Bid at the last minute to simultaneously ensure that you win the auction and that you pay the lowest possible amount.
It shouldn't take long to figure out that it's usually better to bid later in the auction?the later the better. Many eBayers wait until the last few minutes of the auction to bid, leaving no time for lower bidders to be notified and respond with higher bids. This is called sniping, and all it takes is a little nerve and the ability to tell time.
When you've found an auction you want to snipe, the first step is to track the auction and make note of its closing date and time; see [Hack #24] for details. Then, all you need to do is return to eBay a few minutes before the auction ends and place your bid.
The problem is that many eBay users make a habit of doing this, so you'll likely have competition. With multiple snipers, the prize often goes to the bidder who can enter a bid closest to the end of the auction.
The most effective snipes occur within 10 seconds of the end of the auction, leaving no time for other bidders to even see your bid ? not to mention outbid you ? before it's too late.
Give yourself about two minutes to set up. Start by opening two browser windows (press Ctrl-N to open a second window), and open the auction page in both windows. Move and resize the two browser windows so they're side by side on your screen.
Type your maximum bid in one of the windows and click Place Bid (but do not confirm your bid on the next page). If necessary, scroll the page so that the Confirm Bid button is visible and not obscured.
Then, switch to the other window and reload (refresh) the page by pressing Ctrl-R. Reload it again a few seconds later to see any changes to the current price and the time left. Repeat this until there's only 10-15 seconds left in the auction.
When the time is right, switch back to the other window and press the Confirm Bid button to place your bid. Then, quickly reload the auction page to make sure your bid was accepted. Assuming you entered a sufficiently large bid, you should be the high bidder for the seven seconds that remain. If you cut it close enough, nobody else will even know you've bid until the auction is over.
Some eBay members consider the ethics of sniping to be somewhat dubious in that it may appear unfair to those unfamiliar with the process. This concern is somewhat understandable. It's true that new members will lose auctions to seasoned eBayers at first, either in bidding wars or by sniping, but as they become more experienced, they'll start winning more auctions.
The choice of whether or not to snipe is yours, but in all my years of using eBay, I've never had a single buyer (or seller) contact me and complain about an auction I've sniped. Inexperienced bidders will eventually learn the system and find a method that works for them (sniping or otherwise).
Of course, things don't always work out the way we plan. The very nature of sniping leaves little time to correct errors or deal with obstacles, so it's best to prepare for them ahead of time.
For instance, say you want to snipe an item for $25; this bid amount poses no problem two minutes before the end of the option, as the current price is only $17. But if, 20 seconds before the end, the bidding reaches $25, your $25 bid will be refused. Sure, you could anticipate this by bidding $26 instead, but then the same thing could happen. (What really drives me nuts is when I bid $25 and the current price is $24.72; even though my bid is higher, eBay refuses it because it is below the required bid increment. See [Hack #25] for further information.)
The best way to combat this ? especially if you really want an item ? is to open up at least one extra bidding window when sniping. The procedure is the same as ordinary sniping, except on one side you'll have the auction page, and on the other you'll have two (or more) "Confirm your Bid" windows, cascaded so that each is big enough to be functional but small enough that each Confirm Bid button is visible. In the first bidding window, you might type a bid of $25, but have the second window ready to type in a slightly higher bid if necessary.
When it comes down to the wire, you'd click the Confirm Bid on the $25 window as you normally would. If you see the large blue letters confirming that the bid has been accepted, then there's nothing left to do. But if, instead, you see the light-brown letters informing you that your bid is too low or that you've been outbid, you'll be poised and ready to enter a second, slightly higher bid in the extra window.
I know what you're thinking: why not simply enter an inordinately large bid when sniping to completely eliminate the chance of being outbid?
One of the most important but least evident advantages of sniping is that it bypasses the bidding wars that are so common on eBay. Bidding wars typically accomplish nothing more than unnecessarily raising the price of an auction, at which point everyone is bidding more than the item is worth. By bidding at the last minute, you not only eliminate any time for others to outbid you, but you cripple your own ability to bid more than you would normally be willing to pay for the item.
See [Hack #24] for ways to mark auctions for later sniping.
See [Hack #22] if you're not going to be around when the auction ends and you don't want to bid early.
When used in conjunction with [Hack #25], you can cut the price by a few pennies to a few dollars per auction.