Auction Checkout Strategies: Make It Easy So Guests Can Get Their Swag and Get Going


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If you’ve ever attended a charity auction, you’re probably no stranger to this scenario: You’ve had a fun evening of eating catered food (and maybe a nice glass of Moscato). You’ve enjoyed an evening of socializing, music, and entertainment. You’re feeling good because you sniped your prized auction item in the final moments of bidding (take that bidder #11!). But all that excitement’s got you feeling a little tired. Your feet might be sore from one dance too many. You want to get home, get comfy, and revel in your awesome night. But first you have to pay – and the checkout line is about 100 people deep.

Suddenly, your perfect evening feels more like the last time you needed to visit the DMV. People in line are grumpy and the two volunteers are frazzled searching for the right auction items, finding the highest bid price on the bid sheet, and taking cash and credit card payments. By the time you’re through the line and clutching your life-size cardboard cutout of Jon Snow from Game of Thrones (who wouldn’t want to win that?), you’re feeling a lot less psyched about your night.

Don’t let a bad checkout experience tarnish an otherwise stellar fundraising event! Use these tips to streamline the process.

Offer tableside service with seating assigned by bid number

Here’s a solution that eliminates lines and adds a touch of class to your auction. Instead of collecting bid sheets when people are checking out, gather bid sheets immediately after the auction portion of your event ends. Make sure you offer some seated entertainment for the end of the evening. You could encourage your guests to enjoy dessert and coffee while you show an impactful video of the work they help you do. You could ask a beneficiary of your services to share the story of how your services helped them. In the meantime, have your staff go through the bid sheets to determine which bidder won which item.

To make this easy on your organization and cut down on interpersonal conflict at your event, I suggest you assign each guest a bidder number. That way, bidders don’t have to write their name on the sheet but you can still identify them. You can then match the name in your system with their assigned bidder number to determine what they’ve bid on and won. Your guests, on the other hand, will be less likely to find out who bid on what and become less likely to track you down after you outbid them on all that awesome Game of Thrones merchandise.

When all the auction items are divided into piles by winning bidder number, deliver the items directly to the bidder’s table. Have a way to process bidders’ payment directly at the table. You’ll want to have a tablet, smart phone, or similar device for wirelessly accepting credit cards, but don’t forget folks who will want to pay by check or cash. Having a secure way to handle cash and make change when delivering direct-to-table is a must. This approach frees up a lot of staff because your guests are contained and taking part in a seated activity. Take advantage of this by pulling your volunteers into the dividing and delivering roles during this part of the evening.

Pro Tip: Map out your seating chart ahead of your event. Number the seats on your map and be sure to make up additional bidder number cards/bid paddles for day-of registrants/unexpected guests. When setting up your event, have a display card of the bidder number on the back of each chair or integrated into the table centerpiece. But the bidder numbers should be visible from a distance, so your item runners know who to go to.

Use a multi-line checkout system

Have a small venue or antsy guests? You still have options! Break up the lines into cash/check payments and credit card payment lines. This strategy creates two smaller lines out of one major line. Because those taking payments won’t be changing payment types frequently, this system becomes more efficient. The card machines don’t go unused while you’re taking cash payments, and those paying in cash don’t have to wait through the multiple steps of taking card payments.

However, this strategy is easiest to execute if you have a way of marking your bid sheets as paid or, better yet, offer an itemized receipt with an item number assigned to each auction item won. When the items are paid for, your guest can then hand over their bid sheets or show their itemized receipt to claim their items from the auction table. If you have the staff available, have them offer to take the items to the guest’s car. If you’re short-handed, it may be nice to at least offer the items in a padded box and offer to tape it closed for them for ease of transport. Gift bags for non-breakable auction items are also a nice touch and makes transportation easier on your guests.

Stagger your auction

I admit, it’s an awesome sight to behold when you attend a charity auction with a ton of different things to bid on. However, the more items you have, the longer the checkout line becomes. This is because, typically, the more items you

have, the more buyers you’ll attract. So how do you combat this without taking your auction from plentiful to puny?

Well, just like a live auction, you can stagger your auction items. You can split your silent auction items up into two or three different time slots. This way, you can end a silent auction, and check out your guests while setting up the next group of items. This cuts down on having one long silent auction where guests may not want to wait and pay until the very end. It also helps people get their items faster.

However, the staggered silent auction technique has its shortcomings as well. You’ll have to make sure that the number of items available during each sale period isn’t overwhelmingly huge. Otherwise you’ll only have successfully created multiple long lines during a single event. Stick to 10-15 items max per period.

Another potential pitfall you may face is decreased bid time may net less money for your organization. Make sure that you’re still allowing guests a reasonable amount of time to get their bids in. At least 30 minutes should be enough to get bids in. Save high-value items for the last time slot so you can extend it in the case of a bid war. Make sure you’re not missing out on funds. Use this staggered method during day-long events. This way, your guests can stay for as little or as long as they’d like. Additionally, guests can check out casually if they’re leaving the event early.

Manage your time well. Make plenty of announcements to guests about when auctions are starting and closing. Also, give them a courtesy 5 minutes to closing warning. This method can make your auction run like a well-oiled machine.


Being stuck in long lines is no one’s favorite pastime. So why end an awesome event on an awkward, uncomfortable note? Using these tips to manage checkout can help you cut down on lines or even cut the line out altogether. Want advice on making your auction check in process just as efficient? Check out this article for auction check-in strategies. Thinking of hosting an auction but have no idea how to get items to sell? Don’t worry. We’ve got you! This article discusses how to obtain auction items and explains what kinds of items work.

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