EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 77 - August 25, 2002 - ISSN 1528-6703     3 of 7

Online Auction Sniping: The Thrill of the Hunt

Email This Story to a Friend

Sniping: (intransitive verb)

  1. to hunt or shoot snipe.
  2. to shoot from a hidden position at individuals of an enemy force.
  3. to direct an attack (at someone) in a sly or underhanded way.

There are the ways that the dictionary defines sniping. The Internet, and specifically online auctions, have given new meaning to the term "snipe." 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.

Sniping does not exist in real life auctions, where there is no scheduled ending time on bidding. Sniping is an online-auction cultural phenomenon and is possible only because Internet auctions have predefined ending times. It's a controversial subject and can cause heated discussion in online auction forums.

But why would someone wait until the last minute to place a bid on an item? When you place a bid on an item, you are giving other people "information":

  1. you believe that item is worth having, and
  2. your bid is an indication of an acceptable value (even though it doesn't indicate your maximum bid).

In addition, by bidding early, you give others the opportunity to outbid you. By waiting until the last minute (or seconds) to place a bid, you may get the item at a lower price than if you had bid earlier.

There is also a "thrill" factor to sniping. Someone commented to me recently, "People flock to eBay due to the excitement, the gamble." Many auction sellers don't like sniping, but some admit they find it exciting to watch last minute bidders come and raise the price of their item.

Tools exist to help snipers. You can schedule your "snipes" in advance and they will be made automatically, so you don't have to stay up late or bid from work. You can get shareware programs, paid programs or subscription-based services; programs you load on your computer or services that will place the snipe bid for you. The advantage to the latter is that these services have high-speed connections that allow them to place bids just seconds before the end of an auction.

Dave Eccles created the first Sniping software in 1997. He said his software was met with strong resistance from eBay at first, claiming the site closed his snipe software auctions within 24 hours of first introduction over "unspecified" rule violation. "The anti-snipe wars with eBay raged on, with eBay shutting down my auctions for the program several times and finally permanently banning the program from what was called then the Super Featured auctions." Eccles said the wars came to a close just after eBay went public.

Some bidders prefer to use eBay's feature called a proxy bid, which is the same thing as a maximum bid. eBay automatically bids up to your maximum amount for you. Your maximum bid is only placed when a competing bidder also bids up to that same amount. Here's some information on eBay's help pages: and

In the next issue, I'll take a look at some popular sniping software and see what features they offer. In the meantime, feel free to leave a message on the forums, and tell me what your favorite sniping programs are.

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

You may quote up to 50 words of any article on the condition that you attribute the article to and either link to the original article or to
All other use is prohibited.