Search the web for a man with a van

Removal companies are auctioning spare capacity online, saving consumers money on moving costs. Chiara Cavaglieri reports

If you plan to move house this spring, you could cut costs by using one of the new breed of delivery auction sites. Just as bidders might compete to buy your goods on eBay, website Anyvan.com, for example, offers delivery companies the opportunity to bid against each other to deliver them.

Anyvan is by no means the first of its kind. American company Uship.com and UK-based Shiply.com have been around for a while. They offer a similar service, but can these auction sites really save you money? "A lot of companies have signed up to these sites, from small one-man vans to some of the largest and well known transport companies, all bidding for work on what would otherwise be empty journeys for them," says Chris Walton from Commercial Motor Magazine.

The concept behind these sites is simple. Thousands of vehicles travel across the country moving goods from one place to another, but many of these aren't filled to capacity and 25 per cent of lorries are making their return journeys empty. Transport companies have been quick to see the appeal of making money from this wasted capacity. So far, Anyvan has attracted more than 3,000 courier and haulage companies to sign up.

"It was an easy sell to get them to sign up. They can make more money on the same route, which in this economic climate is massively beneficial," says Angus Elphinstone, the creator of Anyvan.

As well as benefiting companies looking for extra work on otherwise fruitless journeys, consumers can use these sites to cut the cost of transporting goods. "If they're travelling from Manchester to London, even if they only get their petrol paid for, it's a bonus and the customer's only paying £50 to get their items moved so it's a win-win situation," adds Mr Elphinstone.

Both Shiply and Anyvan work as an online marketplace matching consumers wanting to move goods with lorries and vans already taking the same route. Consumers are offered competitive rates, with savings of up to 75 per cent.

You simply list the items you need to be transported and stipulate whether you can be flexible on delivery time or need it moved immediately. Delivery and courier companies already travelling in that direction can then start bidding to carry your items. Almost anything can be transported, from a few boxes to entire house contents, and helpfully, both sites are compatible with eBay, which lists hundreds of thousands of items that are available only for local collection.

Both sites are free to use and take their commission from the transport companies. Recently accepted bids on Anyvan include a house move from north London to Epsom for £60 and a scooter taken from Manchester to Edinburgh for £45.

Although there are clear financial benefits for transport companies and consumers, these websites are not without risk. How do check, for instance, the bona fides of the firm transporting your goods?

Fortunately, sites such as eBay feature user feedback which makes it easier to check up on any company you're thinking of using. At Anyvan, each company that signs up is given a unique pass to log in and verify their status. Any company with an unverified status and no history is unlikely to attract jobs, and if one company gets three complaints from users it is suspended from the site.

"Rogue traders get sifted out quite quickly – eBay opened up the door for self-policing. Testimonials and feedback are massive now and people trust other users," says Mr Elphinstone.

Companies on Anyvan also have a profile page where they enter a business description as well as details of any goods in transit insurance so the information is there for a background check. Emails can also be sent internally to any company that catches your eye so that you can contact it before accepting a bid and feel more confident about the kind of service you can expect.

"It really is about sticking with reputable sites, doing your research and checking the feedback on past transactions. This type of service will become more widespread so people have just got to be savvy about which ones they use," says Mr Walton.

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