Wool industry sheepish about online fate

Award-winning website shut down

The wool auction industry is offline for the forseeable future, after the Woolnet online auction system was shut down July 31 because of lack of patronage.

The site, which two years ago won a Computerworld Excellence Award, has been the subject of criticism by wool exporters almost since its launch in 1999. A year later, the Wool Exporters Council said it had been designed and implemented without adequate consultation with potential users and had not been approached as a project in a commercial manner.

Last September, the Wool Board, which owned Woolnet through its Woolpro subsidiary, was disestablished and merged with the similarly disestablished Meat Board. Under the Commodity Levies Act, they now fund “industry good” activities.

Roger Buchanan, chief executive of Woolboard Disestablishment, which is transferring the assets of the former producer board to growers, says he thinks it unlikely a replacement online auction system will figure under the “industry good” test.

He says Woolnet had worked very well for some but not for others. “Many aspects of the system worked well but were designed more around the interests of sellers rather than the purchasers.”

It was more a business issue than a technological problem, Buchanan says.

“Woolnet traded substantial volumes early on but volumes have tapered off significantly in the past 18 months,” he says. “They represent a miniscule amount of the total trade.”

Buchanan wouldn’t say exactly how much had been spent in total on Woolnet. “A couple of years ago we said we’d spent a couple of million dollars, and there’s been nothing in recent years in terms of upgrades."

Issues raised by the Wool Exporters Council included a lack in the description of wool. That meant sellers were given considerable flexibility and that descriptions for exporters were not standardised. Electronic debits and credits were also seen as awkward in the case of a dispute. With offline selling, a payment date is defined and can be postponed if a dispute arises.

The online auction future for wool may not be completely lost. Buchanan says “others” are exploring options as a commercial venture.

Woolnet was developed by Intergen.

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