* eBay proxy bids and how they work
* eBay bidding vs. traditional auction bidding
* How “shill bidders” pollute the bidding process and what you can do about it
* How “e sniping” your bid late
Placing a bid on eBay is not at all like placing bid in a traditional, you’re-there-in-the-flesh auctions. If you go to the county fair and start bidding for a prize goat, for example (and who among us hasn’t), the process is simple. The auctioneer almost certainly issues a starting bid representing the lowest possible price for the goat, then opens up the floor to other bidders.
He asks for the starting bid, and the game begins. The other bidders shout out the amounts they’re willing to pay. And bids don’t just go up a penny at a time; otherwise, the auction would last forever. Instead, the auctioneer moves things forward in increments of, say, $5. Of course, there’s nothing stopping a crazed buyer from blurting out an obscenely high bid to guarantee the win. The auctioneer loves this, the bidder gets his goat (as it were), and the only unhappy parties are the other bidders and the goat-buyer’s wife. Which, by the way, would be an awesome title for a sensitive novel, almost certainly to get a favorable nod from the New York Times.
eBay doesn’t work like this. If it did, eBay would be little more than a highly specialized chat room, a form of online chaos that probably wouldn’t work well to anyone’s advantage. This makes sense when you realize that eBay auctions last for days, and what on earth would you do if the auction seller was in Australia and you couldn’t bid from Fargo because you were asleep?
eBay proxy bid: The Answer to Possible Auction Chaos
The answer to the problem of Fargoans (Fargoites? Fargosians? Fargonians?) being able to bid on an auction that closes at 3 in the morning is that eBay takes your maximum possible bid but does not actually place that amount unless it must. eBay acts like your best friend in the bidding process, keeping the bid as low as possible while still keeping your bid higher than the rest. This is called proxy bidding.
It’s a pretty cool idea. eBay makes full use of computer technology to keep you from making a fool of yourself in front of all the other bidders. If you’ve bid $250 on eBay goat auction (kidding; eBay doesn’t allow auctions of living things) and the current bid is $110, eBay will keep your bidding price to $115, which is the current bid plus the minimum bid increment at the $100 level.
Shilling the Goat: How to Corrupt the eBay Bidding Process
Back to the county fair, where you’re in the heat of the moment and that dairy goat is still way under value, at only $210. A curiously calm stranger who smells like cheap cigars settles down next to you, glancing your way maybe a little too often, sizing you up, and chimes in with bids when the action has slowed down. Suddenly it’s just you and the stranger, whom I imagine as looking like my ex-boss, Bob, seeing as how he’s the villain in this story. I’m not using his last name, but that’s his real first name. Try to track me down, Bob. Do it. I’ve been working out.
Anyway, the price gets up to $330, which really isn’t a bargain, and Bob suddenly decides to go to the bathroom. Weird. You go up to $340 and the goat is yours. You didn’t get to inspect the goat, which would have been okay at $210, but at $340 you’re maybe a little nervous. You just don’t feel great about the $340 but you have to pay.
How To Defeat Shill Bidders
Bob was, of course, a friend of the goat seller. He never intended to buy a goat at all. His sole job was to get you to pay more than you needed to for the auction item. Totally against the rules at any auction. Very difficult to prove.
But what if you hacked the goat auction? Let’s up the ante and crowdsource our answer. What if no one bid until right before the auctioneer gave up in disgust, wondering what happened to all those naive goat buyers he used to take advantage of at the fair, the ones whose blood ran so hot during the auction they overbid by 15% or so, easily paying the auction fee right on the spot? That scumbag Bob would have nothing to do, and would instead find himself at the side of the road, saying “Will clean your goat stalls for food”, which is more than Bob deserves out of life, to be honest.
eBay, like the vast majority of membership sites, requires little proof of identity when you sign up. Shill bidding is distinctly possible. One way to avoid it is to wait until the end of the auction to place your bid; ZDNet talked about it in this article way back in 2000.
How to Save Money And Put Bob the Shill Out On The Street
ZDNet talks about the best-practice strategy of sniping your auction, which is the online term for placing a bid within one minute of the auction’s end. You can do it by hand, or you can “e snipe” it using a service.
The principles ZDNet discussed still hold. CNet has covered the same phenomenon (see http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-10165_7-5664889-2.htm). To beat the shills and avoid an overbidding frenzy, you should place your bid at the very end of the auction. To place your late bids by hand, follow this list to the letter. The steps are simple, if tedious:
* Make sure your computer’s clock is set to eBay time, at least the same minute value
* Settle in about 10 minutes before the end of the auction
* Disable screen savers and system updates
* Log into eBay! It’s easy to forget this until it’s too late!
* Refresh the auction page a couple times to make sure everything’s working. This is not the time for your browser to fail you
* Double-check your time against eBay’s. They actually call it “eBay time” in the online auction world, which is a little hinky, IMHO
* Starting 2 minutes before the auction, refresh the page, take a deep breath, settle on the maximum you’re willing to pay, and type it in without clicking Place Bid
* Sometime within 10 seconds and 1 minute before the end of the auction, click Place Bid
* Refresh the page like a madman until the auction’s over, not because you need to but because it’s so nerve-wracking.
Good luck! It’s a gut-churning moment, wondering if you’ve one the auction!
I personally like sleep and don’t like the stress of sport sniping. The trick to placing your bid at 3am or while you’re supposed to be working or in church is to use an online auction sniping service. I simply never, ever place a bid early in the auction anymore. No more having my pants scared off as an auction seethes with activity, bubbling up and boiling way past my original proxy bid amount days before it’s actually over. Using service to e snipe the auction makes more sense to me.