Saturday, December 28, 2013

Learn How to Be a Great eBay Sniper, Plus a Few Other Tricks.

eBay, What Is It Good For?
I love eBay! I loved it even more when it was younger since people try to sell new items for more now... But nevertheless, there is still practical purposes for eBay. Looking for that item that's been recently discontinued? How about something made decades ago? And yes, you can still get a great deal on many items with enough patience and persistence.

Lately, I have been getting a lot of things off eBay. My wife was kind enough to pay for a Panasonic Lumix GH2 for my birthday, and in the video-hacker realm, this is a gem! So I have been purchasing accessories, most of which are much cheaper on eBay. But some things I would not have acquired without knowing how the game is played...

Just want to learn to be a sniper? Click here!

The Game
eBay buyers can be ruthless, by this I mean if they have an abundance of funds to spend, they can easily dominate an auction without worry. Fortunately, this seems to be a "poor man's" game, and those who do spend large sums are usually bidding on rare and unique items.

The game is winning. A common and popular game with different rules for eBay. From what I have learned there are three ways to get what you want:

(1) Buy It Now
This can accompany an auction, but is largely used to sell items without the risk of an auction. When an item is listed under "Buy It Now" there is no need to wait for the item's due date to end. Simply purchase the item.

Bad - There bad things about this are that it can act like an impulse item where you see it and just buy it. Another negative aspect is that people can list something for a high price that the lay person (a person who does not research) does not realize is too expensive for a good deal.

Good - The good things are that, in my experience, if there are enough of that item in circulation, then you can often find it cheaper and still listed under "Buy It Now" (if you can ignore your initial impulse reaction). There is no wait time to pay for an item and get it shipped. Some items are sold in bulk, so if you have to wait for payday, there is still a chance you can get what you want at a later date.

RISK: None.

(2) Ad-Hoc Auctions
No, you cannot find an explanation on eBay's website for an "ad-hoc auction". I am trying to coin the term, but it is a situation not uncommon to eBay enthusiasts. An ad-hoc auction is when an auction has taken place but there were no bidders. The would-be bidder then contacts the seller and asks to purchase the item at its minimum possible bid or lower. This can include Buy It Now auctions since they can be combined, and is only possible if the bidder was a "Watcher" of the auction (otherwise you better remember the seller's exact name!).

I feel that this was a much more popular technique in the past as many things have changed since (e.g. not paying an auction fee unless a bid was made, offers, automatic re-listings, etc.). Yet, it still works today and can have advantages.

In Practice - An example of this would be a lens I bought recently. I bought a Vivitar 17mm F3.5 lens made for the Canon FD mount. I had been yelling at Amazon on the phone for some stupid ordeal they should have fixed, but have still yet to do (check that here). So I missed out on this auction. I later wrote the seller asking if I could purchase the item for the minimum bid of $100. I later re-read the auction and realized that there was a reserve of $130 stated. The seller's item was re-listed but they responded with a counteroffer of $140. They did have an option to Buy It Now at $180. I ignored the counteroffer not to be rude, but to wait out a few other similar auctions and then decide if I wanted the lens at $140. Two days later the seller sent me another message. They were willing to take the offer, and considering that my other auctions were much too high for what I was willing to pay, I bought the lens for $100, shipping included!

Holidays & Students - There are a couple things to note here. This was just before Christmas and it seems that this was a student selling the item. In other words, holidays put people in financial situations with a need to sell quickly; and students are usually without great financial resources that make that need even greater.

Safety - As a side note, be sure that if you do something like this they still start up an eBay auction just for your deal, or that you receive an invoice from PayPal with the details of the arrangement. This will allow you to still be covered in case some type of fraud is being committed. (The seller in my example created a separate eBay auction.)

RISK: Risk on Buyer [if not using eBay auction or PayPal].

(3) Sniping
Sniping is (now) very common in eBay auctions. Sniping is when a person bids at the last moments of an auction getting in the last highest bid, and thus becoming the winner. This is the most common way to win an auction of a sought after item.

Automatic Snipes - There are automated ways to do this. There are many methods that would have you pay for this service, or you can use a free program like JBidwatcher. While this can be practical, I would recommend against it if for nothing else than if you decide you want to bid a higher amount. Say I want something and decide I would be willing to pay $200 at the most. Forgetting about the auction, I later find out that the item was sold for $201.50. I realize that if I had been watching that item I would have been happy to up my bid by $10-$20. Maybe I would have still been outbid, but if not, I would have won! I would only use these services if I knew I was going to be unable to watch the auction end.

Rules To Abide By - Sniping is rather simple in method, but sniping properly is a whole different game. Because of this, I believe there are certain (easy) things that should be done in order to get the best deal:
  1. RESEARCH - The first thing you should always do before bidding is thorough research. Check for other auctions to see if they are any better deals. You should refine and sort your results to get only what you need to look at, otherwise, depending on your search criteria, you may have hundreds of unnecessary auctions to go through.
  2. COMPETITORS - This falls in line with research. When I find an item I want I always check out Amazon (and others if possible) before I decide to use eBay. Amazon will normally be higher in price, but once in a while they will be on par, and I trust Amazon far more than eBay sellers.
  3. BUDGET - This falls in line with competitors. Another reason I use Amazon is so I can see what the cheapest price is of the item I want. Considering many used items are available from Amazon as well, this helps me gauge if an eBay seller is on par, better, or worse at pricing an item. The cheapest price that Amazon offers on an item provides me with a maximum price for what I am willing to pay on eBay.
  4. NO BIDDING - There are people who are willing to bid on an item immediately, even when it has days or weeks before it ends. I hate these people! Think of an eBay auction as a poker game: Great poker players play with other great poker players because they truly know how to play the game. When they get a novice that starts using up good cards, it ruins the hands of everyone else. Bidding only increases the current amount, and if you want to be seen as the high bidder you have to bid at least slightly higher than the last bidder. This is the point of the auction for the seller, but for a buyer, we should want to get items at the cheapest price possible. So, do not bid until it is near the end of an auction. True snipers, like myself, will wait until 60 seconds or less to place bids.
  5. NUMBERS - Even if you bid in the last 60 seconds, there may be other snipers waiting to pounce as well. I try to slightly manipulate numbers for would-be winners who close in on my maximum price. I never bid in .25, .50, .75, .99, or .00, because this is what everyone else will bid. Why? It is just something we have been conditioned to do when numbers are concerned. I often bid two cents above those values. Why? Because if I were thinking along the same lines I would likely bid .26, .51, .76, .01. So, instead, I bid above that with .27, .52, .77, .02 so that I get a better chance of thwarting a bidder using similar tactics. Three or four cents work too. Chances are this tactic will not hold a buyer at bay, but in the seldom chance it does, you will be happy you did it!
  6. BIDDING ACTION - Most people who are going to snipe - and do it well - seem to put a reasonable amount per bid. Not enough to go overboard, but enough to sift out the junk bids. This is the way it should be. You should bid your maximum price (from #3) and use that. If you are looking for a great deal, do not expect to get something for more than 30% off the cheapest price you can find with Buy It Now. You can, but that would be more luck than anything.
Example 1 - If we put this in action, we can see it work. I recently won a set of rubber hoods for lenses where I had bid $21.52, but someone had bumped my original bid (and original bid price) of $17.99 to $18.99, $19.99, and then $20.99 before giving up in the last few seconds. In this instance I did not follow all the rules. I had been unable find the items being sold somewhere else to determine a maximum bid, and I had to bid in the last hour because my Internet went down [I used my mobile data] and then came back in the last 10 minutes.

Example 2 - Another example is when I purchased my GH2 a week ago. I checked amazon and the price for just the camera body had been about $515. I made a bid within the last 10 seconds for $515. I won the camera at $456, including shipping. The camera currently can be found used on Amazon for $461.49, including shipping. However, the eBay auction also included a lens that I found for a Buy It Now price of $112 on eBay (at its cheapest), and two additional batteries, which seem to go for around $20 brand new. In addition, the eBay seller stated he was a professional videographer, which puts my mind at ease that it will not be defective or have been handled improperly. The Amazon seller states the camera has been babied, but that the original strap is missing and replaced with a GH1 strap.

RISK: None (unless you count losing out on an item too expensive to acquire).

Breaking The Rules
There are times when the rules can be broken, and usually this just takes common sense to understand. Example 1 shows that I could not even perform the first three rules because this was a special item. Although I did not intend for another buyer to try to even bid, I did make a guess as to what could be paid and used the rest of the rules as best I could.

Another reason to break the rules might be funds. Maybe I cannot afford the amount Amazon or another retailer has for an item, so I would of course use a smaller, affordable price.

What if the item is so rare it is unlikely to be sold again anytime soon? This could be a reason to rebid, but in all honesty, you should have already bid the highest amount you are willing to spend. So, in a sense, you would not just be breaking the rule to bid only once, but breaking the rule of setting up your budget as well.

No Guarantee
While these tips and tricks can certainly help you snipe, this does not mean you will be unstoppable. I have used eBay for a long time, and to get the feel of these tactics could take some getting used to. But I believe anyone who takes them up will see their success and savings quite quickly.

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