Auction sniping is an increasingly popular way to bid on and win eBay auctions, as is evidenced by the proliferation of sniping sites and their growing popularity according to traffic monitors like Alexa.
But sniping may also have something to do with the accelerating decline of the auction format listing on eBay and elsewhere, as sellers in the categories most affected by sniping gradually learn that they're better off with fixed price listings if they can generate sales with them.
Some sellers, however, depend on auction format listings. If all of the bidders on their auctions begin to bid via sniping, final bid prices are likely to fall, and the old adage that the market sets a fair price in auctions begins to seem less and less correct.
The obvious question that many sellers who depend on auction format listings ask is whether there is some way to ensure that all bids on an item are in the open, visible to all and engaged in the usual bidding process as would be the case with a "real world" auction.
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is that there is no way to keep bidders on an auction format listing from using a sniping service. There is nothing illegal about sniping, nor is it against eBay rules. Because of the way that the Internet as a platform works, it would be difficult for eBay to enforce this kind of rule anyway.
So what are sellers to do? Here are some tips that can help to mitigate the impacts of sniping, if you happen to sell in a category in which snipe bidding has become the norm.
- List using a true "minimum" bid. Data on past performance of
auction listings across all of eBay suggests that lower starting bids ($1 or
less) generate more bidder interest, but much of this data relies on
assumptions from the old eBay: promotion in some way of very active
listings, a majority of bidders using eBay's automatic bidding system
(rather than snipe systems) and so on. If your category or bidders are
disproportionately snipe-oriented, one way to limit the impact of sniping is
to simply raise your minimum (starting) bids to the actual minimum for which
you're willing to sell the item. You'll see lower
sell-through numbers this
way, but you'll probably also see better
average selling prices.
- List auctions with reserve prices. In general,
auctions have much worse sell-through performance than any other class of
auction (even those with high starting bids), but in some categories in
which rarefied items sustain interest even with reserve pricesthink
antiques, collectibles, and
memorabilia, for examplereserve prices are
another way to limit losses due to low-price closings.
- Make a no-snipe policy for your business and include it in your item
descriptions. Though eBay doesn't have a no-snipe policy and you won't
get help from eBay enforcing one of your own, you can always include text
like "NO SNIPERS! Anyone suspected of sniping will be added to my block list
for future auctions!" to your
item descriptions. Then, follow through by
offending last-second bidders. If you have large numbers of repeat customers
that value and intend to do repeat business with you, you may persuade them
this way to return to eBay's own
bidding system when bidding on your
- Reward non-snipe bidders. If you want to go a step further in
trying to make a no-snipe policy stick, begin a practice of
early and selling to the current highest bidder to reward bidders that have
placed non-snipe bids with lower-than-normal prices. Clearly advertise this
practice in your listings, to make clear to snipers that their snipe bids
may well come too late to net them a great deal, since you're ending
to reward non-snipe bidders.
- Sell at a fixed price. Many sellers are convinced that they depend on the auction format to keep their buying public, but in fact in some cases a switch can be made to primarily fixed-price listings without negatively impacting sales. One way to see if this applies to you is to engineer a week or two in which no auction listings are ending for you but in which fixed-price listings are available. Evaluate sell-through performance and average selling price for the week and see if a switch makes sense for you.
What No to Do
Even with the above measures largely in place it's still possible that from time to time snipers may win one of your listings in ways that you find to be objectionable. There are some things that you should absolutely not do, no matter the cost to you.
- Don't shill bid. Simply bidding up an item yourself from another
account, or having friends or family do it for you, in order to ensure a
minimum price at auction close is known as
bidding and is a surefire way to be
suspended from eBay
and to have your eBay selling grind to a halt as a result. Don't do it; you
will be caught.
- Don't refuse to follow through. Once someone has won an auction,
they have won an auction. Per eBay rules, you are required to sell the item
to them unless you're selling real estate or
motor vehicles, both of which
are considered to be non-binding-sale categories.
- Don't call the person out. Don't comment about the sniping in
feedback or make an example of them publicly in any other way, since eBay
will consider this a violation of their privacy (sharing personal
information about the transaction), making you once again vulnerable to
- Don't "report them to eBay" for unwanted sniping activity. In
blunt terms, if you
contact eBay, eBay won't care. You'll be wasting time that could more
profitably be spent on your selling business.
- Don't dwell on it. Selling cheaply to a sniper is just one of those things that happens on eBay. Rather than fume and boil, just take the steps that you can take to quash sniping activity (see the list above), or consider using one of the many auction-based alternatives to eBay or other selling platforms instead.
At the end of the day, only you can decide just how badly you want to be free of sniping activity, and whether you want to settle for what you can get or expend the time and energy to avoid snipers to the greatest extent possible or even to switch selling platforms.
Sniping is here to stay for as long as eBay and online bidding survivethough it's also possible that this won't be long, given the downward pressure on auction listings across the Internet that may in part (ironically) be related to the rise of sniping and automatic sniping tools.