Scouring your favorite auction websites and bidding on interesting items can be an addictive temptation. The rush comes from the possibility of claiming the item at a bargain price and outbidding other competitors. There are different forms and strategies when bidding on online auction sites though, each with their own pros and cons. This post focuses on auction sniping and helps you find the best eBay sniper service that suits your needs.
Before we get into specific tool recommendations, we must first understand what auction sniping is, as well as the pros and cons of the practice. Let’s first explore some of the most popular bidding strategies so that we'd be able to compare them to sniping.
Buy It Now
“But It Now”, also known as “BIN” is not a bidding strategy per se, as using “buy it now” circumvents the whole bidding process. Sellers may allow items to have a BIN price as an alternative to the auction. Once the first bid is placed on the auction, the BIN price disappears and it’s no longer possible to buy using BIN.
BIN is generally advantageous if you’ve spotted an interesting item and do not wish to engage in and wait for an auction to end, you must also be willing to pay the predetermined BIN price to the seller. This skips the auction and awards you the item.
It’s worth noting, however, that it’s generally hard to find bargain-priced BIN items for auctions that allow it, mainly because BIN doesn’t really last long, so it may be a good idea to set up a saved eBay search that notifies you when new items matching your criteria appear so that you can jump in and hopefully claim them at BIN price before the auction starts.
This is by far my least recommended strategy (though others may disagree) because it’s the most time consuming, nerve wrecking and it drives auction bidding prices up quickly. Bid nibbling is basically watching the auction and increasing your bid occasionally, slightly above the highest current bid to remain the highest bidder.
People for this strategy argue that early “nibbling” activity in the auction by multiple bidders typically discourages a lot of non-serious bidders from jumping in because the auction looks intimidating and the price is going up fast early on in the auction (even though it’s still below market price, otherwise you wouldn’t continue bidding). This increases your chances of winning the auction.
On the other hand, people against the strategy argue that nibbling is a double-edged sword that may as well attract a lot of bidders due to the increased activity on the item. The “social proof” gets people interested and excited in an item they may have otherwise ignored but when they saw other people actively bidding and seemingly “fighting” over the item, they decided they want to get “a piece of the action”.
This would be my second recommended bidding strategy after sniping. In fact, my most recommended strategy is kind of a hybrid between proxy bidding and bid sniping. We’ll get into sniping in the next section but in this one, let’s focus on proxy bidding.
Proxy bidding is actually a system placed by eBay to guarantee that the person willing to pay the most for an item wins the auction regardless of when they actually placed their bid. It’s there to ensure the ecosystem remains fair for everyone. Let’s illustrate proxy bidding with an example.
Say we have two people bidding on an item, John and Jane. They could be watching the auction at the very same time and upping their bids accordingly. So John bids $10, Jane bids $10.5, John bids $11…etc. All being done manually. Now that is called nibbling, we talked about it in the previous section above. What about proxy bidding then?
Rather than watching the auction and responding manually to competing bids, eBay actually allows you to set a maximum bid from the very beginning. So for instance, say there's a new smartphone retailing at $999 with the current highest bid being $10 by John.
Rather than bidding $10.5, Jane will set her maximum bid at $800. She knows that she can get that phone locally at $999, so she decides that the maximum she’s willing to spend to acquire it through eBay (and still save quite a bit on it) is $800. So what happens now? Does the current bid increase to $800? Does Jane have to pay $800 now? No, not at all.
The bid now jumps to $10.5, which is eBay’s bid increment for items with current bid price between $5 and $24.99. Bid increment increases as current bid price increases, here’s a quick reference:
$0.01–$0.99 > $0.05
$1.00–$4.99 > $0.25
$5.00–$24.99 > $0.50
$25.00–$99.99 > $1.00
$100.00–$249.99 > $2.50
$250.00–$499.99 > $5.00
$500.00–$999.99 > $10.00
$1,000.00–$2,499.99 > $25.00
$2,500.00–$4,999.99 > $50.00
$5,000.00 and up > $100.00
So eBay’s “proxy” will automatically bid for Jane. It’ll bid the next least amount that’ll allow Jane to outbid the winning bid without surpassing her “maximum bid”. Say John ups the bid to $11, then Jane’s proxy will automatically up it to $11.5. It’ll continue doing that all on its own until one of two things happen: Either John (and other potential bidders) finally give up and Jane wins the auction (in which case she'd pay the current maximum bid, not HER maximum bid since it wasn't reached), or the bidding wars continue till someone (John or another bidder) eventually bids more than $800. When this happens, Jane’s proxy will automatically stop bidding and whoever bids above $800 will win the auction (providing they aren’t outbid by another bidder).
So essentially, Jane’s proxy did all the dirty work for her while keeping her out of the picture. She could be sleeping or at work while the system continues bidding for her using predefined rules (her maximum bid). This also prevents her from getting emotional and bidding more than she's willing to pay for the item during a heated bidding war. So Proxy Bidding clearly has some attractive advantages. Well, what are the disadvantages then?
The main issue with proxy bidding is that it “shows your hand” early, to an extent. An item that’s just sitting there with no bids can gain significant traction and bidders when you jump in with your maximum bid. This is because people will keep getting instantly outbid (by your proxy) and that may encourage and fuel bidding wars as the item gets more attention, quickly driving the bid up. This disadvantage is similar to the Bid Nibbling one. Increased activity on the listing you’re interested in does not typically work in your favor if the goal is to win the item at the lowest possible price.
This is the strategy of choice (with a little twist) and I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first, let’s get into the mechanics of how it works. It’s actually pretty simple, sniping works by placing a single bid for an item just before an auction ends, usually just minutes or seconds before, in an attempt to quickly claim or “snipe” the auction.
The theory here is that by placing a quick late bid seconds before the auction ends, you make it nearly impossible for other bidders to react to your bid, hence winning the auction. Before you “strike” in the final few seconds, you’re just lurking in the shadows, placing no bids at all. This helps you remain “undetected” by other bidders, keeps you away from bidding wars and does not add activity to the listing, so as not to potentially attract more bidders.
Notice that I started the last paragraph with “the theory here”? This is because, in theory, you should win almost every auction you “snipe”. Practically, though, that isn’t the case. But wait, how would anyone else outbid you 3 seconds before the auction ends?
Well, you might’ve guessed the answer already. That’s right. A proxy. Recall when I said eBay strives to keep things fair? Now say someone is using proxy bidding and has set a maximum bid of $15 for an item, current bid is $11.5. 3 seconds (or 5 or 10) before the auction, you place your $12 bid and start celebrating, but then you discover that the celebration started a tad too early.
You discover that you were outbid, and someone won the auction at $12.5. How? Why? Well, they had originally set a higher maximum bid than your own bid and were using proxy bidding, so when you placed your bid, the system instantly reacted and drove the bid up to outbid you, allowing them to claim the auction. So even though you placed (what you thought) was the highest bid seconds before the auction ended, the system reacted and allowed someone else to win because they had a higher maximum bid. Recall when we said eBay wants the highest bidder to win, regardless of the time they placed their bid? This is how it’s done to keep things fair.
So then what? If there’s a chance someone can easily outbid you and win when sniping, then why snipe at all?
As I mentioned earlier, even though sniping does not guarantee you’d win an auction, there are several advantages involved:
- Avoid unnecessary listing activity: Not bidding early helps you avoid attracting non-serious bidders as well as bidding wars and nibblers.
- Less time consuming: You don’t have to monitor the listing all day long and place bids accordingly, you can simply set an alarm or a timer and jump in right before the auction ends to place your bid.
- Minimal chance for other bidders to react: Many people don’t place a maximum bid and choose to bid manually. You’d expect most people to do this by default, however, a lot of people don’t. Instead, they place a bid, and then wait and see how the auction unfolds before deciding to place another manually. Sniping, in that case, will not give them the chance to react after you place your bid right before the auction ends.
- Prevent shill bidding: Shill bidding is when a seller asks family members, friends, or uses another account to bid on their own listing in an attempt to inflate the current bidding price. Sometimes they’d use this method to try and figure out your maximum bid (if you’re using proxy bidding/automated bidding) and then retract that bid and place one directly below your maximum bid, forcing you to win the auction at your maximum bid. While this rarely happens, it can, and sniping will not give a seller the chance to use this shady practice.
These are general advantages to sniping that apply whether you’re doing it manually or using a sniping service or software. Additionally, automated sniping services offer a few other advantages:
- Human Error Prevention: Things like trying to bid at the last minute while being logged out (and hence missing the auction) or bidding an incorrect amount because you’re rushing yourself, or forgetting to bid entirely, or experiencing internet connectivity issues that lead to you losing the auction. All of these issues can be almost 100% prevented by using automated sniping software.
- Accuracy to the second: Sniping manually means you probably don’t want to risk placing your bid in the last 5 seconds of the auction, because you can easily miss it. Automated sniping services, however, can accurately place bids 5 seconds before the auction less or even less successfully.
- Bid Groups: This is a very interesting functionality that comes with most bid sniping services. Say you want to buy a new iPhone 8 and there are currently 50 running auctions for the iPhone 8. If you bid on them all, you risk winning multiple iPhone 8s, which is not what you want. Instead, by grouping all the iPhone 8 listings together, you’re essentially telling the software that you only need to win one of those listings, not all. In that case, once you win a listing, the software cancels any plans to bid on further listings within this group. This significantly increases your chances of claiming an iPhone 8 at a great price.
Is Sniping Allowed on eBay?
The short answer is yes, both sniping manually and sniping using automated software is allowed on eBay. eBay’s own help center mentions this clearly.
That said, eBay sellers typically hate sniping, but that’s to be expected. A seller’s goal on eBay is to sell their item at the highest possible price, while the buyer’s goal is to get it at the lowest possible one. These are two mutually exclusive events, and hence it makes sense for a seller to hate sniping as it may hinder the seller from achieving their goal.
This does not mean that sniping is illegal or unethical though, as like we said earlier, people could still easily outbid you by using eBay’s automated bidding and setting a higher maximum bid.
Sniping does not force others into a disadvantageous position and does not earn the “sniper” an unfairly advantageous one simply because you could easily beat a sniper, and beating them does not depend on the speed at which you react to late biddings (which is all that sniping helps someone do, bid late). Beating them is as simple as bidding higher than them, at any point during the auction.
How to Snipe
There are basically two ways to snipe, either manually or using sniping software or services. It might seem like the obvious choice will always be the automated services, however, these services need your eBay username and password to operate correctly. If you’re not comfortable sharing these details with a third-party, then automated sniping might not be for you.
So first off, let’s talk about how to snipe manually. As you can imagine, it’s no complex task:
- Ensure you’re logged in to eBay before sniping, otherwise, you risk the auction ending before you can place your bid if you get held up logging in within the last few seconds before the auction ends.
- Locate the item you want to snipe. Make sure you add it to your watchlist or note down the auction’s ending time and set an alarm 5-10 minutes before the auction ends.
- Decide how much you’d be willing to spend on the item. Forget the current bid, simply decide how much the item is worth for you. If anyone else wins the auction by a higher bid, you won’t have regrets as you weren’t willing to pay any more than the amount you had set your maximum bid to anyway.
- Make sure you do not place any early bids.
- Within the last minute of the auction, place your bid. That’s it, you’re done!
10 Sniping Services You Can Use
There are many sniping services out there, the majority of them are inexpensive. When choosing a sniping service, the top things you want to look for are reputation, reliability, features, and cost.
Most services are pretty close when it comes to features. The reputation part is obvious, you’ll be giving them your eBay password after all. Finally, they need to be reliable because they’ll be bidding on your behalf on tons of auctions in the last few seconds. If their reliability can’t be trusted, might as well snipe manually.
Okay so what are the most popular services out there and which ones do I recommend? Here are some popular ones:
The Verdict: My Recommendation
I honestly don’t see the point of recommending a paid service right off the bat when there are a few free tried and true ones that do a great job and tick the boxes I’ve listed above. Additionally, these services also offer “premium” subscriptions for the super savvy snipers, but I feel that most casual snipers won’t need those features.
So my two recommendations are BidSlammer and Gixen. Their services are free, trusted, reliable and come with all the essential features. Of course, feel free to do your own research and choose the service you’re most comfortable with. The last 4 on the list have free, solid versions while the rest are paid alternatives. Paid alternatives differ in pricing strategy, as some charge a monthly or yearly fee while others charge a flat percentage of the value of the item you've won. But again, even if you intend on going the paid route, I highly recommend you try out the free services first.
Have you used an auction sniper before? How was your experience? Let us know in the comments section below, and let's us know if you have any questions!