Sniping for Fun and Profit

Cute, isn’t it? But that’s actually not the sort of sniping I’m talking about. Rather, I am referring to those low-lifes who are my nemesis on eBay… Let me elaborate.

I love dabbling on eBay. I love to pick up bargains, hard-to-find collectibles, necessities of life, what have you. Now, I’m not addicted or anything; I can quit any time I want to. Really. No, really!

Anyway, for years now, I’ve been trying to find an affordable piece of the Star Trek universe, preferably one that had something to do with medicine. Perhaps a screen-used scanner, or Dr. McCoy’s uniform, or surgical scrubs. These things do appear on eBay all the time, and I have bid on a few. But, I haven’t won any of them, and it’s all because of the bloody snipers!

So, what’s a sniper? eBay itself offers this definition of sniping:

Placing a bid in the closing minutes or seconds of an auction-style listing. Any bid, placed before the listing ends, is allowed on eBay. To protect yourself from being outbid at the last moment, enter the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for an item up front, and eBay will bid automatically for you, making sure you’re the high bidder until your maximum is reached. This system is sometimes called proxy bidding.

eBay has no problem with this practice, and why should they? The seller is happy, the sniper is happy, it’s only the unsuccessful buyers like me that aren’t happy! But think about how this works, and you may see it from my point of view.

When an item is listed for auction on eBay, a time limit of one, three or seven days is selected for the sale. Bids trickle in over this period. But, it is at the last possible minute that the sniper swoops in and tries to outbid, leaving others no chance to top him or her. Now, eBay’s response about the proxy bidding system is well-taken. If I can only stomach spending $500 for McCoy’s old tattered uniform, then that’s what I bid as my maximum. But I’m going to feel really bad when Mr. Sniper cuts in 10 seconds before the auction is over and gets it for $501. This is the problem with the system: there is always someone out there willing to pay just one more dollar (or five when things get into the higher priced realm) for the item in question. In addition, some of these auctions end during working or sleeping hours (No, they are NOT the same, thank you), and it is impossible for me to sit on the computer and snipe, or snipe back, as the case may be.

There are those who live and die by sniping, and justify the practice till the cows come home. This site, for example, basically says that snipers aren’t doing anything wrong, so leave them alone. Personally, I disagree. There is a certain degree of unfairness, of violating the spirit of the thing, by sitting and laying in wait, ready to outbid the bidder by the smallest increment possible. Why is it unfair? Because there is no possibility for said bidder to “fight back”, except perhaps to place a ridiculously high proxy limit. Maybe that is the answer after all.

Technology has provided a solution, or perhaps aided the problem. There are a number of automatic bidding programs out there that will electronically snipe for you. I won’t link to them because I think it is a nasty practice, but feel free to Google the concept yourself.

So, since I’m not happy with the status quo, how would I change things? In my bidding travels through the net, I have found a site for guns and knives and such called GunBroker.com. (You would be amazed at the weapons available on the ‘net!) They have a little something called the “15 minute rule”:

In a typical auction setting, there is always a called out counting that happens to allow buyers time to decide to place higher bids. This ‘final call’ is reset each time someone places a bid. . . .(B)ecause of delay caused by the Internet and other possible technological speed bumps, we have a 15 minute final call time.

. . .If there is bidding activity on the auction within fifteen (15) minutes of when the auction is scheduled to close, the auction automatically switches into a special mode analogous to the ‘going, going, gone’ period of a live auction. In this mode, the auction is automatically extended until there have been no bids placed within fifteen (15) minutes. . .The 15 minute rule makes auctions more fair, by allowing all bidders an equal opportunity to place their best bid. In other online auctions where an auction ends exactly at a given time, some bidders will hold their bids until the last minute or so, in the hope of winning an item on the cheap. This is referred to as ‘sniping’. The 15 minute rule gives all bidders an equal opportunity to place their best bid on an item before the item closes. This way, no bidder loses an item to sniping, and the seller can be assured that he has gotten maximum value for the item.

In a recent survey, a feature similar to our ’15 minute rule’ was the #1 most-requested feature addition that eBay (R) users would like to see added to the eBay (R) site.

I’m really not sure why eBay won’t do this. It seems a great deal more “fair” than the sniper system. Perhaps eBay is worried about auctions continuing forever, but I really doubt that would happen. At least every participant has a fighting chance, and isn’t guaranteed to get away with something based on a loophole. (Remind you of any other practice I’ve been writing about?)

Oh well, I guess I might as well get hold of one of those sniping programs….

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