Hack 22 Automatic Sniping


Use eSnipe to snipe without actually having to be there when the auction ends.

Sniping is an effective way to increase your odds of winning an auction while simultaneously lowering the final price you pay (see [Hack #21]). But there are significant drawbacks to sniping that limit its practical usefulness:

  • You have to be in front of your computer, ready to bid, at the exact time the auction ends.

  • It's nearly impossible to snipe two or more auctions ending at the same time.

  • If your computer crashes or your Internet connection goes down moments before you snipe, you lose.

  • You can easily forget to bid, or even become distracted moments before bidding time. (I can't tell you how many times I've been distracted by a doorbell ring or a good song on the radio, only to turn around and find that I've missed my two-minute sniping window.)

The solution, of course, is to simply bid early, and then return to the auction after it's over to find that you've been outbid by 4 cents. Fortunately, there is a better way.

A number of sniping services are available that will automatically place a bid for you at a specified time, typically a few minutes or seconds before the end of an auction. Some sniping services are simply standalone programs that run on your computer, but these suffer some of the same limitations as sniping manually?namely, that your home computer be turned on and connected to the Internet at the right time. The better services are web-based, like eBay itself, and operate whether or not your computer is powered up.

When you use a sniping service, you must share your eBay ID and password so the software can log in and bid for you. While some sniping services are legitimate, there will undoubtedly be some services that use this information unscrupulously. So use caution and do your homework before trusting an unknown service with your eBay login.

The best sniping service available by far is eSnipe (www.esnipe.com). It's extremely easy to use, very reliable, and best of all, it works. Just log into eSnipe with your eBay user ID and password, and you're ready to go. To set up a snipe, specify the auction number, the amount to bid, and the buffer time (number of seconds before the end of the auction), as shown in Figure 3-1.

Figure 3-1. Automatic sniping tools like eSnipe bid for you at the last minute

eSnipe will bid for you at the specified time and then send you an email to let you know whether or not the snipe was successful. Naturally, if you were outbid or if your bid wasn't high enough, eSnipe will fail.

3.4.1 The Catch

There are two drawbacks to using eSnipe. First, it's not free. New users are granted a free trial period, but thereafter eSnipe charges 1% of the final price of the auction, with a minimum fee of 25 cents and a maximum fee of $10.00.[2] The fees are pretty small, though, and probably pay for themselves with the money saved by sniping. eSnipe fees are paid by purchasing "BidPoints," which are available at a discount if purchased in bulk.

[2] The fees are per auction; sniping three $2 auctions will cost you 75 cents. The exception is that all foreign auctions have a flat fee of $1 since eSnipe isn't able to do an accurate currency conversion on the fly. Naturally, all quoted prices are subject to change.

The second catch is that eSnipe is not smart. It can't read your mind or the minds of the other bidders, nor can it make decisions for you. For instance, if you enter a snipe bid of $54.03 and the price at the time of sniping is $53.99, then eBay will refuse your bid even though it's higher than the highest bid (see [Hack #25]). If you sniped the auction manually [Hack #21], then you'd be able to make the call on the spot and raise your bid by the required 96 cents. See Where Sniping Can Go Terribly Wrong for another case.

Where Sniping Can Go Terribly Wrong

Although sniping usually has good results, there are circumstances under which automatic sniping can actually make things worse. Here's a case in point.

I saw a set of Go stones (used in Go, an ancient board game somewhat like chess, but with black and white stones on a 19 x 19 grid) for auction with an opening bid of $45, so I set up an automated sniping service to bid about $50 for me, seven seconds before the end of the auction. I then promptly forgot about it; that is, until I received an email from the service shortly after the end of the auction.

It appeared that the seller had extended the auction another three days and lowered the price to $40. This happened sometime after I placed my snipe bid, so I was none the wiser until it was too late. Not wanting a bid retraction to show up in my feedback profile, I let the bid stand. And since the price had been lowered and I was the only bidder, I felt like I was in a good position.

Then, another bidder came along and bid repeatedly until my $50 bid had been trounced, something that wouldn't have happened if my bid had not yet been placed (or if I had retracted the errant snipe). Since my bid was placed early, the other bidder felt compelled to outbid me, thus raising the price of the set over what I was willing to pay.

I ended up losing the auction, and the other bidder ended up paying too much, all because of what can go wrong with sniping. Had I sniped manually, I would've known to postpone my bid. Or, had I simply bid at the time I entered my snipe bid, the seller wouldn't have been able to extend the auction in the first place.

eSnipe offers a Bid Checkup feature, an automated email sent at a specified time before the end of the auction to notify you of any potential problems with your pending snipe, but the real-world usefulness of the feature is limited, since you probably won't be around when it arrives. Personally, I've found the Bid Checkup email to be somewhat of a nuisance, as it only means I get two email messages notifying me of a failed snipe instead of just one. Fortunately, you can specify 0 (zero) in the Bid Checkup field to disable the feature.

3.4.2 Put eSnipe on Your Toolbar

If you find yourself using eSnipe more frequently, you may want to streamline the bid entry process. Instead of opening up eSnipe, logging in, and then typing or pasting the auction number into the form, you can use eSnipe's SnipeIt feature.

Start by clicking SnipeIt! on eSnipe's toolbar and following the prompts on screen. Eventually, you'll be given a link that you can drag onto your browser's Links toolbar. (The link is the same for all supported platforms and browsers, but the screenshots in the instructions are different.)

To snipe an auction, navigate to the auction page on eBay and click the SnipeIt link on your Links toolbar. A small window will appear with all information filled in for you; just specify a bid amount and press "Place eBay Bid with eSnipe."

3.4.3 See Also

  • See [Hack #21] for the old-school approach to sniping.

  • See [Hack #23] if you want to bid on several auctions but win only one.