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School Auction 101, Issue #5

We’re continuing with our discussion on ways to cut down the time your guests wait in line. Last time, we talked about tactics for optimizing check-in; today we’ll talk about check-out. Please feel free to contribute your opinions in the comments section below. And if this discussion is useful to you, you can sign up to be notified every time I put up a new installment in this series by signing up with the form on the left.

At check-out, the tasks are clear: greet the guest, look up their purchases, total their bill, resolve any mistakes, accept and process payment, and issue a receipt.

(Note: _The Auction 101 series of tips is intended to be useful to all auction teams, regardless of whether you are using our software, other software, or a manual process to run your auction. It’s not intended to be one big sales pitch. Still, my bias is going to be quite clear here - I think the place where running an auction without some software to organize item sales and payment processing really burns your team and your guests is check-out. If you have been running fundraising auctions manually, switching to or another software-based system will be a revelation. End of sales pitch.)

Okay, I know software will help, but we’re not going to use it this year. How do I speed up check-out without software?

With a manual process, you’ll need to have a good filing system, centrally placed so that all of your volunteers can get to the guest files (breaking up check-out alphabetically, like you did with check-in, is much less feasible with guests who are tired and may have been drinking), and this likely limits you to 4 or 5 check-out stations; otherwise there are too many collisions at the file box. You’ll also need printing calculators (with extra paper tape and ribbons stored under the table), plenty of pens, and a cash box for each check-out station.

In addition to the check-out clerks, I’d consider including two people whose sole job is to pull guest files on your check-out team, if you are running the auction manually, plus one or two personable, chatty people to “work the line” - talk with your guests while they wait, encourage them to have their credit-cards or checkbooks ready (they can fill out everything but the amount before they get up to the clerk’s station), and direct them to open clerks quickly.

If I am using (or other software) how many check-in stations should I have?

The same number as you had for check-in, at least. It’s a great idea to set up an extra station just for troubleshooting tricky check-out situations (i.e. a guest who disputes whether he or she actually wrote down that bid you see on the sheet, or a guest who spent more than the limit available on their credit card) - staff that station with an experienced member of the team or even the chair. This way, your other clerks can refer situations that will take more time to resolve to the troubleshooting station, and keep the lines moving for the rest of the guests.

If you are using a software package other than, be sure you check to see how many stations you can setup without incurring additional “seat fees”.

Should I check out guests before they come out of the auction room, and just have receipts available for them?

Maybe. There’s no doubt that this does speed the process up, at least for 75% of your guests. They can just take their receipts and go to item pickup.

The downside it that you don’t catch mistakes before you have processed their order; your guests may become more irritated with having to work with you to process returns and refunds, and the goodwill you engender because of the time gained will be squandered. At my auctions, I don’t do this.

What about leaving check-out for the next day?

Several of our customers do this - they say good night at the end of the auction, and total up purchases and process transactions the next day, or over the next week. It does completely sidestep the issue of asking tired guests to do anything else at the end of the auction - they can go straight home, pay the babysitter and go to sleep. The downside is that you either have to let the guests pick up their items before they’ve paid for them, or haul all of the items out of the auction venue and over to a separate pick-up point which you then have to staff. Still, when it comes to eliminating lines on auction night, this is the most effective tip I’ve got.

The Best Alternative: Mobile Check-Out

I alluded to this in the last installment, on check-in. And if you watched the video I linked to in that post, you’ve seen it in action. With our software, you can give your guests the option of checking themselves out without getting in line, by using their smartphones. You’ll still need a check-out station or two for guests who left their phone at home, or don’t want to take advantage of the opportunity, but many of your guests will do so. If you want a demo of this; let me know by replying to any of the emails you’ve received from me.


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