How Auction Sniping Can Give You an Edge on eBay

The basics, steps and tools to help you to snipe today

older man on laptop smiling and shaking his fist in victory
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Auction sniping is often thought of as little known or marginally legal as a bidding technique, but it's actually commonplace and not against eBay rules.

To “snipe” just means “to bid only once, at the very last moment of a timed auction listing.” The practice has positives and negatives, but if you're interested in mastering it, here's how to use sniping successfully.

Decide Whether to Snipe Manually or Automatically

Manual sniping is just that—entirely up to you and your two hands. You simply wait out the clock on eBay auctions you’re interested in, then bid yourself at the very last moment of the auction.

Manual sniping has some advantages, including the fact that it costs nothing. Also, if you already use eBay, you already know how to snipe manually; nothing new to learn.

You don’t have to put your eBay or personal data into the hands of third parties or install anything on your computer. But manual sniping also has some disadvantages. For instance, you actually have to sit at your computer around the time the auction is ending, even if it is at odd hours for you.

You have to manage the timing yourself. Bid too early and any of the presumed benefits of sniping disappear; bid too late and you may miss out on the chance to bid before the listing ends. Lastly, you are depending on the reliability and performance of your net connection.

How to Snipe Manually

If you’ve decided that manual sniping might be for you, find an auction format listing you’d like to snipe. Decide on the maximum price you’re willing to pay, and add it to your watch list so that you can easily find it again.

Make a note of the ending time and date of the auction. On the eBay website, this is shown near the tops of listings next to the words “time left.” Don’t forget to account for time zone differences! Return to the eBay website about five minutes before the auction ends.

Watch the auction until its final seconds and place your bid just before time runs out. That’s it. If you do this successfully, you’re officially an auction “sniper.”

There may be, of course, a couple of complications. First, there’s the tricky balance between bidding as late as possible and being sure to not miss the chance to bid amidst the vagaries of browser speed, network connections, and page refreshes.

There’s also the fact that if your bids are truly bargain-basement amounts (which is usually why people want to snipe in the first place), it can take several or even dozens of auctions before you actually win at your chosen price, thanks to others having used eBay’s proxy bidding system to outbid you, despite the lateness of your bid (don’t make the common mistake of imagining that eBay or the seller are somehow cheating you by sliding an even later bid in after your own, since this happens in a fraction of a second).

For some, manual sniping is more than enough to satisfy the auction bidder’s hunger for strategy. Others will gradually transition to eBay’s automatic bidding system as they learn that it actually behaves much like a sniping system in many important respects.

About Automatic Sniping Tools

In automatic sniping platforms, you tell them the auction(s) you’re interested in and the amounts you’re willing to bid. They handle the process of waiting patiently for the last moment in each auction and then place a bid on your behalf.

Sniping platforms often offer group (or “contingency”) bidding in which you create a group of snipes (listings you want to bid on and amount for each one) and the service then snipes them all in turn until you achieve a number of wins you specified in advance. Once you've made your wins, the service discards the rest of the group's snipes, ensuring that you win exactly as many listings as you want and no more, all without your having to snipe for weeks to make it happen.

Keep in mind that bids placed using a sniping service still have to go through eBay’s automatic bidding system, so even though an auction listing appears to be at a low dollar value near its end, that’s no guarantee you’ll win the item in question with a higher bid, no matter how fast your sniping service or program operates.

Sniping Platforms Compared

There are two kinds of sniping tools, web-based tools, and tools that run on your computer (or a mix of these). Web-based systems are able to place bids for you whether your computer is on at the time or not but need your personal eBay account information in order to bid for you. Computer-based tools protect your data, but your computer and network connection must be on and working for automatic sniping to work.

Because sniping services are technically rather easy to create, there are a lot of them out there. This can make it hard to choose between them, particularly when they’re all so similar.

How to Snipe Automatically

Choose the sniping program or service that best suits your needs. Either create an account there and fund it if necessary or download and install the necessary software if required.

Either use or the sniping platform (if it includes such tools), identify the auction(s) you’d like to snipe and your maximum bids for each. In your program or service, place snipe(s) for each listing. Sit back and wait for results.

Remember to log into eBay and complete the transactions (payment, etc.) for any auctions that you win. This is, of course, a necessary step for manual snipe victories as well, but it can be harder to remember to do this when you’re not actually logged into eBay at the time(s) of your victory or victories.

For all the discussion and hush-hush, that’s really all there is to it, and there’s no need to keep news of your successes to yourself since sniping is allowed both by law and by eBay rules.

Remember that there are other ways to reduce what you’ll pay on eBay and to find hidden deals as well. Comparison shopping is also a good idea if you’re focused on cost as you shop. Finally, keep in mind that there are ways to get good deals on eBay that don’t involve auctions or bidding at all.