10 seconds left in the auction. You’re winning! 5 seconds left. You’re still in the lead. 3 seconds left. You have the winning bid. You’ve got this one in the bag. Then it happens. Within the last two seconds of the auction, you receive the message: “You’ve been outbid!” You scramble to respond but it’s too late. You’ve lost. To add insult to injury, you immediately receive eBay’s passive aggressive message: “An item got away – but there’s more!” Make no mistake about it, you’ve been sniped!
What is Bid Sniping?
Bid sniping involves placing a bid as late in the auction as possible, leaving competing bidders with no time to respond with a higher bid. While perfectly “in-bounds” by eBay standards, sniping can make those who missed out on the auction feel like they’ve been cheated. The practice does run counter to the essence of an auction, in which bidders openly compete with each other until someone cries uncle and forfeits the auction.
That said, for better or for worse, sniping is part of the eBay experience. All bids placed before a listing ends are valid, even when placed within one second of an auction’s close. As a bidder, you have a few options to combat such sniper attacks. You can use eBay’s proxy bidding system, bid and hope for the best, or choose to directly compete with those stealthy snipers! If you chose the latter, here are a few tips to consider.
How to Become a Lethal Sniper
The goal of any bidder, is to win an auction by paying the lowest amount possible, and without paying more than an item is worth.
To line-up an auction list of snipe-worthy targets, you must first start with research. To get an idea of what a particular item is fetching at auction, it’s a good idea to search previously completed auctions. To do so, click the “Advanced” text link next to the “Search” button at the top of the page.
On the Advanced Search page, enter the keywords of the item that you’re researching. Next, scroll down to the section titled “Search including” and check the box next to “Sold listings”. Once you’ve entered the keywords and checked the sold listings box, click the “Search” button.
The search page returns results from completed auctions, along with images, item details, seller info, final sale price, and more. Reviewing completed auctions will give you a range of prices that a particular type of item has sold for on eBay.
To Snipe or Not to Snipe?
Before making a decision to snipe an item at auction, you may want to check to see if a seller is offering the item for less than the current trend of winning auction prices. To do so, return to the Advanced Search page and click the “Items in stores” tab underneath the “Stores” section located on the left-side menu.
On the Advanced Search page, enter the keywords of the item that you’re researching. Next, scroll down to the “Buying formats” section and check the box next to “Buy It Now.” Once you’ve entered the keywords and checked the “Buy It Now” box, click the “Search” button.
Scroll through the “Buy It Now” listings to see if someone is offering the item at a price that is comparable or cheaper than it sells for at auction. If you find a hit, you may be better off buying now versus sniping later.
To reduce the likelihood of sniping against large numbers of bidders, look for auctions that end at unusual times. Your sniping success rate will exponentially increase when the number of bidders decreases.
Seek auctions that end at off-hours, Monday through Friday. Although eBay is an international marketplace, the odds of competing against the masses will subside when you target auctions that end between 1am and 8am on a weekday. This is especially true for our North American readers.
Also look to see if an item that you’re interested in is being offered by multiple sellers within the same time frame. For example, if there are 7 auctions for a 1906-O Barber Dime ending within 30 minutes of each other, you may want to target the last one or two auctions in that time period. The hope with this strategy is that other bidders will compete (and spend) on the earlier items, leaving you with fewer competitors on the later auctions.
Odd Dollar Amounts.
Consider assigning odd dollar amounts to your bids. For example, instead of bidding $20 or $20.50 consider upping your bid to $21.57. Most bidders will bid in even dollar increments of $1, $5, $10 and tack on cents in $.25 increments. If you run up against a “Proxy Bidder” (more on this later) or another sniper, your odd dollar amount could be the difference in winning or losing an auction.
If you’re going to be an effective sniper, a high-speed internet connection is a must. For example, I pull the trigger on most of my snipes within 3 to 5 seconds of an auction’s end time. This wouldn’t be possible with a slow internet connection.
If you’re worried about internet connectivity, speed, and time spent watching auctions, you may want to consider subscribing to snipping software. For example, Auction Sniper, and Bidnapper offer various subscription levels to do the sniping for you.
Sniping Doesn’t Always Work
While I’ve been known to snipe many auctions, this strategy doesn’t always result in victory. For one, many bidders use eBay’s proxy bidding system. In a nutshell, a bidder places their highest bid (the highest amount they’re willing to pay) on an item and lets eBay take over the bidding process moving forward. Using the proxy bidding system, eBay will automatically place the lowest bid possible, while also ensuring your bid is the highest. So how does eBay’s proxy bidding system thwart your plans to poach at item at the last second? Here’s an example:
An item you’re following shows a winning bid of $50. Based on your research, you know that similar items have previously sold for $200 at auction. Knowing this, you decide to wait until the last second to submit a bid of $177.77. However, unbeknownst to you, the proxy bidder originally assigned a top bid of $205 to the item. Assuming the proxy bidding system was programmed to raise the bid by $5 increments, your last second bid of $177.77 only managed to raise the selling price to $182.77. And being that you waited until the last second to bid, you didn’t leave yourself enough time to bid again. You’ve been reverse-sniped!
The other issue I’ve regularly encountered, is competition from other snipers (or sniper software). This typically occurs when an item is performing poorly at auction. For example, when an item should attract a large volume of bidders and command high bids but doesn’t, it will attract more opportunistic snipers! Snipers are content to let the price remain well below market price for the opportunity to poach the item for cheap at the very last second. So if you have your eye on a poor performing item, just know that you’re in for a snipe fight!
The Winning Formula
Despite these obstacles, it still comes down to placing a bid that is comparable to market value and a number that you’re comfortable paying if you were to win. Regardless if you proxy bid, nibble bid, or snipe, follow those two rules and you’ll always walk away from an auction knowing that you didn’t pay too much!
See you on the auction battlefield!