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Sniping on eBay: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Is it a clever shopping trick, an insidious form of cheating, or neither?

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Sniping on eBay: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Do sneaky snipers really gain a significant advantage on eBay? In some cases, probably. But not nearly as much as they imagine.

Photo: Forgiss / Dreamstime
Auction sniping, the process of placing bids at the very last moment of an auction, is an (often unduly) controversial topic on eBay. Though there are groups of buyers and sellers alike that advocate sniping, and competing groups of buyers and sellers that are sure it’s a kind of cheating, most of the eBay community pays sniping little heed. Here’s why.

The Idea Behind “Sniping”

The idea behind sniping is simple: because eBay’s goods are sold as auctions that end at a specific time, rather than after bidding slows down, clever buyers can wait until the last possible moment (often one or two seconds before the auction closes) to put in their final, high bid. Theoretically, this leaves competing bidders with no time to place counter bids, even though they were willing to spend more money.

Advocates of sniping therefore claim two important benefits:

  • Lower auction closing prices due to fewer total bids

  • Less need to monitor and bid on existing listings; just bid once at the end

What Sniping Services Do and How to Find Them

Because of the supposed benefits of sniping, many third-party sniping services have sprung up around the web to help you to “snipe” on eBay. Sniping services collect several pieces of information from you:

  • Your eBay login and password

  • The auction listings you’re interested in

  • The last-moment bid you’d like to place on each of them

Once it has this information, the sniping service remembers to log into eBay on your behalf each time one of these listings is about to end, placing the bid you’ve specified and, theoretically, winning you the auction by not giving the competition enough time to counter-bid.

Sniping services are therefore about convenience. They make it so that you don’t have to actually be online or even paying attention to snipe an auction when it ends. Instead, you pay the sniping service, and they snipe the auction for you and report the results back to you. If you win, you complete your transaction with the seller just as you normally would on eBay.

There are far too many sniping services and they come and go far too often to provide a comprehensive list of them here. Instead, if you’re interested in using a sniping service to shop on eBay, you can simply use your favorite search engine to find the phrase “snipe eBay.”

Why Sniping is Mostly Ignored

New eBayers are often shocked to find out about sniping and even more shocked to learn that veteran eBayers often feel lukewarm about it. Often, beginners think they’ve found a real leg up on the competition. In other instances, new eBayers may become terribly upset after losing an auction, believing that they’ve “been sniped” by a last minute bid and feeling that sniping is fundamentally unfair.

In fact, sniping has a minor effect on eBay bidding at best, because the technology behind eBay renders it less useful than most sniping sites would like to have the public believe, for several reasons:

  • The rise of fixed-price listings. A very large and increasing percentage of eBay’s item listings, including many of the hottest listings from the hottest sellers, are not auction listings at all, but fixed-price listings. Sniping is meaningless in the context of a fixed-price listing, where prices don't change and purchases/sales are simply made on a first-come, first-serve basis at the stated price.

  • eBay’s built-in proxy bidding system wins against snipe bids. Thanks’ to eBay’s built-in proxy bidding system, would-be “snipers” are often foiled in their attempts to save a buck, and end up losing items they’d have won if they’d bid on eBay (rather than using a sniping service) in the first place. The reason for this is simple: veteran eBay shoppers simply tell eBay (using the proxy bidding system) that they want to outbid potential snipers. When snipers bid at the last moment, therefore, eBay immediately responds (it takes literally zero seconds) with veteran shoppers’ pre-arranged counter-bids, ironically leaving the sniper from the sniping service as the one with no time to respond. New snipers are often frustrated by this “cheating,” but anyone is free to use eBay’s built-in proxy bidding service, just as anyone is free to snipe.

  • Thans to proxy bidding, sniping doesn’t save you time, either. The other thing that eBay beginners often value in sniping services is the fact that such services can bid on a buyer’s behalf when the buyer isn’t actually logged in. What these buyers don’t realize is that eBay’s own proxy bidding system does the same thing for you, with an important advantage: it always wins against snipers if the eBay-based maximum bid is higher, regardless of timing. Some new to eBay mistakenly think that eBay’s proxy bidding system is a form of “sniping,” and get upset when they repeatedly bid on an item only to be instantly outbid over and over again. They’re positive that this is another buyer, or even eBay itself, again “cheating” or even committing some form of fraud. In fact, what’s at work is eBay’s proxy bidding system—a system that they’re also free to use themselves—as it bids on behalf of other buyers interested in the auction.

There are a few other things about sniping that you should keep in mind before you consider sniping the majority of the auctions that you bid on. Read on to find out what they are.

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