This is a guide to some of the strategies and techniques employed by resourceful bidders on eBay. This is one of a series of no-nonsense, advert-free "coffee break" guides I have written for UK based buyers and sellers. They're not too short, not too long, and I promise not to try and sell you anything. You can see my other guides by following the links at the bottom of this page but please let me know what you think, by voting for each one you read. Many thanks.
THE PROXY BID
If you are new to buying on eBay, I recommend this technique. In fact it's hardly a technique at all, more of an acceptance of how things work, really. You want the item; you agonise over the possibility of being outbid; you know the clock is ticking inexorably towards the final countdown; you've heard of bidders who "win" actions in the last second but aren't sure how they do it; you bid again and again, before maybe losing out in the final seconds... Well there is a better way. Have you ever seen the proxy bids being taken by the auctioneer at an auction house? Just imagine eBay taking your maximum bid, and bidding on your behalf until you either win or are finally outbid. This is exactly what happens when you enter an amount into that box, but with the absolute certainty that eBay will not "take bids off the wall" or "bump the price". If you want the item, and you are the bidder with the highest "invisible" maximum, then you will win that item, whether a "sniper" enters the fray in the last few seconds or not. Without doubt, the safest strategy for a new buyer, or someone who simply doesn't want anything to go wrong in the last few seconds.
Have you ever noticed, in "completed listings" searches, that a buyer has often won an item for next to nothing? Notwithstanding the need to check postage fees for each item, you can often pick up a bargain by leaving a low bid on several similar items, in the hope that you will be successful at least once. This strategy is often employed by eBay sellers (attempting to resell at a profit), who will target inexperienced eBayers who set their starting price too low commensurate with the number of likely bidders for their item. It may not matter whether they win more than one, so they are able to cast their "net" over a wide area. If you are a new buyer who just wants to pick up a bargain, however, you can use this technique by placing a low bid on your next targeted item as soon as you know you were outbid on the previous one (and there are software packages that allow you to bid automatically on many consecutive items, stopping as soon as you are successful with one of them). Look at the completed listings for the item you are after, list them in price order (using the drop down menu), decide on a maximum proxy bid that is low but has proved to be successful recently, and just submit it and forget about it. There are some sellers who earn a tidy sum employing this method of buying to sell, so do not discount it if you are organised and patient.
JUST A PENNY MORE
Have you noticed how the bid increments work? They gradually get larger as the bid price rises. If you know what the bid increments are, for any given bid price, you can outbid another bidder in theory by one penny, if you both have the same maximum proxy bid. You may have noticed that the bid price suddenly changes sometimes, from being a uniform figure , to something like x pounds and 53 pence. Well, at that point a bidder has added a few extra pence to their bid, and the odd pence are carried onwards up the bidding scale. If you're not sure how the calculation is made then my advice would be to just be to bid a few pence more than the minimum figure required (and indicated). Risky, if you really want the item, but you may save yourself one bid increment per auction, which all adds up.
Well what can I say. When an item is "won" in the dying seconds (and sometimes even the very last second), not only do the unsuccessful bidders feel cheated but the seller often feels cheated too. That's why many sellers will remind buyers of the "danger" of being "sniped" and extolling the best way of "defeating" snipers (submitting the highest proxy bid the bidder can afford, well before the end of the auction). But what if you want to be a sniper too? Well, from a moral standpoint you have to make your own judgement, but the practice is very common on eBay and a whole industry has grown up around this potentially successful strategy, with dozens of products available to automate the procedure. Whilst eBay will not allow me to provide any links from this guide, it's easy to find one that offers a free trial, and one or two are completely free. And what happens if there are several snipers ready to pounce on the same item? Well, all the snipers will have set their maximum amount, which will be submitted as a proxy bid to eBay in the normal way, and the only difference is that the bid is submitted automatically as close to the auction's end as possible. The end result is that the bidder, or indeed the sniper, with the highest proxy bid wins and, by definition, the whole point of sniping is to win with a lower bid, so it is by no means certain that you will succeed every time. A useful technique for some buyers, but risky to rely on 3rd party software interaction for that "must have" item.
THE EARLY BID
This isn't poker, but many bidders hold their "cards" close to their chest, so why do you see some bids very early in the life-cycle of an auction? Well, this is only my humble opinion, but consider this situation. An experienced dealer enters an early proxy bid of £150, on an item that may sell for £300, but has a starting price of 99 pence. Several buyers place bids, only to see their bid immediately outbid, in small increments (potentially all the way up to £150). They may give up and start bidding on a similar item elsewhere, which means that (whilst they remain the highest bidder on the second item) they are out of the running on the first item, if they want to ensure they are only bidding on one item at a time. A reduction in bidders, and indeed a reduction in the actual number of bids (since multiple bids make items more visible in certain searches) means a potentially lower final bid price, and the early bidder may enjoy the fruits of their clever strategy.
THE EDIT BLOCK
Now consider a second scenario, again involving a very early bid. The seller is inexperienced, and hasn't provided a very good description of his item. An experienced buyer sees this and places a bid, thus immediately preventing the seller from editing his description (he can now only "add" information to his original description, which looks messy in my opinion, and maybe in potential bidders' opinions too, perhaps reducing the chances of a high final price. The early bid also removes the "Buy it Now" option, which may also be part of the early bidder's plan. The early bird may well catch the worm.
THE "BUY IT NOW" STRIKE
Oh, how cruel it is to exploit the unwary. But if you didn't do it then someone else would. Select your favourite item category, search for items recently listed (using the drop down menu), and select those items with a "Buy it Now" by ticking the appropriate box in the left hand column. And there you have it. Just bypass the bidding completely by using "Buy it Now" to bag those items that have, in your opinion, a ridiculously low BIN price (and there will be some). Just do it quick, before some other savvy bidder spots the same item..
With ebay's "Make an Offer" feature you could, in theory, continously make ridiculously low offers to sellers. There is, however, a mechanism that allows sellers to choose the number of offers allowed form each buyer, but why not make at least one offer. You don't even have to face the indignation of the seller, since part of your user ID is hidden until the offer is accepted, so give it a try. After all, if the seller has this option then you can bet there will be an offer that will be acceptable. Don't be a mug and pay the full price. Remember, though, that you will be entering into a formal agreement, as soon as you make the offer, and the seller could keep you waiting for up to 48 hours (the validity period for offers) while they consider the situation, maybe preventing you from bidding elsewhere until you have an answer from the first seller.
ALL IS NOT LOST
Ok, so you've been outbid and lost the item you so desperately wanted. Well, as a seller I've lost count of the number of successful bidders who pulled out of the deal, and I've subsequently sold to the second highest bidder. The two main problems are that inexperienced sellers may not even have heard of second chance offers, and seasoned sellers often have a policy of not making second chance offers, simply because it's something that fraudsters will latch on to, masquerading as the seller and emailing the second highest bidder in an attempt to get the dosh. If you want that item then make the seller aware that you are genuine and you will be ready to pay up if the winning bidder doesn't come up with the cash. You will need to ensure that you haven't got your ability to receive second chance offers blocked, in your preferences, and that your approach using the "ask seller a question" link isn't construed as fee avoidance (it's absolutely vital to word the suggestion carefully). If you compose a handy email that you can cut and paste at will, you can quickly use this technique if your "low bidding" plan isn't coming up with the goods.
THE SHEEPSKIN COAT
You have to be bold, but there are many buyers who will target sellers, asking if they will take "an offer", and there are many sellers who will say yes, if only they'd thought of offering a "Buy it Now" option. Every man, or woman, has their price, and there's no harm in asking. Use the "ask seller a question" link and talk business. If they agree, get them to add a "Buy it Now", but before someone places a bid. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, ensure that you conduct your transaction through eBay, to stay within the rules, and remember that the seller can "publish" your suggestion at the bottom of their listing, so keep things polite. Do the deal, but get ready with your finger on the button.