Why eBay doesn't approve of sniping software...

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Avatar Morgan Schweers Administrator 1,204 post(s)


Many folks have asked me why eBay has such an issue with sniping software. Their affiliate program explicitly rejects it, their Bid Assistant doesn’t allow placing bids at specific times, and the API has a catch-22 that doesn’t allow sniping if you want to use it.

The core answer is that eBay doesn’t want sniping software to have the imprimatur of acceptability. They feel that the user experience for new eBay users and infrequent eBay users is diminished by sniping. There is some debate inside eBay about it, but the anti-sniping side tends to win the arguments, but not so completely that they can alter the site rules to forbid it in some way.

But why would it affect the new user experience?

For that I want to touch on the psychology of eBay bidding from the perspective of an infrequent or new eBay bidder.

For folks who don’t bid on eBay much (or are new), and just interact with it occasionally, they view it as a delayed eCommerce site. When they put a bid on an item in their mind they’ve set aside the money, and since that money is set aside, the item must be theirs. The longer the auction goes on with them as high bidder, the more firmly they feel that the money is set aside, and the corollary that the item is theirs increases also. It’s like the money recedes, and the item approaches.

When a snipe comes in at the end, and suddenly they are not the high bidder, it’s jarring. The item, which has grown big in their sight, is snatched away, and the money (which because has been mentally ‘spent’, is of negligible importance) put back in its place.

Some users have even been known to send ‘nastygrams’ via eBay’s contact-a-user service to a sniping winner, talking about the item having been ‘stolen’.

Sniping promotes a more dispassionate approach. You’ve never actually set aside the money until the snipe fires. At any point before that you can cancel it, and so you don’t have a feel that the item is yours yet. If you’re outbid, or outsniped, there’s a moment of ‘darn!’, and you can move on, because at that moment the money and the item were of nearly equal value. Getting either one back is acceptable.

The dispassionate approach is one that is usually developed by eBay users as they grow more experienced, and lose some auctions either to sniping or to the normal process of bidding.

eBay doesn’t mind that and wants users to grow into the more experienced state. After all, it means they’re bidding more, and more comfortable bidding. It is important to eBay’s growth, however, to continue to bring in and make comfortable new users, new bidders, and encourage infrequent bidders to grow in the service.

So while sniping is an advanced user technique on eBay, eBay can’t explicitly promote it by offering sniping as a feature, or allowing sniping software to be on their affiliate or API program. If eBay allowed it, they feel they would be sending a tacit signal to their new and infrequent users that the experienced bidders are more important to eBay than they are.

This is all my speculation, as an outsider^1^, looking in. Based on their behavior and discussions I’ve had with eBay employees, I’ve pieced this together. It’s possible I’m wrong, but it makes some sense to me.

I hope this helps explain a bit of why eBay seems so hostile to sniping software.

Best of luck with your auctions!

— Morgan Schweers, Cyber*FOX*!

^1^ps. I did work for eBay briefly, but I never worked in an area where I could be part of the debate about sniping software. If you get me in a really good mood, I might talk about the time I corralled two *V*VIPs at an all-hands company gathering, and asked them about the source of the eBay bidding model.

Avatar Knorr 2 post(s)

I’ve had my eBay account for over 5 years and I have only used it three times. One when I signed up and wanted to buy something ASAP via the “Buy it now” option and two last week, sniping using JBidWatcher :)

Congratulations for such an awesome software!

Avatar Morgan Schweers Administrator 1,204 post(s)


Thanks muchly! I’m glad it makes the eBay experience better…

— Morgan Schweers, Cyber*FOX*!

Avatar Laurence Pas... 59 post(s)

eBay’s Bid Assistant launched in the UK recently and sounded interesting. However, if a new item cheaper than the ones you are currently bidding on turns up you couldn’t add it to the list. To do so would require either a bid retraction or make Bid Assistant a de-facto sniping tool by allowing you to add new items whenever you wanted but only bidding when one of them was about to expire. I can understand why eBay do not want to overtly show support for sniping but in this case it really hobbled them when trying to improve the auction experience. Anyway, in the end it led me to using JBW so it’s not all bad!

Some excellent points debunking myths about sniping: http://www.moyen.org/snipe/myths.html

Avatar Lvanett 14 post(s)

I used to be one of those against sniping. However, after trying to place bids, say, 10 minutes or even 2 minutes before an auction closed and then watching the price go higher and higher, I snipe for 2 reasons: a) to keep the price down and b) to avoid a bidding war. I love JBidwatcher, it’s a great service and have used it successfully many times.

Avatar troytempest 4 post(s)

I used to buy a lot of magazines and games from the USA (I’m in England). The time difference meant that I had to enter a lot of bids on multiple items from the same seller many hours in advance – this had a number of disadvantages, the two that Lvanett posts above, plus my fear that my “maximum” would be identified and exploited. I found myself entering “maximum +/- x” which was less than ideal.

JBidwatcher solved that!

I also found entering bids on multiple items (I’m talking dozens here) was a real pain in ebay: there are so many screens to wade through – again JBidwatcher solved that. It would be even better if it could allow multiple items to be selected and a single snipe value entered for all of them (with the intention of winning them all) – or perhaps I’m missing something (very possible).

I found that watching 100 items was often insufficient – again JBidwatcher solved that! I can now (or rather will soon again be able to) “upload” my watched items into JBidwatcher and then delete the watch list. I have yet to find the maximum number of items that JBidwatcher tracks.

JBidwatcher also provides the ability to effectively schedule bidding.

It is the only freeware program I have ever made a volutary donation to – it is that useful.


Avatar Bob3 9 post(s)

> “It is the only freeware program I have ever made a volutary donation to – it is that useful.”

I find that it’s preferable to select a good open source piece of software & then send $$; I’ve wound up actually spending MORE on “free” software that the “latest & greatest” release of whatever it is I may be needing.
(needless to say I’m running Linux & don’t mind a bit having invested a few hundred bucks into it)

Avatar Vapor7 1 post

I believe the most important reason eBay doesn’t like sniping is that it keeps the price low. If they prevent sniping the price is driven up AND eBay gets more money because the item sells for more. They WANT the items to sell for as much as possible because they get a percentage of the sale price. Sellers don’t like sniping while buyers do.

Avatar jcro 2 post(s)

If they really didn’t like sniping, they would change the rules, say to extend the bidding for two minutes beyond the time of last bid … the classic going…going…gone auction scenario.

Perhaps the anti-social connotations of the word ‘sniping’ lend a kind of anarchistic feel to the process, and, as attractive as that may be to some, it will repel others. In reality, a bid sniper is simply a bidder who has a definite idea of what price he is willing pay for an item, and who does not wish to share that fact with other potential buyers …. not too dissimilar to a sealed envelope bidding process. If one has an ethical problem with sealed envelope bidding, please step forward …. I have yet to meet a soul with ethical (not practical) objections to sealed bids. Yet I hear both buyers and sellers on Ebay whining on and on about those lousy snipers.

So I think it’s the name. Snipe. Sounds like it should be illegal. But what’s a good substitute name or acronym for a Big Last Second Offer Based on the Maximum Price I am Willing to Pay. BLSOBMPIWP is probably a bad choice.

Avatar a-j 1 post

There is another reason why eBay might like to discourage sniping – many people buy from eBay, rather than from other internet sites, because it’s FUN.

When I had more time I would go along to antique and property auctions just to watch – although on eBay you can’t see someone’s face when they’ve just been pushed above their limit and can’t decide whether to go that bit higher, you still can get a thrill following the bidding during the course of an auction. If everyone sniped, that would go.

(The newish eBay “bidder anonymity” policy also takes some of the fun away, but I can see why they did it.)

Mind you, winning the auction with a well-timed snipe using JBidWatcher can be fun too:-)

Avatar Dodgy Geezer 107 post(s)

“I believe the most important reason eBay doesn’t like sniping is that it keeps the price low. If they prevent sniping the price is driven up AND eBay gets more money because the item sells for more. They WANT the items to sell for as much as possible because they get a percentage of the sale price. Sellers don’t like sniping while buyers do…”

Vapor7 is right about sniping keeping the price low – I suspect, however, that ebay is not hugely worried about the actual price. They can always award themselves any percentage of the deal they like. It’s more that they need to maintain market share. That’s the key to vast profits. And maintaining market share means keeping a steady stream of both sellers and buyers. If either of these two segments are unhappy, bang goes the business model.

So long as sniping remains a rare-ish practice, the balance between seller happiness and buyer happiness is OK. I am sure that ebay is calculating likely losses and gains from changing the rules all the time, and if sniping becomes common is more likely to move against it…

P.S. – Reading E-bay, I notice a contradiction in the advice they provide. Their advice for winning auctions boils down to:

1 – immediately bid as much as you can afford.
2 – check the item regularly to see if you have been outbid
3 – if you have been, bid a higher amount.

Can anyone else see a mismatch between Nos 1 and 3 above, which sniping would alleviate?