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How to Win an eBay Auction: Tips for Last-Minute Bidding

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Emma has been placing winning bids on eBay for years. Here's her sniping strategy for winning with the lowest bid possible.

How to win on eBay?

How to win on eBay?

How to Win eBay Bids

There are two theories for successful bidding on eBay:

  1. Enter your maximum bid at any time during the auction and allow proxy bidding to manage your bids. If you are willing to spend more than all the other bidders, then you'll win that eBay auction.
  2. Snipe it! "Auction Sniping" is the term used to describe swooping in at the last possible moment and making your first and only bid just as the auction is ending.

Both of these bid methods will work if you are the maximum bidder, but only one of them will get you the item at the best possible price, and that, my friends, is sniping. Let me explain why.

Bid Early, Pay More

If you decide to use proxy bidding to manage your eBay bids, you will generally wind up paying more for the item if there is anyone else interested in winning that item. The reason why is most people bid incrementally, gradually increasing their bids as they sit there and figure out just how badly they want the item.

Sometimes someone will put in a bid slightly higher than your current visible bid just to test how badly you want an item. For example, if I come along during an auction and see that someone already has a bid on something I want, I will normally bid a dollar more than what they have showing just to see if that person is using proxy bidding.

Early bidding always encourages nibblers: people who don't generally care one way or the other if they want that item, but if they can get it at a good price, they'll take it, so they'll bid just to see how serious you are. If they see that you are, then they may wander off and never come back to that auction at all—but they've just driven up your bid and, therefore, the final cost of your item. Sometimes someone will place a bid just to have one in there because they liked the item when they saw it, but they won't follow up on it. They've just driven up your bid.

Bidding early basically tips your hand by indicating your interest in an item. By bidding early, you indicate to other browsers that an item has value. Simply due to human psychology, showing interest in an item can spark interest in other bidders who might otherwise have remained neutral over the particular item's desirability and therefore passed it by.

Snipe and Win for the Best Price

What is a snipe bid?

A "snipe" is a winning bid that takes place in the last minute or so of an auction. The bidder's intention is to leave no time for reactionary bids from other bidders. The only way to snipe effectively is to do it manually. That is the only way I do them.

Is snipe bidding ethical?

Generally, eBay sellers hate sniping, and some like to go so far as to call it unethical, a patently ridiculous notion since eBay's system is designed to encourage sniping. It is a savvy bidding process for bargain buyers, but sellers hate it because they might have gotten more money for their item if other bidders had had time to respond. In this way, the eBay system favors the buyer over the seller. The system also protects buyers from unscrupulous sellers who use shill bidding (fake bids) to drive up their prices.

A sniper's goal is to win the auction at the lowest possible price. A seller's goal is to sell the item at the highest possible price. Naturally, these two goals are mutually exclusive, but this does not make my goal to pay less unfair or unethical.

When sniping doesn't work:

However, the current eBay bidding system is no disadvantage to a serious early bidder who has entered a maximum bid that's more than any other bidders'. If his maximum beats mine, even if I swoop in at the last minute, he will still win the auction.

How to Snipe on eBay

  1. Never place an early bid. If you cannot be around for the auction's close and you don't want to use 3rd-party services to snipe for you (I never use them), then at least wait until the final day of the auction before placing your proxy bid. Leave it as late as possible. Ideally, your first bid will be during the last minute of the auction.
  2. Put the item into your watchlist and make sure you actually watch it. If If I really want something on eBay, I don't just rely on email notices to remind me that there's an auction I need to keep an eye on. I'll actually set an alarm on my cellphone to remind me to get my butt back to eBay!
  3. Choose your maximum bid wisely. I've lost some auctions during the last minute because I was still dithering over what I was really willing to pay and ended up losing the auction to another sniper. If you're going to snipe, it's usually a good idea to just bid the maximum price you are really willing to pay for it. This will ensure that you win the bid as long as no one else is willing to pay more. I still kick myself for losing auctions that I really would have happily paid another $10 for simply because I was pussy-footing around with the bid amounts.
  4. Be Logged Into eBay. I missed a bid once because I wasn't logged in like I thought and had to enter my password again before I could move to the bid screen. Make sure you are logged into your eBay account. Have the auction open on your browser.
  5. Refresh the page. At about two minutes before the auction ends, start refreshing the page to ensure the data is up-to-date.
  6. Bid During the Last Minute. I normally enter a snipe bid 50 seconds before the auction ends. This gives my fingers enough time to fumble around on the keyboard. I'm a touch typist, but sometimes those number keys are tricky. If you place your maximum bid up front, it should be unnecessary to place another one. Even if another sniper comes in, you'll take it if your bid is higher.

How Long Should You Wait to Place a Bid on eBay?

The moment you see "50 seconds," place your bid. I have also successfully placed bids during the last 30 to 20 seconds of the auction, but that makes me sweat.


TimHJ on February 23, 2020:

A nice article! I read it because although I used to be a frequent eBay user (and serial sniper) I haven't used it for years and wanted a refresher on technique!

One observation I would make on the ethics of sniping is that it would be entirely within eBay's power to put a stop to sniping in the same way that online procurement tools work in the corporate world. If I am engaged in a 'reverse auction' (one in which multiple suppliers bid against each other, in the hope that the buyer will end up with the cheapest price) it is pretty much standard practice for the bidding window to be automatically extended if a bid is made in (say) the last five minutes. I have engaged in many reverse auctions where the window is extended multiple times, thus driving the price even lower.

If eBay wanted to do that, they very easily could - and since they essentially invented online auctions, it's clear that they KNOW they could. So I have no qualms at all about sniping - it's a part of the process that was deliberately 'designed in' from the beginning.

David Stihler on September 08, 2019:

I like to snipe in the last 5 seconds.

Anon on June 19, 2019:

Im so sorry justin, i feel that but i hope that doesnt happen to me today

re: what on May 29, 2019:

a proxy bid is an automatic bid

what on May 25, 2019:

what is a proxy bid

Justin on July 22, 2018:

I am so mad, I bid at like the 2 min mark and stayed and watched the timer tick down till I won the bid. Except someone placed a bid with 1 second remaining. I had enough time to click place bid and type the amount but the page refreshed before I could hit enter.

Steve on June 11, 2013:

I have to agree with Telecaster's comment above. I'm a smart buyer, and unfortunately have to resort to sniping to prevent "bidding fever". However, 4 times out of 5, there's always someone who places their proxy maximum bid clearly much higher than me, and probably 10x the actual value of the item. 4 times out 5, they'll probably never have to pay that, but the sane victim is trumped by only a $1 increment.

My point is that I feel the system is inherently unfair. I'm not one to complain, but items I've often really wanted have been snapped in the dying seconds by someone who's proxy's are in the thousands. I usually snipe (without software) in the last 3 seconds, but usually fail cos of these "risk-takers". Although it's a risky strategy for these "forced-bidders", they seldom run across each other it seems.

And why am I complaining and not doing the same? Cos I believe that fair and sane shopping trumps the low-lives who live to make petty bargains at the expense of honest customers.

Telecaster on November 12, 2012:

There are no such things as silly questions Kuku!

The answer to your query is, indeed, one increment higher than the last person's highest bid ~ but..... a word of caution.

What if your opponent had also pitched his/her bid at something 'outrageously high'?

One of you will end up paying an outrageously high price.

However, your idea of outrageously high may be someone else's market value. Your outrageously high amount suddenly isn't so outrageous after all. It's rather subjective.

Yes, if you sniped at a Million Dollars for a pair of jeans chances are you will win the auction at, say, $5 above the highest bidder. But what if (and if it can happen, it will) another person, for a laugh, had a proxy bid running at $900,000?

Oh dear......

If there is any such thing as a golden rule on ebay its "Only Bid What You Can Afford and Want to Pay for an Item"

kukuinut on November 12, 2012:

this may seem like a very silly question but here it goes...if you enter an outrageously high number for your max bid in the snipping process that you are sure no one else would have put would you still have to pay that amount or do you just pay an increment higher than the last persons highest bid?

Raivis from Latvia on August 19, 2012:

Great tips.

I will definitely use them.

Sherry Hewins from Sierra Foothills, CA on July 19, 2012:

Sniping makes for some heart-pounding action. It's pretty nerve wracking on the seller's part too. My husband had an item for sale that was bid up to $770, which was much less than he thought it was worth, right up until the very end. When it ended the winning bid was $1600! I thought he would have a heart attack. Great advice, but sometimes it takes nerves of steel.

RolyRetro from Brentwood, Essex, UK on April 13, 2012:

I use the Auctionsniper site, you can import all of your watched items and set a maximum price, and how many seconds before the end you want to place your bid. Works a treat and you never end up over bidding in a panic at the end. If you are buying a commodity item, you can bid on a group of similar lots, and the system will keep bidding until you win one of them!

Much better than sitting by a computer for hours sweating on that last minute bid...

Telecaster on February 11, 2012:

Interesting advice and comments and I suspect the Proxy v Snipe debate will carry on for ever!

There is another dimension to all this, often overlooked by writers when they champion their favourite on-line auction strategy. To put it as simply as possible, the tactics to use (Proxy or Snipe) are relative to the Providence and Market Value of the item.

For example, a pair of socks for a fiver is best Sniped-for in the hope of picking up a bargain at the last minute and the adrenaline flow does get the blood racing!

However, a £500 collectible with a known market value should be bid for via Proxy, and early. The sniper will argue against me on this but my counter is that at the end of the day both the sniper and the proxy bidder will have done their research and are simply bidding against each other and the higher bid, no matter WHEN it was placed, wins.

The Proxy bid does have two significant advantages over the sniper on high ticket items, though.

1) The Sniper will of course know a proxy is running and will have tested for it, but he still has to best-guess the Proxy-max and could fall foul of his own tactics by sniping only to be sniped back by the proxy with even less time to respond, or more likely, no time to respond!

2) The early bid by the proxy out-trumps a same-bid by the sniper AND even a close-higher snipe if the snipe does not meet the next increment, which on higher priced items is going to be £5 or even £10 a pop.

And yes, ok... I hear the argument about bidding early just allows tinkers to nudge an early bid up and up, but I do believe that is going to happen anyway, whether you are involved or not. If if it doesn't then how many times have we seen items suddenly declared 'no longer available' because an irritated seller pulls it when there is no early activity.

Bidding a serious max early is also fun as there is an element of 'here I am, catch me if you can' as you watch the auction unfold.

So you see, there is a place for both types of bidding.

In closing, I would also like to add that proxy bidding is fairer to sellers and lets face it, without them there would be no eBay!

theinfoplanet from The Planet of Information on February 04, 2012:

Wow, I personally never have used Ebay, but auctions seem like an art! Great work, now if I ever really want something on Ebay I will know how to get it!

samuel on January 16, 2012:

I have managed to place a bid on the last 10 seconds through my phone app, it makes it easier and quicker. Great advice A**********

bob on December 02, 2011:

I never use snipeing. Sometimes, its better to wait until last minute. Some sellers might go the extra mile. Have friends are relatives bid on the same item. Driving the price up. This is called shill biding. This not allowed on ebay. Some bidders get a little carried away with auction. Driving the price up. More than what the item is worth! I love the buy it now option!

RedSturtz from A land far far away.... on November 15, 2011:

I have to admit that when faced with an item I think I may not be able to easily win I use an online sniping program - there are some good free ones and it almost guarantees you to get the item at the lowest cost possible.

However I've been hearing more lately that people who shop on eBay are more and more inclined to buy items that have the "buy it now option". So maybe if this trend continues, auctioned items will be easier to buy!

rAcHAEl WAlkEr on October 21, 2011:

Great advice! Im currently on Ebay and theres 4 days till the auction ends. il deffo use these tips cuz im rubbish with Ebay most the time! i haven't won many auctions! :-(

BMG from timor laste on April 08, 2011:

great tips...very useful to resolve ebay problem...thanks for sharing....

Exmoor on April 06, 2011:

Great article, but a little note. Sniping (doesn't matter which auction site: Howrse is similar to eBay I imagine) doesn't work for those on dial-up because by the time you 'swoop' in, the auction is probably going to end, no matter how much time you allow for the page to load. Grrrooowwwwllll...

kims3003 on March 18, 2011:

very well done hub with great information. Very Nice work!

TERRYTIBBS from Milton Keynes, U.K on March 16, 2011:

The only problem with watching an item with the intention of sniping right at the end is that sometimes sellers end the auction early and you can miss out on an item you really wanted. This is usually because 1) The seller gets impatient and worried if their item is not making as much money as they expect for it. and 2) Another buyer makes an offer to the seller to end the auction early for a guarenteed sum of money and due to the reasons detailed in "1)" the seller accepts. So another thing you can do if you really want an item is message the seller yourself and make an offer. If the seller accepts your offer then great, you have your item! And if they reject it and tell you they will let the auction run then you can just wait and snipe!

Linda Tadlock from Atlanta on March 08, 2011:

I've never tried selling or buying on Ebay before but it's good to know more on bidding. Great hub.

bryanps from Australia on February 24, 2011:

those are really sound advice. I love your last point. bid during the last minute. That's when the mad frenzy of bids just keep coming..usually

mallory on February 16, 2011:

ive never been on ebay before should i use this techingue to?????????????????????

usubmariner on February 13, 2011:

If you bid a higher amount of money in the last 10 seconds how come that you don't pay the exact amount of money you bid but ending up paying less as a winning bidder which is really a good deal?

Jasnav on February 02, 2011:

Great info! Will definitely try it out next time I'm around on ebay.

Andy on January 23, 2011:

Personally, as a seller sometimes, I'm on the sellers side.

If you want the item I feel you should put in a genuine, what its worth maximum bid, if you don't get it tough, you wouldn't have paid more anyway, if you do great, you wanted it and the seller gets a decent price for his/her item. EVERYBODY wins. from bear, de, 19701 on December 19, 2010:

Hello embitca,

Thanks for tips, I got solution of Ebay problem.

Emma (author) from Boston on December 13, 2010:

Franks, that's always the problem with Ebay. "I just gotta have it!"

luxembourgkid from Luxembourg, Europe on December 11, 2010:

nice tips to remember :)

KLeichester on December 02, 2010:

Very nice indeed. Interesting and useful for me.

matthewjason on November 11, 2010:

nice informative stuff!

I dont use ebay but i will definitely try these steps and use to buy something on ebay.

Thank you so much for this information!GREAT idea to buy something in less price .thanx once agin great hub!


Joy56 on September 14, 2010:

wow, the things you learn on hubpages, e.bay is great if you know how to work it your advantage.

Emma (author) from Boston on July 03, 2010:

MacGruber, I'm sure there is some shill bidding that takes place, but most savvy Ebay bidders always bid last minute manually or use a sniping program to do it for them.

MacGruber on July 01, 2010:

I was suspecting the sellers were doing a last second bid using a different I.P because they were unhappy with the current price of 99 cents. Guess that was just far-fetched.

Donna Wallace from North Carolina on June 11, 2010:

Great advice! Many people are intimidated by eBay when they are new, so this is the perfect tool to help them out.

kartbahnfan from Dusiburg, Germany on May 24, 2010:

hm, that's probably nothing for me, good introduction for newbiews though!

Dave The Dog on April 22, 2010:

Good TUT - May i add that if you open the same auction page in the backgraoud (NEW WINDOW) the place then side by side use one window to click place bid - enter you maximum bid You are WILLING to pay here and leave it where it says CONFIRM BID. Now with the other window just watch the time tick down and wait until about 6 seconds or so before the auction ends and grap a win at the last possible min. If you have a slower connection just be carefull to not leave it too late for the page to send data back to the server! hope this help every one get good wins!

Mark from Alabama,USA on April 21, 2010:

you can also use programs such as auction sniper to do the bidding for you. When I was using Ebay regularly I won tons of auctions using it.

Emma (author) from Boston on April 19, 2010:

Jack, great idea!

Jack on April 18, 2010:

Yeah another thing you can do is add some cents to it incase someone bids the same amout. Should help.

Carl on September 15, 2009:

Yea you are totally right. I've lost items before because i was either not logged in lol or because my reminder on my phone would come up and i will snooze it for an extra 4 mins and forgot about it. I also loose all the time because i was to cheap to bring my maximum bid 10 bucks extra like you said and then at then end i would realize the person beat me by a .50 cent to a dollar. My strategy is similar to your actually but the only difference is i use a time to keep up with the bid clock. I will leave the bid page on in the browser with my maximum bid and just leave it sit there while i monitor it in my other computer and see what the bids are and, it sort of give me and estimate of how much extra to add to win. 10 second left on the clock, I will just submit. Most seller would send me messages saying i was wrong for doing so but honestly who wants to pay extra.

cym from Europe on August 14, 2009:

That's how I do it, win an ebay auction, exactly how you describe it, starting at around 50 seconds before it ends. I thought that was the only way how you can win an auction. All the auctions where I put a bid earlier, a few days or so before the end of the auction, I always lost the auction. The only ones which I won, were the ones where I placed my bid in the last minute. But I still have the feeling that I often paid way too much for the item, despite bidding in the last minute. I guess I usually put in a bid which is much higher than the current bid, because I want to be sure that I will win the item. And then in the last minute the highest bid of the other bidder is revealed, because my bid will automatically be 50 cents more. And sometimes that is higher than I expected...

joblot from Ringwood on April 30, 2008:

Great sensible advice! Especially sticking in your maximum bid near the end rather than nibbling.