Apparently there is something called “sniping” in eBay, now taken as a community norm. Does it work? In its essence, yes. Does it work on theoretical level? Not really. Let me lay it out bits by bits.
eBay is effectively a proxy auction. (not a dictionary term) There is a software that bids on your behalf of your budget. When you bid certain amount, say $200 on a vintage typewriter, eBay doesn’t automatically enter 200 to the auction, only an increment that is determined by the system. So if the current highest bid was $30, and the first bidder had the budget of $50 entered, the highest bid shown at the moment after you had entered 200 will be $51, or anything higher than $50 but only by an increment. eBay call this “automatic bidding,” and I believe the term is misleading. It’s a proxy bidding, trying to make sense of online auction.
If you had ever been to the real, offline auction, there is no time limit as it is on eBay. You just raise your hand, and the auctioneer will keep on asking for more until there is nobody. But on eBay, time limit, often 7 days, is set. Anyone with the highest bid by that end of time limit gets the item on auction. Not only that, you have to consider lags from network connections, people in different time zones, and etc. The only way to make sense of online bidding was to make it done by proxy. Again, it makes sense in the head of developers, and people like myself, but not to the actual consumers, because it’s bizarrely different from actual bidding.
So by the end of the auction, say there is 24 hours left, you could just say “this is my absolute maximum I’m willing to pay for this item” and go to bed. There is no need to bid in shadow. If you have the highest budget, eBay will select you as the winner; hence rendering sniping useless. If you don’t want to disclose your highest budget to anyone and don’t want to lose the item by a dollar, you can watch the auction till the last minute, and raise the budget. Hence my second point:
The only reason sniping services seem to work and does work time to time is because people misunderstand how the eBay bidding system actually works. No matter how slow your internet connection is, theoretically, as long as you can load the entire webpage at least once, you have a good chance of winning, thanks to this system. In fact, if you had ever placed a bid on an item before, you’d know you can get outbid the moment you placed yours. That’s the power of proxy bidding. What sniping does is that it hides the users’ highest budget until the last moment. Does it work? Yes, it can make the bidding warfare less green and it may even outbid some newbie buyers. But it still doesn’t change the fact that there are people who read the FAQ. Don’t bother to spend on sniping services, just DIY.
Having said that, it’s time for eBay to renew most of its wordings, FAQs and support pages. Automatic Bidding? Sounds too skynet for some people.