Sniping is an effective way to increase your odds of winning an auction while simultaneously lowering the final price you pay. But there are significant drawbacks to sniping that limit its practical usefulness:
- You have to be in front of your computer, ready to bid, at the exact time the auction ends.
- It's nearly impossible to snipe two or more auctions ending at the same time.
- If your computer crashes or your Internet connection goes down moments before you snipe, you lose.
- You can easily forget to bid or even become distracted moments before bidding time. (I can't tell you how many times I've been distracted by a doorbell ring or a good song on the radio, only to turn around and find that I've missed my 2-minute sniping window.)
The solution, of course, is not to simply bid early, then return to the auction after it's over--you may find that you've been outbid by 4 cents. Fortunately, there is a better way. A number of sniping services
are available that will automatically place a bid for you at a specified time, typically a few minutes or seconds before the end of an auction. Some sniping services are simply standalone programs that run on your computer, but these suffer some of the same limitations as sniping manually--namely, that your home computer must be turned on and connected to the Internet at the right time. The better services are Web-based, like eBay itself, and operate whether or not your computer is powered up.
When you use a sniping service, you must share your eBay ID and password so that the software can log in and bid for you. While some sniping services are legitimate, some will undoubtedly use this information unscrupulously. So use caution and do your homework before trusting an unknown service with your eBay login. By far, the best sniping service available is eSnipe
. It's extremely easy to use and very reliable; best of all, it works. Just log in to eSnipe with your eBay user ID and password, and you're ready to go. To set up a snipe, specify the auction number, the amount to bid, and the buffer time
(number of seconds before the end of the auction).
eSnipe will bid for you at the specified time, then send you e-mail to let you know whether the snipe was successful. Naturally, if you were outbid or if your bid wasn't high enough, eSnipe will fail.
There are two drawbacks to using eSnipe. First, it's not free. New users are granted a free trial period, but thereafter, eSnipe charges 1 percent of the final price of the auction, with a minimum fee of 25 cents and a maximum fee of $10. The fees are pretty small, though, and probably pay for themselves with the money saved by sniping. eSnipe fees are paid by purchasing BidPoints, which are available at a discount if purchased in bulk.
The second catch is that eSnipe is not smart. It can't read your mind or the minds of the other bidders, nor can it make decisions for you. For instance, if you enter a snipe bid of $54.03 and the price at the time of sniping is $53.99, eBay will refuse your bid because of its incremental bidding rule, even though it's higher than the highest bid. If you sniped the auction manually, then you'd be able to make the call on the spot and raise your bid by the required 96 cents.
eSnipe offers a Bid Checkup feature, an automated e-mail sent at a specified time before the end of the auction to notify you of any potential problems with your pending snipe, but the real-world usefulness of the feature is limited since you probably won't be around when it arrives. Personally, I've found the Bid Checkup e-mail to be somewhat of a nuisance, as it merely means I get two e-mail messages notifying me of a failed snipe instead of just one. Fortunately, you can specify 0 (zero) in the Bid Checkup field to disable the feature.
Bonus tip: put eSnipe on your toolbar
If you find yourself using eSnipe more frequently, you may want to streamline the bid-entry process. Instead of opening up eSnipe, logging in, then typing or pasting the auction number into the form, you can use eSnipe's SnipeIt feature.
Start by clicking SnipeIt on eSnipe's toolbar and following the prompts onscreen. Eventually, you'll be given a link that you can drag onto your browser's Links toolbar. (The link is the same for all supported platforms and browsers, but the screenshots in the instructions are different.) To snipe an auction, navigate to the auction page on eBay and click the SnipeIt link on your Links toolbar. A small window will appear with all information filled in for you; just specify a bid amount and press "Place eBay bid with eSnipe."