General Advice

Sniping

If you want to get truly good deals anymore on eBay, you have two options.  The first is to hit an undervalued Buy It Now listing before anyone else does.  The second is to snipe.

Sniping is the act of placing a bid on an auction mere seconds before it closes.  Sniping is a practice associated only with Internet auctions because live auctions are not timed and end only when all but one person has lost interest in bidding.  Most buyers are introduced to sniping by being a victim of it.  For example, let’s say that a buyer is “winning” an auction for a copy of Chase the Chuck Wagon with only ten seconds to go.  She is already congratulating herself for snapping it up for only $20.  The auction clock ticks down to five seconds left, when, all of a sudden, a flurry of bids appear out of nowhere.  The buyer’s own bid has been left in the dust.  Even worse, the auction is over, so she cannot raise her bid.  She has just been sniped.

There is a lot of controversy over the practice of sniping.  Some believe that it confers no advantage at all and that buyers should rely on eBay to proxy bid for them up to their maximum bid.  Others believe it to be unethical because the sniper doesn’t seem to be playing fairly by not allowing other bidders a chance to raise their bids.  Both groups are wrong.  Sniping absolutely confers an advantage, and all buyers can have the same access to sniping, whether they are parked in front of the computer or not.

There are two obvious advantages to sniping.  The first is the element of surprise, part of the reason why the practice is called “sniping.”  Other interested buyers have no idea that you even exist.  If you bid in a traditional manner, inputting your maximum bid the first and only time you bid, you have alerted others to your interest in the item.  Other buyers know that there is at least one other person that they must contend with, and they are apt to raise their maximum bids because the auction is now competitive.  Even worse, some buyers will slowly increase their bids by the minimum amount each time so that your maximum bid will eventually reveal itself.  Very simply, bidding in the traditional manner gives away too much information, and you will not win many auctions for in-demand collectibles unless you overpay for them.

The other advantage to sniping is that other bidders no longer have a chance to raise their bid because you’ve given them no time to do so before the auction ends.  If bidders were not allowed to change their minds about their last bid, sniping would be unnecessary.  Think about the way that a municipality sometimes awards construction contracts: different companies submit their sealed bids, and then one is selected.  In this case, the lowest bid wins, but what’s important is that your company can’t go back and change its bid because you learned that another company underbid you.  Well, with eBay, you can go back and change your bid when you learn that someone has outbid you–but only if there is time left in the auction for a few keystrokes and mouse clicks.  Sniping eliminates the possibility that another bidder will think, “Why not?  What’s ten dollars more?  I really want Chase the Chuck Wagon.”  If you don’t believe people think this way, visit an auction site such as uBid that extends an auction for an additional amount of time every time a new bid is placed within the last couple of minutes of the auction.  Bidders who are outbid often decide to put in just one more bid, and auctions are absolutely interminable.  It is impossible to snipe under such a system.  Wisely, eBay does not use this format.  Sniping is available, legal, and it can save you a lot of money.

You might picture a sniper as an unkempt hermit hunched over his computer with his index finger poised over the mouse button.  This was me, actually, if I really wanted an item back in the day.  However, in recent years, I was more likely to be staring at a mobile device, index finger poised over the touch screen.  This method is still tried and true, and if you want to snipe this way, I recommend getting the eBay app for your mobile device so that you don’t have to be chained to your desktop.  But this method is still inconvenient and unreliable, and, for me, it became nearly unmanageable once I became a father.  Sleep deprivation would cause me to forget to snipe, or I would have more important responsibilities than trying to snag a game for $20 less than its going rate.  But I snipe more than ever now.  I just pay someone to do it for me, and so can you.  See?  All ethical.

I’m not actually using an individual to snipe on my behalf but an automated service.  If you Google “ebay sniping,” you’ll find many different programs and services that will place a bid for you at the moment of your choosing.  For the most part, these services place a snipe bid for you using your eBay account (you must give them your eBay username and password).  Using a sniping service, I can be changing a diaper when the auction closes and know that my bid was placed in the last few seconds.

I know what you’re thinking: it is safe and secure?  To this, all I can say is that I have not noticed any unusual activity on my eBay account since I started using a sniping service.  I do know of a lot of experienced collectors who rely on sniping services.  Every person will have to assess this risk on an individual basis.  How does it work?  You simply input the item number for the auction and specify your maximum bid.  You can adjust variables such as how many seconds are remaining when your bid is placed and when the service will notify you if your maximum bid has been exceeded.  How much does it cost?  My service charges 1% of the ending price for most auctions save the very pricey ones.  This seems like a very reasonable price to me, especially since it is rare that I bid on anything over a couple hundred dollars.

As I see it, the advantages of a sniping service are tremendous.  Here are the ones that I am continually thankful for:

  • It has never messed up.  I have placed 175 bids with the service and have won 36 of them.  If I tried to manually snipe 175 auctions, I would have been sleeping through about 50 of them, working at my job during 50 of them, eating a meal during 25 of them … well, you get the picture.  I would have messed up a lot.
  • I don’t have to worry about losing my access to eBay at a crucial moment because of a power outage, Internet outage, or someone else in the house using the computer.
  • I get a good night’s sleep.  I recently won an auction for $40 less than my maximum bid, and it I think that it had something to do with the auction closing at 3:00 am.
  • I’m not anxious and always checking my mobile device when I’m supposed to be doing things with friends and family.  Even if my collecting is verging on obsessive, I don’t have to look the part.

Ultimately, if you have deep pockets, there’s no need for you to snipe.  You should just place a crazy-high maximum bid using eBay and prepare to withstand a siege of incremental bids.  For the rest of us, sniping is essential to scoring a good deal on eBay anymore.  To be sure, “sniping” becomes a truly apt metaphor once we accept the fact that we are staging a surprise attack in order to take out our competition–other collectors.  Sniping allows you to exploit their human weaknesses–a frail memory, perhaps, or a commitment to social obligations such as dating or reading a bedtime story to their kids.

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