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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Flower Auctions

Some time ago I reviewed Ken Steiglitz's book: Snipers, Shills and Sharks. A good semi-technical and very readable overview of the science of auctions. I was surprised to find auction process overviewed in a seemingly unrelated book, Amy Stewart's Flower Confidential. Another one of those non-fiction books that brings to life a seemingly simple aspect of business. Here its about the business of cut flowers. A long time follower of things horticultural, its a fascinating view of the complexities of that business.

Back to auctions .... along the way Stewart gives an excellent description of the Aalsmeer flower auction in the Netherlands (p. 219-) Not surprisingly this is held as a Dutch auction, well described in Steiglitz's book. Dutch auctions are very different from English style auctions we commonly see. Instead of a bid starting low and sale going to the highest bidder, Dutch auctions start at a high bid and a clock is used to drop the price at each prescribed tick. A bidder can stop the clock and get the purchase at that price at any time. The psychology is quite different. It's often used for large and partial lot auctions. Stewart also talks about how the Aalsmeer auction insists on hands on interaction with the product, while it could be more efficiently done online. The symbolic interaction between real and virtual world is worth thinking about. While you could build a technical visual system to accurately grade flowers, IBM's Veggie vision is a related example, there is something to be said for a physical interaction, especially for a product that has a strong sensual component.

A visit to the Aalsmeer flower auction is on my list.

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