The Nuts and Bolts of Online Auction Sniping
By Ina Steiner
Last week I wrote about the culture of online-auction sniping http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abu/y202/m08/abu0077/s02. Since then, I've polled some sniping services to learn more about their services. A comparison chart can be found at: http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/pages/sniping. Please remember that the information is self-reported.
Buyers who want to use sniping software to bid on auctions at the last minute should know there are two main types of sniping services: software vs. hosted. You can download software and set up your snipe to act for you. But your computer must be on, with an Internet connection, at the time the auction ends.
Or, you could use a hosted service. Hosted sniping services allow you to place your snipe bid with them and forget about it. You don't have to be at your computer at the close of the auction, and hosted services may be an attractive alternative for people with slow dial-up connections.
Pricing for Software
AuctionTamer's AutoBid and BidSpyder are software downloads and are free. CricketSniper costs $19.95 for the current edition and $29.95 for the Deluxe Edition. CricketSniper was the first sniping software product and was introduced in 1997.
Pricing for Hosted Services
Pricing structures for hosted services vary. AuctionStealer has a free service where you can conduct 5 snipes a week and Priority services for either $1/item or $5.99/month unlimited. BidRobot and BidNapper have unlimited usage plans. AuctionSniper and BidSlammer charge 1% final value fees with a minimum (25 cents) and a maximum of $5. eSnipe charges a final value fee of about 1% (it uses a point system, so it's slightly more for items under $25 and slightly less for items over $1,000. See the chart for more information.
So what happens if you set up a snipe bid and something goes wrong?
As I was putting this article together, eBay happened to make a change to its code. The sniping vendors had to determine the problem and fix it. Some companies told me they might have lost about 100 snipes during the time it took to make a fix. This is not a problem unique to sniping software, however. All third-party vendors must contend with unannounced eBay changes.
If you lose an auction because something goes wrong with the sniping software, you should not have to pay for the sniped bid. Some vendors may even compensate you with free snipes or extend your service. But the basic idea is that you take your chances with sniping services just as you do if you try to manually snipe an auction.
BidSlammer's owner reminded me that snipe bidders should factor in eBay's minimum bid increment. See this page for some tips on sniping correctly: http://www.bidslammer.com/help/index.php?s=14.
Auction sellers have the option of re-listing an item if it doesn't sell. Now bidders can "re-bid" with sniping services. Let's say you need a copy of a music CD to get your loved one for his birthday. There are 3 auctions that are acceptable to you, all ending on Sunday night several hours apart. Using Bid Groups, you can set up a series of snipe bids. The service will place bids until you win an item, and then shut off all future bids. So if you don't win the first CD, the service will try sniping the 2nd auction. If you win the 2nd auction, it will refrain from executing your third snipe bid.
All in the Family
HammerTap offers a sniping service using AuctionStealer. AuctionTamer offers two hosted services in addition to its own AutoBid software: BidTamer (using AuctionStealer) and AuctionSniper.
Of the hosted services, eSnipe has been around the longest and says it has 100,000 users. AuctionSniper says it has 70,000 people regularly using its sniping services, and AuctionStealer says it has about 70,000 users as well. Note that Vrane.com also has a sniping service, but they have not replied to my queries for information.
If you have a favorite sniping service, or would like to share your sniping strategies, please post a note in the forums: http://www.auctionbytes.com/forum/phpBB/viewtopic.php?topic=1734&forum=3&36
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 email@example.com.
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