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Sniping on eBay, Revisited

Only you can decide if sniping is the right strategy for you


Sniping on eBay, Revisited

Whether sniping is right for you can depend on what kinds of items are in your sights

Image: Dydel / Dreamstime
This article on sniping generated an unusual amount of email and comment feedback here at About eBay, so with the holiday season rapidly approaching and eBay shopping set for another seasonal boom, it’s time to revisit the topic to address some of the questions and concerns readers had.

Sniping Safety

The first issue that some readers (and business owners) took umbridge with was the notion that sniping can actually be risky behavior.

As many readers correctly pointed out, not every sniping service online is shady or risky in nature. There are indeed a number of legitimate services that connect with your eBay account to offer services of various kinds. In practice, to choose the most popular amongst these—sites like BidNapper, AuctionSniper, EZ Sniper, or Gixen—may be a relatively safe bet.

But relatively is the key word here. Even those services whose operators are well-intentioned business owners can’t guard your data or identity entirely. Not even eBay is perfectly safe from attacks. eBay, however, has a large IT infrastructure and departments full of IT and security experts working for it, keeping infrastructure protected and software up-to-date. Many sniping services are much smaller companies with less expertise or available personnel. All it takes is a single break-in (which may not be discovered for weeks or months, if ever) for your eBay login data—which for most people directly links to their PayPal login data and thus their bank accounts—to become compromised. There is no doubt that it is risky to give your login data to a sniping service, even if that service is above board.

More to the point, there may be many lesser-known services that aren’t entirely above board, or that change hands from above board owners to not-so-above-board owners without notifying clientele. When you give your eBay login data away, you are trusting another company that you may know very little about. If your eBay account links to your PayPal account or you use login information on eBay that is similar to the login information you use for bank or email accounts, you should think twice before giving this information to any third party.

Sniping Beneifts

The other major comment that many readers had was that sniping can actually generate better auction results than using eBay’s own proxy bidding system.

This is also true, to a point. If competing bidders don’t understand or use eBay’s proxy bidding system to its fullest or haven’t placed their “highest bid” but are instead bidding on eBay as though it’s a traditional auction (that is, if they are intending to return and bid again and again as the bidding increases), then sniping can indeed keep the winning bid amount lower than it otherwise would be. In such cases, sniping does in fact prevent such bidders from bidding against you by leaving them too little time in which to respond.

Sniping does not necessarily help, however, when those bidding against you know how to use eBay’s proxy bidding system. In fact, sniping can actually lose you an auction, because if your sniping amount isn’t higher than the proxy bid of your competitor, you won’t find out about it until it’s too late to place another bid. In cases like this, the advantage goes to the eBay proxy bidding system.

When it comes to the benefits of sniping, therefore, the question that should inform your decision about whether to snipe or not is how savvy the bidders in this item category are likely to be. If you’re bidding on gadgets, computers, technology, collectibles, or other categories inhabited by bidders likely to be eBay veterans or particularly eBay-astute, sniping may hurt more than it helps.

If, on the other hand, you’re bidding in categories in which competing bidders are unlikely to be eBay savvy, sniping is more likely to offer a distinct time advantage and help to keep the final value of the auction lower—though this is by no means guaranteed.

The Final Calculation

At the end of the day, only you can decide whether sniping is right for you.

On the one hand, sniping can put your personal data at risk to a degree that largely depends on your own personal data protection habits, and may not help you to win or even help you to lose auctions in which your competitors are eBay shopping veterans.

On the other hand, major sniping sites are less risky than lesser-known services (though they’re all more risky by definition than simply not giving out your login information to begin with), and sniping can in many situations help you against bidders that don’t know how to make the most of eBay’s proxy bidding system.

Finally, it remains true that eBay’s strategy going forward appears to be to tip the balance ever farther toward fixed-price listings and away from auction format listings. Sniping can’t help you there at all.

Perhaps the best way to decide if sniping is right for you is to try it out as you shop on eBay and see if it improves your results. You can’t argue with success—provided you’re willing to take the associated risk.

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