snarke (snarke) wrote,

Nasty snipers stole my Beanie Baby, boo hoo hoo.

I posted this short essay on a software program's forum, but thought I'd repost it here, since it touches on a subject that's come up in conversation.

A user of the eBay bidding tool JBidWatcher posted a question about how close to the end of an auction he could set the snipe time. (Sniping, if this term is new to you, is placing a bid on an auction right before it ends.) In particular, he says "I realize it’s safer to just go for 40 secs but I’ve already lost 4 auctions from same seller to snipers pulling triggers 2-3 secs before auction ends."

The author/programmer responded with quite a bit of detail as to the lengths JBidWatcher will go to try to cut it close but not be too late. It cross-checks the time from eBay's web site against your computer's clock. It measures how long it takes to load a page from eBay, assuming that submitting a bid might take a similar amount of time. It does other things, too. But, Morgan also notes "I understand that you want to try to snipe close to the end, but understand that the last bidder isn’t the winner. It’s the highest bidder. So if you determine what the item is worth to you, set a snipe for that much, and they outbid you, it doesn’t matter when they did it, you weren’t willing to pay more."

This is a very simple truth, but it's incredibly important if you want to not be disappointed or frustrated when bidding online, and I've been amazed at how many people I know Just Don't Get It. Read that user's quote again, and think about if you've ever felt the same way: "I’ve already lost 4 auctions . . . to snipers . . . 2-3 secs before auction ends."

No, you haven’t lost auctions to people sniping tighter than you. You’ve lost auctions to people outbidding you, and they could have outbid you 24 hours before the end of the auction just as easily as 3 seconds before.

IF everybody who bid on eBay entered a bid amount that really truly was the most money they wanted to pay for an item, then there would be absolutely no reason to snipe. However, most people can not or will not enter a ‘true’ amount. They enter a number that’s too low. Then, somebody else enters a different number, and our hypothetical wimpy bidder goes back and ups their bid.

Let’s say I set up to snipe an auction for $52. One minute out, the bidding is at $34. My snipe triggers 30 seconds before ending. I lose; somebody got it for $53.50. I did not lose this auction by $1.50; eBay doesn't tell me what number the other person entered, only that it was higher than mine. Maybe they bid $75. I don’t know. I just know they were willing to pay more than I was. The winner might be the person who’d had the $34 bid; eBay automatically kicked their bid over mine if they entered $75 in the first place. Or maybe I was winning the auction for 20 seconds, until somebody’s 10-second snipe hit eBay. Or it could have been a snipe that arrived before mine. It does not matter when the other person’s bid was entered, it only matters that they were willing to pay more than I was.

Look back again at the comment I quoted: “I’ve already lost 4 auctions . . . 2-3 secs before auction ends.” If this person had a super-fast connection, and his(her?) snipe fired 1 second before the auction ended, would they then win? If the other bids were entered by sniping software, then no, they would not. Auto-snipes fire a pre-determined bid amount at eBay; it doesn’t help if you get in after somebody else if their amount is higher than yours.

So why snipe? Because of the people who are not using auto-snipe tools and don’t have the guts to bid their maximum amount in the first place. Hand-bidding Fran wants the same Beanie Baby you do. Somebody else bid $4, so she bids $5. You’d be willing to go as high as $20. Fran thinks she only wants to pay $10, but really she’d go to $30. So if you just enter a max bid of $20 in the usual way, it puts your bid as the winning bid at $6. Fran panics, and enters $10. Now the winning bid is yours at $11. She bids $15; you’re winning at $16. She enters $25, and finally she’s winning the auction with a bid of $21. She's willing to pay more than you are. You lose the auction. Are you annoyed? No, you're happy, because you didn't want to spend that much.

Let's look at the same situation, but instead, you set up an auto-snipe. 60 seconds before the auction closes, Fran is winning with that $5 bid from her $10 maximum. Your snipe fires 30 seconds (really early!) before the auction ends; now you’re winning with $6. Fran, who is hovering at her computer, panics, and enters $10. You’re still winning with $11. She bids $15, but too late! The auction is over! You got the item for less than another bidder would have paid, and Fran gets to go whine to her friends about those evil snipers stealing her stuff.

You know what, Fran? It’s your own fault! If you’d just bid an honest upper limit in the first place, then you wouldn’t care about snipers. Using JBidWatcher or a sniping service does not change this key fact.

Last year, I went shopping for a replacement cell phone. There are hundreds being auctioned every hour. One invaluable ability of JBidWatcher is multi-sniping. I could pick, oh, thirty or forty different phones to bid on. I only want one phone, of course, but I don't really care which one; they'd all be acceptable. If I just bid on all thirty, then I have no idea how many of them I might win in the end. I can sit at my computer for the next three hours, waiting for each auction in turn to be almost over, then enter my bid. If I win, then I'm done. If not, then I have to wait for the next one. Boooooring!

JBidWatcher to the rescue! I group a bunch of auctions together. I can set the same max bid for all of them, or set different amounts (I'd pay extra for the shiny red one, and my max bid is lower for the one with the scratched case.) JBidWatcher snipes each auction a few seconds before it ends. As soon as I win an auction, all the rest of the snipes in the group are cancelled. I just had to check back the next morning to see which phone, if any, I won. I was hoping I’d get a green or blue one; in the end, I got a boring silver one. Maybe I should have set my multi-snipes for the colors I liked a few dollars higher; after all, two or three of them sold for just over my snipe amount. That doesn’t mean I would have had them if I’d bid $2 more, and it doesn’t mean my snipe interval was too early. It means somebody put a bigger number than I did, and if I was disappointed, that means I wasn’t honest with myself and I’d bid too low.

Some of my friends have complained about 'getting sniped' when bidding on eBay, and (probably to their regret) have found me entirely unsympathetic as I delivered some variation of this essay. If you don't want to feel like somebody snatched something from your grasp at the last minute, there's two things you should do.

First, bid the truth. Bidding your true max means you'll no longer be 'sniper prey.'

Second, get JBidWatcher. Even better than not being prey, is being one of the predators. (To re-iterate, though, if you use JBidWatcher but don't bid your true maximum, you're still prey. You're just faster prey.)

JBidWatcher is a fabulous, super-duper program, and is exceptionally useful when you want to buy something fairly common on eBay. It's not as critical if you're looking at some exotic, one-of-a-kind thing, but if you're trying to pick up a used iPod or a tent or some beads ("You know, some blue ones? Not too big, not too greenish. I don't have to be too picky."), it's wonderful. It will run searches on eBay, collect matching auctions together in one place, let you pick out the ones that you like, then let you set up the multi-sniping so you can keep bidding and bidding until you win, which means you can deliberately bid too low on all of them. At some point, one of the auctions will just happen to have fewer or lower bidders on it, and then you'll get what you want for less than the going rate.

It's well written, remarkably solid, Java-based (so it runs on OSX, Windows, and Linux!), and FREE! Free free free! I think Morgan's a doofus for not charging some nominal amount, and I've used his Donate button to give him a tiny bit of what his program has saved me over the years.
Tags: auction, bidding, ebay, jbidwatcher, snipe
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