The Future of Sniping on eBay
By Ina Steiner
Sniping services are on the alert after eBay conducted a survey of users about their attitudes toward sniping. Some are concerned that eBay could ban sniping on its site, or introduce its own competing service.
What is sniping? If you place a bid during the last minute (or few seconds) of an online auction, beating out the last bidder to win the auction, then you have "sniped" the auction. Because eBay puts an ending time on auctions, bidders believe they can avoid bidding wars (and higher prices) by waiting until the last few seconds of an auction to place their bids.
An enterprising entrepreneur came up with an automatic sniping tool in 1997, when Dave Eccles introduced Cricket Jr. (CricketSniper.com). Competing services have joined Cricket Jr. over the years (see a chart of sniping services at http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/pages/sniping.
Eccles said eBay met his tool with strong resistance after he first introduced Cricket Jr., but left him alone just after the company went public. In "The Official eBay Bible," published in June, author Jim Griffith writes, "As of this writing, eBay does not prohibit or condone the use of sniping software or services." BidSlammer.com's CEO said he heard reports that eBay tried to ban sniping in Germany, but believes that German courts overruled eBay on the matter.
In October, eBay surveyed selected members about their attitudes on sniping services. Chuck Eglinton, owner of Bidrobot.com, said his customers wondered whether eBay would introduce its own sniping service. One question on the survey asked, "How would you react if eBay were to start promoting the use of "Sniping Tools" or services?"
It would not be the first time eBay copied an innovation created by outside entrepreneurs or gone into competition with third-party vendors. Some auction management services are unhappy with eBay's introduction of Selling Manager Pro, an auction management tool the company is aggressively promoting. eBay charges users $15.99/month for the service. eBay CEO Whitman has promised analysts $3 billion in revenue by 2005, and it's likely eBay is looking at money-making ventures it can claim for its own.
eBay spokesperson Jennifer Chu Caukin said eBay is taking a look at how sniping is perceived by the community and how it affects the site is a whole. When asked if eBay planned to introduce a sniping tool of its own, Caukin said eBay just started taking a look at the issue, but that "it wouldn't make sense to come out with our own tool." She also said it would be difficult to enforce a sniping ban on the site.
eBay users are passionate about sniping: they either love it or hate it. Those who enjoy eBay for the thrill of the hunt or the "gambling" aspect might find eBay a little boring without it. And it's uncertain whether these last-second bidders would trust eBay to snipe for them.
See AuctionBytes' article about sniping from August 2002, "Online Auction Sniping: The Thrill of the Hunt"
And a discussion board thread, "Should eBay Eliminate Sniping?" http://digbig.com/3fdd
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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