Japan’s online auction market has seen major growth in the past several years, driven by the popularity of smartphones and sellers seeking to offload secondhand goods.

But the National Consumer Affairs Center has alerted consumers to take precautions against problems with the payment process and product defects.

In August last year, CyberAgent Inc., a Tokyo-based Internet service company, launched the Pashaoku auction site for smartphones.

In its first year, monthly users surged tenfold to roughly 1 million from about 100,000, according to the company. CyberAgent also operates popular blog and social-network site Ameba.

“Since it is apparently easy to use the site, it has helped us win new customers,” a CyberAgent official said, adding that Pashaoku users are mainly in their 20s and 30s.

Unlike conventional online auction sites, Pashaoku, which can be used by anyone with Ameba membership, does not require monthly usage fees or listing fees.

In roughly a decade, the online auction market has expanded to ¥800 billion from less than ¥200 billion in 2002, according to an estimate by Fuji Chimera Research Institute.

However, Ryohei Sasaki, a researcher at the institute, said the market is expected to grow at a slow pace of just 1 percent or less annually over the next several years.

As more people start using smartphones and tablet computers, however, Sasaki said growth could exceed that estimate.

In Japan, Yahoo Japan Corp. blazed a trail for the Internet auction industry in 1999, and was soon followed by other major Internet companies.

In terms of both volume and value, the items most traded on the Yahoo auction site, also known as Yafuoku, are fashion goods, such as clothing and shoes.

CDs, DVDs and manga are also popular.

Among less conventional auctions, people can find discount vouchers for shareholders or even such services as interpretation, illustration and event management.

Yafuoku users are mainly in their 30s and 40s, a Yahoo official said.

“Many of our sellers want to have someone use their items, which they no longer use but still have an attachment to,” the Yahoo official said. “They also want to know how much their item will be worth.”

In an online auction, a seller posts an entry for an item accompanied by photographs and explanations. The seller can also set a starting price and deadline.

The highest bidder obtains the right to purchase the item and contacts the seller about payment and shipment, if the details aren’t already in the entry.

After closing the deal, the seller and bidder evaluate each other on things like honesty and payment and shipment times. The scores are open to the public.

The National Consumer Affairs Center, backed by the Consumer Affairs Agency, said it receives about 7,000 complaints a year about online auctions.

The complaints include the discovery of defects in the items purchased and even failure to deliver, the center said.

“If you have any questions about the item, you must ask the seller for explanations beforehand and place bids after everything becomes truly clear,” an official of the center said.

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