How to Win at eBay

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woman shop computerStrategies for bidding on  have evolved over time, though most of the core principles which were established in the early years  of eBay’s operation still hold true today.

Successfully bidding on eBay requires patience and strategy if you want to get the best value.

You won’t always win every bid, but successful e-Bayers will pick up some healthy bargains if they’re smart.



  1. Is this what you really want to buy?
  2. What condition is it in?
  3. Can the seller be trusted?
  4. Will the item be posted and what is the cost? Or is it pick-up?

All these things are important not just in determining whether you want to buy something but how much you’re prepared to spend.

Compare the cost of the item if you were to buy it new – and with the associated benefits of refunds and exchanges that often don’t  apply to eBay auctions (though many shops DO operate through eBay and offer new products with guarantees, so it really depends.)

Once you think you really do want to bid on something, you need to think about your bidding strategy.


There are a number of common strategies that successful eBay bidders use, so it’s good to be aware of them. The evidence seems to point towards sniping as the best of all the strategies, so it’s the one we recommend, but the others are useful too.


sniperThe Sniper is perhaps the most obvious and also most commonly practised strategy used in Ebay. It involves waiting until the last minute or seconds before an auction closes before placing your (hopefully) winning bid. The strategy is based on the belief that you can ensure that your interest is not noticed until it’s too late for your competitors to retaliate.

EBay themselves, identify three potential problems with this strategy.

  1. EBay uses an automatic bid increase system, so if your competitor(s) have already registered a higher auto bid then all you’ll do is drive the price up.
  2. If by holding back your bids to the last minute, the bid price of the item remains low then you are more likely to attract greater competition.
  3. You are at the whim of external factors like internet connections or other real-life things (kids, anyone?)

We’re not convinced that these ‘problems’ are serious enough to undermine this strategy.

Why sniping is the best strategy

It works. More often than not, anyway. And it’s backed up by real research.

Back in 2006, a mathematical analysis by researchers from Seoul National University in South Korea ‘proved’ that sniping provided you with the best probability of winning.

The same conclusion was reached in an interesting and detailed article on

It’s no wonder that most experienced EBay bidders believe that this is the key to getting bargains on eBay.

The video below from this experienced eBayer explains how it works in practice:


hands free piloteBay’s automated bidding system allows you to place your maximum bid upfront and have the system makes bids on your behalf.

The obvious advantages are that

  1. You don’t have to be there monitoring the auction and;
  2.  You can’t spend more than what you pre-determined.

Anyone who has  bid on any serious off-line auction can attest to how easy it is to go over your pre-determined maximum when caught up in the emotion of an auction.

It’s major downfall is exactly that. Maybe you really WANT that item more than you thought you did. It can be really disappointing to lose an auction by just a few dollars because you set your maximum too low.


hybridAs it sounds, the hybrid is, in fact, a hybrid between the sniper and the autopilot.  It requires constant monitoring to be truly effective.

Set an auto bid on your desired item at a price below your maximum but at a realistic price that you think the item might sell – typically 80-90% of your maximum price. The idea is to drive the price up early and reduce the amount of competitors.  Then snipe with an auto bid up to your maximum with less than 20 seconds to go.

Setting the bid price high early is an exact contradiction of what the Sniper is trying to do. Ironically it is not a strategy that is particulalrly aimed at competing against ‘amateurs’ but is more usually – and successfully – employed against more experienced bidders. Some pros have been outwitted after completely misreading the capability of their competitors using the hybrid strategy.


baseball3 ball‘Low-balling’ is placing ridiculously low maximum bids on items (e.g. placing a $5 bid on a $500 guitar) in the hope that if you do it enough times, one might slip through the net.

It rarely, if ever happens – and generally ends up harming potential buyers who may have chosen the “Buy-it-Now” option that is removed after a first bid. However, ethics aside, it’s a low risk / high volume strategy that if it comes off just once could be well worth it.


two cents

  • DO remember that two cents could make the difference.

Always set your bid at an “odd” amount of cents as most bidders bid in dollar increments or use .25, .50 etc

Using bids like $67.27 is going to help your bid stand out.

  • DON’T  bid early and high.

Bidding early and high demonstrates just how keen you are for a particular item. Don’t give away an advantage to your competitors by showing your hand. (unless. of course, you’re using The Hybrid Strategy).

  • DO wait and watch your auction.

While this is not always possible, it is a far better option. You can put any item on your ‘Watch List’ , and you should be returning to it regularly. This will allow you to snipe at the last minute. If you can’t watch the auction, and are wanting to bid on eBay often, then consider using automated bidding software.

  • DON’T panic if you find yourself in a bidding war.

Stick to your strategy. If you bid late and to your maximum there should be no time for a bidding war anyway. And of course you won’t always win, but you should never be tempted to spend more money than you think something is worth either.

  • DO remember that coming second can still land you the item.

Although the overwhelming number of deals at EBay go through with no problem, on occasion a winning bidder may back out for whatever reason. In this (admittedly rare) instance, the seller has the option to offer the second place bidder the item through the “personal offer” section.



books on head


We’d love to hear your thoughts, tips and secrets.

So what are you waiting for?  Start bidding on eBay now!

7 thoughts on “How to Win at eBay

  1. Frank

    of course Ebay want you to go with no.2 on autopilot so you spend more money on their site, lol. Sniping works and that is why the Ebay Pro’s still do it 🙂

  2. Mary G

    I’ve been buying and selling on eBay for many years. When it comes to bidding, I hadn’t ever given my strategy much thought; but now in light of your article, I’m considering what it involves. I tend to go in early to test the waters, to get an idea of how many bidders are involved and how furious their bidding is. It’s impossible to get a concrete visual this way, but it gives you a feel of the market for the product just the same.

    And alternatively at other times, especially if the item up for bids is a real deal and is usually high cost, I prefer to go in late and set a max bid at a set amount of dollars over its current price. I never snipe, as I rarely remember to go back and check on auctions as they end!

  3. Ann

    To be honest, I’ve never bid on anything on Ebay, I’ve always just paid the set price and got whatever items. It always seemed a little daunting (I’m guessing that’s the word I want), and I wouldn’t be too happy if I couldn’t get the item I bid for, especially if it were a gift. But….reading this has made me want to try out those tips….it’s still early enough from Christmas shopping that I won’t be left blindsided. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Kevin

    I’m a total eBay guy and I have been buying stuff from them since time immemorial. But till date, I have never tried this bidding and auction thing. Maybe, it’s because of too many efforts involved or my fixation with brand new products. That being said, I’m not averse to it at all and after reading how it works and what are those strategies which can make you win some, I can surely give it a try sometime.

  5. Chris P.

    Be it Counter strike or eBay auctions, I’m always more inclined towards taking the role of a sniper 😉 Both, the game and eBay has got me the most success being a sniper only. Though, I have always been following the very obvious strategy of bidding in the last moments only, I surely didn’t know there’s a name for it too. The sniper strategy of bidding is no doubt the best one. One of the most different and informative articles on eBay I have read in a long time. It was nice to know about the other strategies as well.


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