium of collector’s catalogues, which explains its name. Since 2011 they also do online auctions for collectors. Since then they continued to present themselves as site for specific, unique collector’s items, but what that comprehends is quite broad and continues to grow. Any product that has a brand and is a few years old, like just an iPhone, can get auctioned there. You could be auctioning the device you are reading this on right now there the coming years. This way Catawiki has now grown to a reasonable auction site for individual products and is currently the “fastest growing tech company”.
Catawiki lies behind a façade of an auction house and presents itself as expert of collector’s items and uses that, and having the appearance of having “notarial supervision” and “professional auctioneers”, to distinguish itself from especially, for instance, eBay. They have no fixed locations for auctions, however, and they never see the auctioned products themselves: those are directly sent by the seller to the buyer or retrieved by the buyer at the seller. The Catawiki terms and conditions of use only speaks of a “service” and it is really nothing more than that. The only thing they see coming by are e-mails and all the money. A lot of collector’s items they know only as an entry in their database.
A good friend of mine gained experience selling via Catawiki himself; I was eyewitness. Soon it appeared that you have to deal with a lot more trickery and deceit than with, for instance, eBay. Continuous online streams of complaints showed we were not the only one dealing with this.
Of course, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, but after our experiences and examining those complaints streams a number of things stay remarkable. Often a logical explanation can be found for this: the service is set-up in such a way that Catawiki always wins.
In this article I try to summarize all experiences of people with complaints about Catawiki. Some ‘Catawikiklant‘ (‘Catawiki customer’) well summarized what buying at Catawiki means in 2015, but I get the impression that story has not fully been recognized by enough people yet. Next, the story is even worse for sellers by the way.
Who are the Sellers and Buyers?
Go to a random website where you can create an email address, hit your keyboard a few times and click ‘Create’. There you have a new email address to create any random buyer or seller on Catawiki with. Congratulations! No, seriously, any hick can be a number of buyers and sellers there at the same time. Or also a fake bidder on any own fake or non-existing products. Just like with, for instance, eBay, the identity of a seller or buyer cannot be verified in any way, so let alone how reliable someone is there.
At registration, sellers need to submit a copy (read picture or image) of some identification document, but doing this via the internet is naturally far from watertight. The trick with it was that, when you hold it in your hands, you can really see the document is not fake and, above all, the face on the one opposing you is the same as the one on the photo on it. But this essential step is skipped for convenience. Still anyone can become a seller at Catawiki using his own identification or that of his mom. If you once lost an identification, you might be a seller according to Catawiki right now!
Buyers can give feedback on sellers. The sellers can only hope that feedback is sincere. On the other hand, if sellers fear negative feedback, then they can just fail to put their item to ‘sent/picket-up’. When there is too much negative feedback a seller can just create a new account of course.
So bought items can also get picked up at the seller. In this case a real pick-up address is communicated from the seller to the buyer. Submitting a fake address here would get too much notice of course, but when a seller does rather not show himself to buyers, he can always give an address in a remote corner of the country, or at least far away from the seller.
The Auction Deal
What does an auction at Catawiki content? When a seller offers something for sale it is called a lot. Let’s first see how Catawiki likes to see how lots are auctioned and sold.
Offering Up a Lot
The seller can offer up a lot by indicating in the Catawiki catalog what it is and supplying a description and pictures of the item. The seller can submit a “reserved price”; the item will not get sold when the final bid ends below that price.
After the offering by the seller the lot must first, including any reserved price, get approved by a so-called “specialist auctioneer”. After approval this so-called “specialist auctioneer” can attach a suggestive “value estimate” (5.6) to it, which guarantees nothing.
After approval the lot stays available for one week on the site for bidders, from a Friday to a Friday. Probably the “specialist auctioneer” (or whatever employee of Catawiki) never saw the product itself or even the seller himself! Catawiki now only withdraws the lot on request of the seller when they like that (5.10).
In the week a lot is available, all buyers can anonymously bid on the lot. The system demands a bidding is a minimal amount above the previous one. After the bids get higher, this step amount is increased once in a while. There is also an option for automatic bidding. Most of the times a lot gets a few nonsense bids in the beginning of the week and there is a run of bids in the end. In itself, this does not have any surprises.
After the week, and when the final bid is above any reserved price, the sale will continue. When the seller only got the lot accepted by the “specialist auctioneer” with a lower or even only without a reserved price and eventually the the final bid is way below the reserved price in mind, the hand of the seller is forced.
After the auction, as regards Catawiki, a successful sale goes as follows after the bidding:
- The buyer decently transfers the money to Catawiki
- Catawiki indicates to the seller they received the money
- The seller decently sends the product to the buyer or the latter picks it up
- The seller puts the lot on ‘send / picked up’
- The buyer decently and friendly indicates with Catawiki the product was received
- The buyer types a sincere piece of feedback about the lot and the seller after receiving it, what of course was exactly as described by the seller and looked exactly as on the pictures of the seller
- Catawiki transfers some money to the seller
Catawiki seems to believe in the goodness of man here! Cute, isn’t it? The buyer and seller now do business mutually and via the automatic Catawiki website; in the meanwhile Catawiki just keeps the money and just looks what happens. When a buyer does not pay he gets threatened with a collection agency of course.
To ensure the seller and buyer do not mutually arrange something else than Catawiki wants (like mutually agree to abandon the sale), Catawiki nervously tries to hide information. The winner of the auction and seller are not brought into contact with each other before the sale continues and the buyer transferred money to Catawiki. So also an interim visit of the product is hard to arrange for instance. As a buyer you will certainly not see the product before you transferred money to Catawiki and it is sent to you or you went all the way to the seller to pick it up. When the product proves totally not to be what you had in mind and you want to return it, then of course you must bear the costs of sending it back (8.9)! The last surprise is for the seller: you are now liable for at least “the Seller’s Commission that Catawiki has missed out on” (9.6) and must pay! Nobody will ever get all money back and things can only get worse! What do you think you are doing to Catawiki as buyer by being dissatisfied with a product both you and Catawiki never saw before?
The ‘Extra’ Costs
Naturally every service needs to get payed for. The revenue model is based on two rates: 9 percent (including taxes) extra for the buyer and 12.5 percent (excluding taxes) commission for the seller. So, with a value-added tax (VAT) of 21%, like in the Netherlands, a buyer pays 9 * 1.21 = 10.89 of the purchase price to Catawiki and the rest, being 89.01%, is for the sale. Of that 89.01% is 89.01 / 1.21 = 73.56% left without VAT for the sale and the rest, being 15.45%, is for the tax authorities. So of that 73.56% yet 12.5% is for Catawiki again, so 73.56 * 0.125 = 9.2% of the original buyers amount. For the seller 73.56 – 9.2 = 64.36% of the original amount the buyer once payed to Catawiki is left! Of that last amount eventually 10.89 + 9.2 = 20.09% is consumed by Catawiki. So, in Catawiki’s earnings model only the inevitable, necessary taxes and two low percentages are mentioned. With keeping more than a fifth of the price the seller transferred for themselves, Catawiki is the big winner here. And the tax authorities are a good second winner. Moreover this has no upper limit; when a car is sold for €10000, Catawiki earns mode than €2000 just for placing an auction advertisement for a week on the website and handling emails. Ka-ching!
What I noticed is that the two rates, the 12.5% commission for the seller and the 9% auction fee for the buyer, are hardly mentioned together on their site and in publications. I guess I would do that too if I was them.
Finally also notice that paying taxes is inevitably when doing business via Catawiki’s auction site. I leave aside it you agree with that or not.
Auctions in Practice
Because humanity is simply thoroughly rotten, every opportunity where one can scam another will be utilized. And here all involved parties get an abundance of opportunities to do only that what especially benefits themselves. Yolo!
The so-called “Specialist Auctioneers”
Even people that do business via Catawiki for quite some time do not understand the handling of the so-called “specialist auctioneers” or “professional auctioneers”. They wonder: Is it incompetence or swindle? Summarizing all complaints about them, people see those “specialist auctioneers” as follows:
- They are a bunch of amateurs who do whatever they want.
- When something goes wrong with the same the appear not to care about the buyer and seller at all.
- They choose the side for their employer / or real client Catawiki above all.
- They always hide behind the rules of Catawiki that makes their statements binding and makes them not liable for anything. They are not even mentioned in the terms and conditions of use; their business is pure and only that of Catawiki.
- Sometimes they are sellers themselves too and rather accept lots of themselves or friends or family than those of others! Of course a struggle of interest could not be missing from this article.
After persistent (slow) (polite) mail exchanges with “specialist auctioneers” the communication eventually stops with a jejune reference to the rules or they just stop responding in a cold-blooded way. If you manage to find a phone number of them and call it with the same story it can happen to you that they suddenly disconnect you after letting you wait for minutes.
Catawiki completely disregards complaints about so-called “specialist auctioneers”; at most they print it to make toilet paper out of it. Nobody seems to know the legal bond between them and Catawiki, but their pay or salary can only come from Catawiki and they only handle as ordinary employees or stakeholders of Catawiki.
Catawiki’s online auction service offers a lot of opportunities for scams and swindle for the several parties involved. Such as:
- The so-called “specialist auctioneer” can refuse a lot on any random / made-up ground and can give every lot any random value estimation.
- The seller can decide not to send anything (or send a brick in a registered form with a note on it saying “fooled ya”) and then in a cold-blooded way claim the product was sent. The registry of something being sent is or course “proof” it is actually sent. Then hope the buyer mails something to Catawiki like: “It is decently delivered at the neighbors, but I don’t know exactly where they live.” And then that Catawiki thinks the product did actually arrive and the buyer is lying.
- Especially when the delivery was done without registry, the buyer can keep claiming the product never arrived after delivery and wait for Catawiki to transfer some money back. When the so-called “specialist auctioneer” on the basis of credibility of emails decides to choose the side of the buyer here, the buyer gets his money back and the seller (who lost its product) must pay his commission!
- A seller can decide never to put his lot on ‘sent / picked up’ at the Catawiki site. This way the buyer cannot give any (negative) feedback to the seller.
- When a buyer gives feedback on a seller at the Catawiki site, any complete random story can get dreamed up. This can also be something innocent like “product not yet received” while the product was received a day later yet and the effort was not taken to give that as feedback as well or adapt or remove the last feedback.
- Everybody knows: When you need to pay a (government) organization this must always be done immediately; when you should receive money it takes long. This also applies to Catawiki. The seller will not get his money within 10 days for sure; they keep it themselves. In the mean time Catawiki can exert pressure on bot the seller as the buyer by threats. “Catawiki will at all times be entitled, at its discretion, to suspend payment of any and all funds of the Users in question, to set-off any claims Catawiki might have, and if necessary, to freeze any balances that those Users may have” (3.8). So when you sell much via Catawiki, they can hold in anything on your revenues they think they are entitled to
Communications with Catawiki mostly leads via the internet, especially email. As far as evidence is concerned, this always means it is a copy of or link to some digital document. These can always be falsified and are always non-closing. A track & trace link of some registered shipment does for instance not indicate there was only a brick in the package, apart from its weight. Digital images can always get picked from somewhere on the internet and can get edited. All parties can in all cases blame each other and will keep doing that. Where products are send using some delivery service, yet another, fourth party is added to the game besides Catawiki, the seller and the buyer. You can guess who is never blamed by the delivery service.
Prices Sold For
An advantage of the fact that Catawiki gets a percentage of the price is that Catawiki has interests in the lot being sold for the highest price. They can only do that by emphasizing the exclusivity of the items. Maybe this is done by giving lost high price estimates or by not auction too much items of one kind. This might partly explain why people think the handling of the so-called “specialist auctioneers” is complete random. Yet again the interests of the sellers and buyers are not favored here. Here Catawiki again only favors their own interests!
The streams of complaints mention sails that fail in widely varying ways. For instance there is a story where the seller finds the final bid to be way too low and the buyer wanted to waive the sale. Both told Catawiki, but still Catawiki dispatched a collection agency to the buyer. Or even a splendid case of a story where a seller was insured for damage to his products, but Catawiki did not even cooperate with supplying evidence of the damage to the products for the purpose of that insurance.
Another, exemplary, poignant case experienced my friend as seller. Together we put a fine working watch in a box to ship it to a buyer. We even put the running watch on the correct time before putting it in the box. Later we received a complaint from the buyer: “The knob with pin fell out just like that.” He shipped the watch back and we got one back, maybe not even be the same one, with twisted internal gear works and it was impossible to place the pin back in. After sending pictures of this to Catawiki they only reasoned: ‘Ah, the product is successfully returned and the sale cancelled. We are not responsible for damage to products. Now lets send a bill to the seller for the commission.’ Refusing to pay this was not an option here: it was withheld on the payment of a different lot. So it can happen to you as a seller that your product is demolished, you must pay for the delivery and you get yet another bill from Catawiki you cannot refuse to pay! When a sale fails in any way and Catawiki chooses the side of the buyer, the seller will always pay the commission.
The poignant cases show that whatever the final outcome of a sale is, whatever bizarre things happen, Catawiki is not interested in the fate of the sellers or buyers at all, but Catawiki wants to see money at all times!
Because the seller gets his turn all the way at the end of a large number of steps that need to be taken, he has the biggest change of getting screwed. But it appears to occur that a so-called “specialist auctioneer”, at a deadlock between the seller and buyer, choose the side of the seller and “the buyer loses his money”. Did the seller get his 64%? Or did the so-called “specialist auctioneer” chose for none of both? I’ll give you three guesses on who then keeps all the money in the last case!
The worst case for Catawiki is that they spend some work for nothing to accept a lot, placing it on their automatic site for a week and do negotiation via email afterwards. In all cases, especially the ones where the seller or buyer are fair, Catawiki always wins! When something goes wrong with the sale or between the seller and buyer (even if this is only something with the delivery) then they see what they can keep of the money or just keep all of it. No wonder that this company grows so fast!
The site Klachtenkompas.nl is a website for complaints about a lot of companies, including Catawiki. This site is an initiative by the Consumentenbond, a Dutch non-profit organization which promotes consumer protection. This site indicates it ‘often’ gets complaints about Catawiki. Employees of Catawiki are involved with this too. Yet again the appearance is kept up that everything is handled correctly, but also here they “distort facts and only try to get some revenue out of doing the least possible”. When they think there is no honor in they just stop responding in a cold-blooded way there too.
In summary, as a buyer you can loose your money without receiving anything, and as a seller you could lose your product, pay for delivery and receive yet another bill from Catawiki. Catawiki just dumps you and keeps pretending to others to be safe. Afterwards the only thing you can do is put an expensive lawyer on it, but Catawiki knows it is not worth it for you. Dealing via Catawiki is not safer that via other online trade services, but it is more expensive for sure!
People, please see that trade via Catawiki, in spite of the appearance it is keeping up, is certainly not better or safer than for instance via eBay.
Maybe it is an advantage for you as seller to share the appearance of the skilled auction house towards your buyers and it looks as if you are selling authentic gadgets instead of just some second hand chit. Please understand that your buyers will see through that over time, that it is nothing more reliable for a seller and that you never know if you get your money and how much.
For a buyer it might look as an advantage that there is a “reliable” intermediary, making it impossible that you send money without receiving anything back for it. But still you can loose your money, not only to the seller, but now also to Catawiki itself.
I hope this article made clear to you that Catawiki doesn’t offer you any certainty as both seller and buyer. The only certainty you get is that with every sale Catawiki (and the tax collectors) earn good money with it and when it goes wrong Catawiki often earn even more on it. With this money Catawiki for instance pays for the 30 seconds TV commercials you see a lot nowadays; please think of this article when you see it.
Catawiki could have behaved itself not only as the intermediary of the money, but also of the product or lot itself. In this case they would first wait for both the money from the buyer and the product of the seller to arrive, then check the product and finally forward both. But of course they are not going to do that: they would earn less money with it and are fine with how things go so far. And as long as there is no competitor on the auction / trace market doing exactly this, they can keep up the appearance of being safe. Till now the only safe way of doing trade online is only do the advertising and / or bids online.