Are reverse auctions good for print buyers?

Answered by Suzanne Morgan, founder, Print Buyers

What do you think about reverse auctions? Are reverse auctions good for print buyers?

T. D.

I am often asked this question. First, allow me to describe reverse auctions: Reverse auctions allow print buyers to bid their jobs to literally hundreds of printers with the obvious goal of finding a supplier with the lowest price. During the bidding process, printers can view each other’s bids. By seeing other printers’ prices, printers have the "opportunity" to offer a lower price. Obviously, a company wouldn’t bid higher than its competitors because it’s unlikely they would be selected. Therefore, the auction price keeps going down, not up.

I think reverse auctions are at best a dangerous game and at worst a nightmare for both print buyers and printers. Printers and other industry suppliers, knowing that I am an advocate for print buyers, are sometimes surprised to find that I’m not a fan of the practice. After all, wouldn’t I want print buyers to get the lowest prices?

Here are some problems to consider:

  • It’s like going out on a blind date every single time you bid a job. I strongly believe that a print supplier can better help you reduce your costs and/or increase your response rate once they understand your company’s goals, values, history, promotions, etc. However, the process of understanding your business can take months, if not years. So sending your specs out to suppliers that don’t know you or your business simply means you'll get a price on a set of limited specifications. This is very different from basing costs on a more the comprehensive expectations for a project that are different for every company and change for almost every print project.

  • A printer is in the best position to help you save time and money if the printer is involved in the job from the beginning. And, I do mean the beginning – helping you engineer the specifications. Once the specs are set, there is only so much a supplier can do to help you save money.

  • Beware. Reverse auctions provide bare-bones pricing. Reverse auctions encourage and almost insist that printers give very basic, "stripped" pricing. The original quoted price almost never matches the invoice – not because the printer is unethical – but because the printer has to charge for ANY change or addition to the specifications or lose money on the job. I just don’t believe that reverse auctions provide real price estimates.

  • It’s in the print buying company’s best interest to make sure that their printers are profitable. Over 4,000 print shops closed their doors in the past year. You DO NOT want to work with a printer that can barely make payroll or is about to go out of business.

    On the other hand, profitable printers are the ones that invest in equipment, service, employees and infrastructure. Because these companies can offer more than merely putting ink on paper, they can be trusted with your critical business communications.


    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please send any comments or advice to and be sure to title your e-mail "reverse auction."
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