Posts that Justin Goldberg is monitoring

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May 20, 2007
Avatar Knorr 2 post(s)

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

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!

May 19, 2007
Avatar Morgan Schweers 1,204 post(s)

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


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.

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