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Is eBay Inadvertently Blocking Last-Minute Bidding?

While many users feel eBay plays down the importance of auctions on its site, collectors are still turning to the marketplace to bid on sought-after treasures, and they can be very strategic in how they place their bids to win at the lowest price possible. But when bids don’t go through, everybody loses.

Snipe bidding is one method employed by many savvy bidders. That’s the practice of placing last-minute bids on auctions to avoid drawing attention to the items they’re interested in and to reduce the chances of an all-out bidding war with other collectors.

Lately eBay’s bidding process is causing third-party sniping services to miss out on last-minute snipes on their customers’ behalf, according to some reports from bidders. Buyers say the problem does not appear to be isolated to any one service. AuctionSniper and Bidnip have both been named as having the problem.

eBay did not respond to our inquiry on Monday. But one sniping service that preferred to remain anonymous said it did not see any signs of unusual problems. “I’m not seeing much increase of CAPTCHA. If anything, maybe eBay is more sensitive to too many logins on the same IP in a short period of time which then causes CAPTCHA on the IP,” according to the company’s operations person. “I’m NOT seeing any sort of increase in stuff on an account-by-account basis like phone verification (which seems to be the new captcha),” he added.

But a reader who contacted us on Tuesday said AuctionSniper told him eBay was now often, but not always, asking sniper programs for a captcha. “My main concern,” the bidder wrote, “is how many sniper bids on my own items for bid are not getting through.”

The reader had also contacted us a month ago when his bids were not going through in a known problem caused by a glitch in late August. With several notable eBay outages, we noted the disproportionate impact technical issues had on auctions versus fixed-price listings: “if a glitch temporarily brings down a fixed-price listing, the seller at least doesn’t face having to accept a lower selling price when the item does sell. But that can be the case when an auction listing becomes temporarily inaccessible to bidders – just one bidder missing the action can make a big difference to the ending price of an auction.”

Collectors discussed the snipe-bidding problem 3 weeks ago on a site devoted to fountain pens.

“Over the last month or so, I have noticed (mainly on Sunday night) that snipes (yes, I snipe…) that I have set on some pens do not go through. The pens then end up going for relatively low prices for pens that usually generate a lot of interest and bidding and higher prices. I get a link from my sniping service that sends me to an endless loop of entering a number code on a screen.”

The collector also sells pens on eBay and said three long term customers had contacted him in recent weeks to see if there were issues because they had the same problem. “There were two different sniping services involved, so I don’t think it is particular to any service. Anyone else having this same problem?”

Another user responded, saying he had missed out on a pen the original poster had been selling, saying he would have been the highest bidder. “Bidnip says the bid wasn’t placed, so I contacted them. They said that the bid wasn’t placed because verification was required in the form of a captcha. Obviously an automated service can’t enter the characters required.”

He continued, “If this continues to be the norm then I suspect that this will be the end for sniping services, even though eBay states that sniping doesn’t violate any of their rules. I guess time will tell if eBay changes this. It’s definitely a deliberate act by eBay. If you google this issue, you’ll find it discussed on a couple of forums.”

He then went on to add that he had one an auction on a recent Sunday evening by manually bidding – “I daren’t risk a snipe,” he wrote.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
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 ina@ecommercebytes.com.