eBay Bidding Tips: How to Win Auctions

Everyone wants to win the items that they bid for on eBay, but 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 six of our top tips for how to become a pro at auctions on eBay.

Tips for bidding on eBay

1. Research the item that you want to bid for.

Once you find an item that you want to bid for, find similar items on eBay (or on other online marketplaces such as Amazon), and see what prices they are being 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 eBay Search tutorial to learn how to search for items, including ones that have already been sold.)  Also, if the item has a Buy It Now option, see what price the seller is asking for a direct purchase.

All of this information should give you clues as to how much the item in question might sell for.  Of course, you also have to determine how much you are willing to pay for the item relative to how much you want it.

2. Don't engage in "low-ball bidding".

"Low-ball bidding" means intentionally placing low maximum bids on several items at once.  The idea behind it is to hope that some auctions go unnoticed, and so no competing bids are made before they close.  Theoretically, this would allow you to win some items at very low prices.  While it sounds tempting, there are three reasons why you shouldn't do this.

  1. In light of how popular eBay is, it is more than likely that at least a few other people will notice the items that you bid on and offer more reasonable bids.  This will make your low-ball bids virtually meaningless, beyond artificially driving up the prices of the items.

  2. 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. This means that you are required to purchase and pay for every item that you win (even if the items are similar).

  3. 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. Also, if your behaviour is reported to eBay, your bidding privileges may be restricted.

3. 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 #5 for more details on why this is useful.

4. Vary your bid amounts to throw off the competition.

A common mistake that beginning bidders on eBay make is that they round off their bids to the nearest dollar, or according to common coin increments (e.g. to the nearest 5, 10, 25, or 50 cents).

The problem with this is that this is how most bid increments are measured, which makes it easy for other bidders to outbid you by using the bid increments as a guideline.  However, 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 won't always work out that way, but it could mean the difference between winning an item and walking away empty-handed.

5. 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 user names of bidders are replaced with fake names, a unique bidder will have the same colour 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 the next tip for more details.

6. 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 and very powerful strategy that can work if your bid is high enough, but its usefulness is somewhat limited by how eBay's bidding system works. 

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 somewhat risky strategy on eBay, but it's one of the most effective ones if used correctly. That is, 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 tips.

Ready to start bidding on eBay? Click here to visit eBay.com!

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