EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 169 - June 25, 2006 - ISSN 1528-6703     5 of 9

Who's Watching Your eBay Auctions, and Why?

By Michael A. Banks

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Nearly every eBay seller has had this experience: You list an item, perhaps a rare-ish collectible, and after a day or two you notice a 5 in that item's Number of Watchers column indicating 5 people are watching your item. "Great!" you say to yourself. "There are sure to be some bids now."

But nobody bids. In fact, the item closes with no bids. And maybe one or two of the watchers disappears before the end of the auction.

What's going on? Why would someone watch an item, then ignore it? And how can an item that's interesting enough for four or five people to put in on watch lists not draw bids? It's frustrating! Why all the interest, but no bids?

There are several possible answers to this. My favorite (which I've posted on eBay boards, just for fun) is that it's the IRS monitoring your sales. I'm sure that makes some people pause, but I don't think a watcher on one or two sales is indicative of this; the IRS can get your records from eBay. Besides, if IRS wanted to monitor what you're selling directly, they'd put a watch on everything you list.

You might think it's eBay's staff watching you for one reason or another, but I suspect those folks can flag an auction without you knowing it.

So, if it's not the IRS or eBay, who's watching - and why? If you've used the Watch this item feature yourself, you already have an idea of why someone would put your item on their watch list, and then not bid on it. There are lots of people who plan to jump in and bid at the last minute - then forget. (Yes, lots of bidders still practice manual sniping, despite all the hype about sniping services.) Other watchers may really want the item, but have to hold off to see if they have enough money to pay for the item when the auction ends.

Then there are the buyers who maybe feel a bit "iffy" about the merchandise. They decide to put the auction on their list and decide whether the really want it later. And then they either decide they don't want it (and remove it from their list) or forget to check their watch list.

Some watchers will be potential bidders hoping the item will go unsold, and that you'll repost it at a lower opening bid. And there are some of us buyers who want to see if you, the seller, will get frustrated enough to lower your price a dollar or two before the auction ends (that's actually a useful sales tactic).

Finally, those mystery watchers may be other sellers. Why would they watch someone else's items? Research is one reason. A smart seller may watch several items similar to what she's planning to offer, to get an idea of what kind of opening bid and Buy it Now prices to set, and to gauge the demand. Keeping an item on a watch list is also a good way to see when competing auctions end, so the seller can get her item listed as soon as yours is out of the way.

All the speculation and frustration aside, the fact that an auction has multiple watchers but gets no bid tells you several things. First: someone or several someones would like to own the item. Second: your subject header and description did their jobs and helped bring in shoppers. Third: There is something dissuading people from bidding on your item. The odds are high that it's the price. If you relist the item, consider lowering the opening bid or buy price by 15 to 20 percent. That could make all the difference.

But before you do that, do some searching for the same or similar items. Check out those that sold; it may be that they were in better condition than what you offered, or it may just be a matter of price. Then, too, if you find several sellers offering the same thing, the problem is a matter of too many items and not enough few buyers. In that case, wait a month or so, and try again.

Oh - I almost forgot: There's one other kind of watcher. This will be the wise guy who gets a kick out of just knowing he's driving a seller nuts by putting another digit on someone's Number of Watchers list.

About the author:

Michael A. Banks is the author of The eBay Survival Guide: How to Make Money and Avoid Losing Your Shirt (No Starch Press, 2005. ISBN: 1-59327-063-1). He has written 39 books and more than 3,000 magazine articles and short stories. A full-time freelance writer and editor since 1983, Banks has written for most major computer magazines, and has served as a Contributing Editor for such publications as Windows Magazine, Computer Shopper, Connect Magazine, and others. He began writing about computing for Popular Computing in 1981. In addition to writing for the computer press, Banks has contributed to a diverse range of magazines, including Writer's Digest, Science Digest, Analog Science Fiction, Cavalier, Grit, Visual Merchandising, Starlog, Modern People, Good Housekeeping, and many other special- and general-interest publications. His work has been reprinted in Japan and South America, and he has written features and columns for magazines in Japan and England. His latest book is How to Become a Full-Time Freelance Writer, published by The Writer Books.

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