This article will teach you how to win items on eBay, all while paying the absolute lowest price. You might assume that the best strategy for bidding on eBay is to jump in at the last minute with “bid sniping” and hope no one else is doing the same thing, and offering more money than you – but we know differently.
Everyone wants to win the items that they bid for on eBay.com, but with 170 million active users, the fact of the matter is that only one person can be the highest bidder at the end of the auction. So how do you make sure that person is you? And more importantly, how do you do so without totally breaking the bank by overbidding? Here are 15 of our top tips for how to become a pro at auctions on eBay.
1. Try making an eBay “Best Offer” to the seller.
eBay has an amazing feature called “Best Offers” that allows you to make your ‘best offer’ to a seller during the auction, and see if they will accept it from you. The seller has the option to accept it, reject it, or make you a counter-offer if they are interested but still want more money. If your Best Offer is accepted, you can often get an item without having to wait through the auction, and it might even save you some money. Many people win auctions this way, so if you want to save time and money, learn how to make or retract eBay Best Offers here.
2. Thoroughly research the item that you want to bid on.
Once you find an item that you want to bid for, find similar items on eBay (or on other online marketplaces such as Amazon.com), and see what price they are sold for. You may also want to search for similar items that have been auctioned off in the past, and see what the winning bids for those items were (see our article on how to search on eBay to learn how to search for items, including ones that have already been sold).
The best way to track an item over time is to put it on your eBay Watch List and actually watch it. The Watch List will show you what’s going on with the item, and if you’re really interested in winning it, make sure you check on it multiple times per day.
All of this information should give you clues as to how much the item in question might sell for, so you have a ‘going rate’ to base your bids off of. Of course, you also have to determine how much you are willing to pay for the item relative to how much you want it.
3. Don’t just research the item – research the seller.
There’s plenty you can learn about what you should be paying for an item based on the seller alone. Take a look at the feedback given about the seller from other buyers. Make sure to consider how this seller is trending as well; they may have a high rating, but if all recent reviews are negative, you might want to steer clear. If the seller seems suspicious in any way, or they frequently extend the deadline for auctions, you may want to keep away and start your search somewhere else. Learn the difference between good and bad sellers from eBay here.
4. Don’t engage in “low-ball bidding.”
“Low-ball bidding” means intentionally opening with very low maximum bids on multiple items in the hopes of paying as little as possible for them beyond the opening bids. While this sounds tempting, there are three reasons why you shouldn’t do this:
- It is likely someone else will notice the items you bid on and offer more reasonable bids, making your low-ball bids virtually meaningless beyond artificially driving up the prices of the items.
- On the off chance that you actually do win some items with low-ball bids, your bids are legally-binding contracts between you and the sellers, so you are required to purchase and pay for every item that you win (even if the items are similar).
- If an item has a Buy It Now option, bidding on it removes that option. Thus, low-ball bidding is disrespectful towards people who may want the option of buying an item at a fixed price.
If you are caught engaging in low-ball bidding, sellers may begin blocking or cancelling your bids. In addition, if your behavior is reported to eBay, your bidding privileges may be restricted. If you’ve already made this mistake with your last bid, or are having second thoughts about any of your bids, we can show you how to cancel or retract an eBay bid in 5 easy steps (and when you’re allowed to do it).
5. Don’t bid too high, too early.
While we just said that intentionally bidding low in an auction is a no-no, bidding your absolute maximum right off the bat is a bad idea, too. For one thing, it gives away too much information regarding how badly you want an item. For another, if someone else uses this information (along with information from other bidders’ bids) to figure out and place a maximum bid that will beat yours, then you’re stuck.
A better strategy is to simply wait to bid until late in the auction, or do a bit of “bid nibbling.” This involves placing incrementally higher maximum bids throughout the auction and seeing how other bidders respond to them, such as how often they place new maximum bids and how much they bid above the current highest bid. (See tip #9 for more details on why this is useful.)
Commit to a maximum bid at the start in your mind, and make sure you stick to it throughout the auction. Slowly raise your price, but don’t go above that highest maximum bid at any time, and don’t show all your cards at once by revealing exactly what that maximum is.
6. Use an eBay coupon for your auction.
eBay sometimes offers coupons or discounts that you can use to save money on an auction. This is one of the simplest ways to lower what you’re spending, so try choosing auctions occurring while you have a valid coupon. To get coupons, you simply need to change your notification settings in eBay to receive special offers by email. We’ll show you how to do this in our article on how to get and use eBay Coupons.
7. Vary your bid amounts to uncommon increments to throw off the competition.
A common mistake that beginning bidders make is that they round off their bids to the nearest dollar, or according to common coin increments (to the nearest 5, 10, 25, or 50 cents). The problem with this is that most bid increments are measured this way, which makes it easy for other bidders to outbid you by using the bid increments as a guideline.
Instead, tacking a few extra cents onto the end of your bid (such as $10.28 or $56.73) may mean that someone can’t outbid you, because adding a bid increment would put them over their maximum bid! It may not always work out that way, but a few cents it could mean the difference between winning an item and walking away empty-handed.
8. Check the bid history.
If you click [X] Bids on the details page of an item up for auction, you can see a record of previous maximum bids made for the item, when they were made, and who made them. Though the usernames of bidders are replaced with fake names, a unique bidder will have the same color of star beside their name with every bid that they make.
Based on how high a person bids or how frequently they place a new maximum bid, you can tell how badly they want the item or how closely they are watching this auction. Your best option might be to sneak in a big bid near the end of the auction to beat out the competition. See our tip on ‘sniping’ below for more details.
9. Make use of ‘bid nibbling’ or proxy bidding.
eBay offers a proxy bidding service that allows you tell eBay beforehand the highest amount you are willing to pay. During the auction, it will place automatic bids for you above the highest bid, keeping your bid below the max you indicated at the start. Simply enter the maximum bid while placing your first bid, and enable eBay to do this for you. Your max bid will remain confidential until you finally hit it (if you ever do) during the auction. Learn more about how this works on eBay’s help page about automatic bidding.
If you don’t want to use the eBay bid proxy system, you can get the same effect by using the ‘bid nibbling’ tactic. Start with a low bid but have a firm maximum bid in mind. Each time someone outbids you, simply increase the bid increment by a very small number. If you’re the type of person who is vigilant and don’t mind watching an auction consistently, then this tactic can work for you.
10. Use an outside tool like auction-snipers or deal-finders.
These tools exist to help take the effort out of bidding for you. An ‘auction-sniping’ service like LastMinute Auction automatically place bids for you at the last-minute, knowing what your maximum bid is. Though it’s possible others use these tools as well and their bid might be higher than yours, these bids are placed within the final 5 seconds of an auction, so in many cases, you win the item! For proof, check out this review of why sniping with maximum bid value at the last-minute works most of the time.
There are also services like BayCrazy that help you find hidden bargains on eBay, by displaying items up for auction on eBay that have no current bids on them. You can also see the price for the item, and how much time is left in the auction. You can even tailor the results for things you’re more interested in!
11. Use “bid sniping” wisely.
“Bid sniping” means placing a bid with as little time as possible remaining in the auction, with the hopes that nobody else will notice that they have been outbid until the auction is over. It’s a common strategy that can work if your bid is high enough, but it isn’t as effective a strategy on eBay as it would be in other places.
Our “How does Bidding on eBay Work?” article explains the details, but basically, if your “snipe bid” is lower than someone else’s maximum bid, eBay’s automatic bidding system will increase their current bid to beat your “snipe bid.” In this case, all that your “snipe bid” did was force the high bidder to pay more for the item; it didn’t win you the item.
In summary, “bid sniping” is a risky strategy on eBay, but it can win you a lot of auctions if you have reason to believe that your “snipe bid” is going to be the highest maximum bid anyway. You can determine this by using the information you gained in following our previous tip.
12. Use “Buy It Now” when it’s something you really want.
eBay has offered a “Buy It Now” feature for a long time, to help people who know they really want something, and don’t want to lose out on it because they were nickel and diming during an auction. If there’s something you really want and the “Buy It Now” price seems fair, then Buy It Now! You’ll never lose out that way, and quite often, you’ll save yourself a lot of time.
13. Choose items where the auctions end at favorable times for you
If you really want to win that auction, take a look at the end date and time. There are ways you can gain an advantage simply based on where you are located, or when you are willing to watch the auction. If you live on the Pacific coast, try an auction ending late at night or in the wee hours of the morning – many people across the country won’t stay awake to watch the end of an auction that ends at 3 a.m. for them! You can also use holidays or weekend nights to your advantage and get items at a bargain if no one else is watching them.
14. Turn on outbidding real-time notifications
If you really want to win a particular item, eBay allows you to receive notifications that someone outbid you in real-time, rather than taking their time to let you know. To turn these on:
- Click My eBay in the top-right corner of any screen on eBay.com.
- Click Account in the top menu.
- On the left, click Communication Preferences.
- Under the “Buying Activity” subheading, click Show.
- Make sure all drop-down menus are set to “Real-time” and check the box beside Outbid to receive an IM.
Now you’ll be able to see the instant someone outbids you so you can set it right and go back to outbid them!
15. Shop safely.
This tip won’t necessarily help you win auctions, but it could save you a lot of money and hassle. Occasionally, if you show repeated interest in an item, a seller may contact you and offer you an ‘off-the-site’ deal to pay them directly to get the item. Never participate in offline deals like this to win an auction. They are never safe, nor do they have any legal backing. So there’s nothing stopping the seller from taking your money while continuing the auction on the site and sending that item to someone else. Always use eBay’s secure payment method to pay a seller to keep it safe!
Other helpful eBay articles to win auctions and get deals
If you’re interested in making it on eBay, these other articles might be able to help you!
- Best 13 Sites Like eBay for Getting Online Deals – Learn about these other sites where you might find better items for less money than on eBay.
- How to Avoid Being Scammed on eBay as a Buyer or Seller – We’ll teach you about the common scams run on eBay so you know how to steer clear of them.
- How to Sell on eBay course – If you’re always buying on eBay, consider becoming a seller to make some money!
- How to Contact eBay Customer Service – If you have any issues with an eBay seller, your bids, or receiving your items after you’ve won an auction, learn about your option for contacting eBay, the website that is notorious for ignoring customer complaints.
- How to Return an Item on eBay for a Refund – Is the item you purchased not all it should have been? Learn how to get your money back in 5 easy steps, and when you qualify for a full refund.