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Dos and Don'ts for Sniping on eBay

Sniping eBay can be a useful strategy, but keep these dos and don'ts in mind


Dos and Don'ts for Sniping on eBay

To make sniping work for you, snipe smartly and judiciously and target only those times and cases in which it can be successful

Photo: Ovidiu Iordachi / Fotolia

Sniping on eBay is a controversial subject that probably shouldn't be so controversial.

Many new-to-eBay shoppers feel as though they've somehow been cheated when bids appear at the very last moment of an auction. Many regular snipers suggest that anyone that doesn't regularly snipe is at best a fool, or at worst driving up prices for everyone on eBay. Both groups often attribute whatever they don't like about sniping outcomes to supposed rampant shill bidding on eBay. Some of the confusion in both camps stems from a misunderstanding of the automatic way that eBay bidding works in the first place and the complicated cost-benefit analysis related to sniping.

At the end of the day, however, sniping is just one more way of bidding on eBay auctions. If you're going to do it, though, there are a few dos and don'ts to keep in mind to ensure that you're not going to lose out—rather than win—an auction due to sniping.

  • Don't expect more than sniping can deliver. It's true that in some cases sniping an auction rather than bidding on it outright can reduce the price at which it ultimately closes, but sniping simply doesn't deliver in-demand goods for pennies on the dollar as many seem to believe. There are too many eBay buyers for that, some of them using eBay's automatic bidding system, some that are fellow snipers, and others that are simply bidding as they would at any auction. The point is that eBay auctions are often seen by dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people that searched for just the same item that you did and are willing to bid. Sniping isn't going to get you a new laptop for $1.00 or a new theatre-size plasma TV for half price. It just isn't; the market doesn't work that way.
  • Don't leave too little time to place your bid. Whether you're using a third-party sniping service or your own dexterity, computer, and mouse, remember that eBay relies on networks, just like everyone else, to accept your bids. Networks have downtime, and networks fluctuate in speed depending on traffic, conditions, and at times what seems like magic pixie dust. It's true that the later you leave your bid, the less time others will have to respond, but it's also true that leaving only one or two seconds before auction close may mean that your bid just doesn't get there in time. And keep in mind that eBay's proxy bid system always responds in exactly zero seconds with any automatic bids, so even if you manage to get a bid in with half a second left, if another buyer has a proxy bid on the item, you'll still lose.
  • Don't snipe items that have large numbers of visitors and/or bids. When an item listing shows a counter with hundreds and hundreds of hits, or when there are already dozens and dozens of bids outstanding on an item, it generally means that there are a lot of people watching and bidding on the listing. In this case, any price advantage from using a sniping service will be neutralized, since the item will likely go for market value or even in some cases above market value.
  • Don't snipe items with a single bidder outbidding everyone. If the item's bid history reveals that a single bidder has continually been at the top of the bidding heap and has repeatedly outbid everyone else by small amounts, what you're looking at is a determined buyer using the proxy bidding system that has placed a very high initial bid—a much more common scenario than many sniping advocates somehow want to believe. If you wait until the last moment to bid, there is a very good chance that you'll be outbid automatically with no chance to respond. At the same time, this bidder's behavior suggests that they'll only ever place one proxy bid that represents the most they're willing to pay. To have the best chance of winning this auction at a price you're willing to pay, and have a chance to respond to other bids and think about it, use the proxy bidding system just as they did to place your maximum in a case like this one.
  • Don't use sniping services lightly. Because of the way they work, sniping services need your eBay login information to place bids on your behalf. This means that you're not only counting on eBay to protect your personal information, but on the sniping service, too, most of whom are much smaller companies with fewer resources at their disposal. If you regularly use sniping services, be sure only to use established services and connect your eBay and PayPal accounts to bank accounts that you use only for eBay and PayPal activity. Using a sniping service while eBay and PayPal have access to a bank account that you actually rely on for your day-to-day life or business is nothing short of a way to put your entire financial existence and identity at risk.
  • Don't snipe lightly by hand, either. Even if you're not using a sniping service, sniping by hand often requires that you physically be in a particular place, at a particular time (i.e. sitting in front of your computer) that you otherwise wouldn't have been—and all for an auction that you may or may not win. If you legitimately think you've found a hidden deal and can save a great deal of money, it may be worth your time once or even twice. To routinely snipe by hand, however, just to save a dollar or two here and there is likely a way to significantly undervalue your own time. Unless you love sniping just for the act itself, that time is probably better spent elsewhere.
  • Don't complain or contact eBay about snipers or about a snipe that didn't work. Sniping is specifically allowed by eBay as a bidding strategy, so there's no point in getting upset if you've lost an auction to a sniper. At the same time, sniping in no way guarantees a good deal, nor does knowledge of how to snipe somehow entitle you to one. Moreover, eBay's proxy bidding system always wins against sniping and sniping services, and that's neither secret nor illegal, so there's also no point getting upset if you're sniping an auction and someone places a bid days before it ends that's higher than your snipe amount, or if you try to snipe an auction and get outbid with one second left, or if you're sniping an auction and you (or the service you're using) doesn't manage to get your bid in on time due to network issues. Those are the breaks when you're the sniper.
  • Do try again. At times, sniping can and does get you a discount of some kind that makes it worth the effort for you to continue to snipe in the future. So when you see an opportunity to snipe and believe that it will help, do try again if sniping is your thing—and you'll know whether or not sniping is your thing by measuring how frustrated you are at the results when it doesn't work out. No frustration? Snipe away!

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