EBay: Sniping good or bad or just a change of balance?

Ebayers are familiar with what is called bid “sniping.” That’s placing your one, real bid, just a few seconds before auction close. People sometimes do it manually, more often they use auto-bidding software which performs the function. If you know your true max value, it makes sense.

However, it generates a lot of controversy and anger. This is for two reasons. First, there are many people on eBay who like to play the auction as a game over time, bidding, being out bid and rebidding. They either don’t want to enter a true-max bid, or can’t figure out what that value really is. They are often outbid by a sniper, and feel very frustrated, because given the time they feel they would have bid higher and taken the auction.

This feeling is vastly strengthened by the way eBay treats bids. The actual buyer pays not the price they entered, but the price entered by the 2nd place bidder, plus an increment. This makes the 2nd place buyer think she lost the auction by just the increment, but in fact that’s rarely likely to be true. But it still generates great frustration.

The only important question about bid sniping is, does it benefit the buyers who use it? If it lets them take an auction at a lower price, because a non-sniper doesn’t get in the high bid they were actually willing to make, then indeed it benefits the buyer, and makes the seller (and interestingly, eBay, slightly less.)

There are many ways to write the rules of an auction. They all tend to benefit either the buyer or the seller by some factor. A few have benefits for both, and a few benefit only the auction house. Most are a mix. In most auction houses, like eBay, the auction house takes a cut of the sale, and so anything that makes sellers get higher prices makes more money on such auctions for the auction house.

Read on…

However, it is a mistake to assume an auction house would want to always benefit the seller (and their fees.) To be popular, an auction house must attract both buyers and sellers. An auction house without happy buyers is no good to sellers, or likewise. The goal is to find the right balance.

This gets a bit complex because eBay has attained a bit of a monopoly. This gives them some slack, in that even if they do certain things wrong, they will still attract the most buyers and sellers. It would take a lot (such as a possible entry by Google) to break the eBay monopoly on general online auctions in the USA. Thus many eBay features remain that are not optimized as they would be in a competitive market.

Sniping is interesting because while it generally provides a small benefit to buyers who use it, it is also seen as a detriment by the buyers who, for whatever reasons, are not willing or able to do it. Over time, this would drive such buyers to be less fond of eBay, though at present there are no viable options. I would venture that in auctions with many bidders, there is almost always sniping.

Live auctions often use the “going, going, gone” method. This largely favours sellers, as they are sure they get a bid from the bidder truly willing to go higest. Every other bidder consciously decides they will not. Sometimes, bidders trying to make a “preemptive” bid will go higher than they need to. In addition, to avoid wasting time, increments can be higher. This again makes more for sellers. It has some value to buyers — a buyer knows if they are truly willing to go to the mat for an item, they will get the item. At the same time they still have a sanity check. On eBay you can be sure to get an item by bidding an immense ammount, but if two people do this the result is not desired by anybody but the seller. GGG auctions can sometimes trigger emotional and irrational bidding, especially on rare items. GGG auctions, because they don’t end at a predictable time, offer other complications, in particular for those trying to bid to get one from a group of similar items. To wit:

Sniping software also offers a feature eBay does not provide directly, the ability to bid on multiple auctions of identical items, and thus cancel all future bids the moment one of the items is won. This is a useful means for those interested in getting the best price, and makes for a more efficient market. eBay could offer this by changing their system. They would have to provide a UI to set up such bids (something they are not yet so good at) and effectively place your max bid on each successive item the moment it fails to take the prior item. This would look just like sniping if the auctions were spaced minutes apart, just like late bidding if they are further apart.

Sniping software acts more like the sealed bid auction, where each buyer prepares their sealed bid with a true price, with the variation that they pay the 2nd highest bid plus the increment, rather than their actual top bid. This actually seems like a good system unless you can’t figure out your true price in advance.

Sellers psychologically like to see high bidding early, if they are watching. And to see lots of bidders. They might not like this.

An online auction could also

An online auction could also implement an "extensible" auction to mimic the GGG auction (just as they offer a "buy-it-now" option), where the end time is extended by, say, an hour after the last bid. That is, sniping would re-open a new window for competitive bids. To ensure such an auction concludes in a reasonable time, the minimum bid increment could also slowly be raised, and/or the extensibility could be limited to, say, a set number of hours or days (so you wouldn't necessarily know in advance whether your last-minute bid would extend the auction).

But you miss my point

No particular auction rule is necessarily good or bad. They just favour buyers over sellers, or perhaps certain buyers over others or certain sellers over others. What matters is keeping a balance. As a seller you might like to hold a GGG auction, but as a buyer I might not want to.

eBay on its own also does not support the problem this generates. If there are two of an item, closing within an hour, as is very often the case, the extension confuses things. The one planned to close later may close first, changing the dynamic of how bidders shift from one auction to the next after they lose. They could do work on this, however, and also support allowing you to change your max bid to anything at or above the current bid, which would help.

Realize as well that your proposal only stops one last-second bid. If there are two snipers, the first extends the auction, and the rest all bid in the last few seconds of the new final close. If you were talking infinite extension, that adds other complications — many sellers want closes to take place during their business hours etc.

Now I have seen other threads debate whether you can stop sniping, and they are quite detailed, and I’m not really after discussing that here. The different perspective I am trying to bring is that features, like sniping, which seem more favourable to one party than another are not necessarily wrong because they do that, they just change the balance.

As I note, I suspect 99% of the emotion over sniping comes from eBay’s system of “2nd place bidder’s price plus increment” which enfuraties 2nd place bidders who forget it to think they were beaten by just a dollar at the last second, which they feel would not happen in a GGG auction. I’ve felt the emotion myself until I realize what’s going on.

Proper eBay bidding involves quick research on completed items to find what range similar items have sold for, and coming up with your true price, somewhere in the low end of the range if looking for a deal, and in the high end or slightly above it if looking for a quick success. This generates an efficient market, which is overall good.

On rare items, with no comparable item history, research may not be possible, and a live human auction would make more sense, but that’s a tiny fraction of eBay’s auctions today.

extending time to defeat sniping

eBay needs to do some form of "extension" because with just about everyone using broadband now, people just sit and wait until the last seconds to make their bid. If they are smart, they add a little to the bid so if someone does have a bid in or has time to make a quick rebid, they still have the high bid. What I see is sellers are making less and less, especially with the increase of commissions that eBay has imposed.
It doesn't have to be an hour, maybe a minute or two, but each bid should extend the auction close time by that set amount, be it a minute or two minutes, so someone that is outbid, has time to rebid. This will not lose buyers. This WILL create a business atmosphere that will attract more sellers. The increase fees from eBay will have less effect if the sellers are making more sales and higher sales. It is a win win situation. I think as it is with sniping being so easy, it becomes less and less an attraction for sellers to come to eBay. What you see is more and more "junk" being sold and quality items sold elsewhere.

Sniping

This is, as you might expect, a continuing source of discussion on the ebay forums. In response, a number of the folks who hang out there, including myself, have put together web pages that discuss the topic in some detail in order to keep from rehashing the same arguments over and over. Mine is here: http://www.moyen.org/snipe

The main issue with extending the auction by a few minutes after the last bid is that, in order to eliminate the "problem" of last-second bidders, you've made everybody into a last-second bidder. And if you're not available at the end of the auction (due to time zone differences), too bad for you.

Again, it's not about good or bad

I am familiar with the debates, and posted this article because — I hope I was being very clear — the element many people seem to missin the debate is that it doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad from any party’s perspective, just does it provide the right balance?

All the details in the debate come down to one question, does it work? If people feel it works, then it is benefiting them, and probably acting to the detriment of somebody else. If it doesn’t work it’s a waste of time to talk about it. But that’s fine. There are supposed to be strategies that benfit sides. Again, all that matters is if a good balance is obtained.

There are various advantages cited to sniping, all of them confer some benefit to the sniper over somebody else (either seller or other bidders.) My point is, there is not just one party to be pleased in auctions, but serveral.

Thinking off the top of my head, I know an easy way eBay could be rid of sniping if it wanted to, which makes me think it doesn’t want to: No proxy bidding in the last several minutes of an auction. (Proxies could be placed before this limit and would work after the limit. However, any bids after the limit would be taken as full amount bids, if you bid $100 you would pay $100 even if the 2nd place bidder bid $50.)

This might inspire software to try to do rounds of bidding over those minutes, creating quite a bit of traffic, but it could never work very well because each round would take a certain amount of time to have the results tested, and eBay could even control this time.

To get really dramatic, they could also allow just one final bid, with no proxy, in the last couple of minutes. Ie. if you want to bid then, bid your real price once and pay it.

“Snipers” would enter their true high bid just before the proxy window closes. Only live, incremental bidders would participate in the final minutes.

But I don’t think this is needed. It might make a bit more money for sellers, with higher bids from incremental bidders who otherwise were shut out from their true max. At a cost to buyers, of course.

Scientists have done the research

Apparently it is proven that sniping is beneficial for the buyer : http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/columnist/2006-06-25-physics-of-eba...

Eliminate the effectiveness of automatic auction sniping

A petition to end the effectiveness of automatic auction sniping has been started. Visit http://www.netsend.us/petition to sign it.

Although automatic auction sniping does serve a purpose, its current ability to place bids within the final seconds of an auction negatively impacts buyers, sellers & eBay.

You miss the point of this thread

You assert that sniping works, which is fine, but you miss the point that few auction rules are good or bad, they just alter the balance from one party to another. You need a balance.

If it truly affects eBay badly, you won't need any petition!

Petition is gone...

The petition has been pulled. They claim pressure from eBay and others. Sounds strange to me; why would anyone care about a petition like this enough to try to get it pulled?

I've noticed that all of these sites go out of their way to justify sniping and make it sound like a good thing. Then they use really stupid arguments like "if you just bid your maximum, you won't get sniped", when they, themselves, don't practice this strategy.

Here's why I think sniping is bad. If you need a widget and you go into a store and see it on the shelf, is there a price you will buy it at? Do you have in your mind that that item is worth $19.95 and if you see it on the shelf at $19.96 you won't buy it? This idea that everyone has a "price" is ludicrous. Anyone who's ever done online surveys knows that to be true. You can't decide your perfect price in five minutes or three days or whatever. You can decide some price you will buy something at with a given comfort level and bid that, but if you see the bid go up, you have to decide if the next level is within your comfort level. This is not "stupid bidders", as they are often called by the sniping supporters, this is normal human behavior. We are not binary animals, we are continuous creatures and what you will pay for a product is a sliding scale, where you trade off your desire and your expenditure of resources.

This can be bad, leading to bidding wars where people go deeper into, or beyond, their comfort zone. But, it also can allow someone who had no problem bidding $50 for an item the chance to decide that they are willing to pay $60. Now, you'll say "he should have bid $60 in the first place". Why? You don't do that at a live auction. $50 was easy, he knew he could pay that no problem. $60 took some thought. Why invest that emotion if the item does not exceed the $50 bid?

I'm a big supporter of auto-extend of auctions, where the auction is always extended some time past the last bid indefinately. The arguments against this approach mostly are in the "must close during business hours" or "sellers can't wait forever" type. Who really cares about business hours on eBay and sellers will wait as long as the price keeps going up. The other argument is that this disadvantages those who cannot be there at the end of the auction. So what? They still have the option of bidding higher as a proxy bid. They will only stay to the end if they are willing to invade that comfort zone and that will only help the seller. You'll say "but if they are willing to invade the comfort zone, why don't they just bid higher?" Again, stupid argument. How much higher? Maybe someone will bid $51 and they think, "okay, I'll do $52" and that's reasonable, but someone bids $60 and they have to decide then if it's worth $61 to them. Either way, they get the chance to make these decisions as people, not as the binary machine that the sniper supporters always claim they should be, but obviously are not, themselves. Now, they will respond that they only get one chance, so it must be their highest bid. I have to ask: does the current price influence your bidding at all? Would you bid the same if eBay just put the sniping into the system and didn't show any bids at all, effectively a sealed bid system? They clearly could do that.

I could come up with other arguments against sniping such as the loss of entertainment value in watching prices. What surprises me about the sniping FAQ pages is how one-sided they are. They only refute arguments against sniping, and never acknowledge any arguments against it. And, yes, I use eSnipe. I have to if I want to win an auction because those snipers don't know what their maximum price is any more than I do, so if I show my bid of $50, they then get a chance to decide if they will big $51, whereas if I snipe $50, they may have been very comfortable with $45 and I win the auction. Sad that it's not in the spirit of an auction: "what are you willing to pay", anymore.

Charles

The misunderstanding

When you bid early, you don’t reveal your price. Rather, a successful bid reveals the price of the 2nd highest bidder because eBay is effectively a Second price auction though many people seem unaware of it. It is, in effect a 2nd price auction where some bidders, if they wish to, can take the risk their bids will be revealed ahead of time by another, higher early bidder.

Seen this way, it is hard to imagine what the sense of early bidding is. Largely it seems to come about because eBay’s system encourages people to confuse their actions with the familiar English auction that is done by live auctioneers, with the going, going, gone.

However, as much as you might like an English Auction, eBay simply is not that. It has differences from a standard Vrickey second price auction, and those differences confuse people, but in the end that’s what it is, and if you don’t treat it as one, you are going to get frustrated.

eBay could of course decide to offer English Auctions and see if sellers choose to use them. They are more “fun” though they consume more time. If buyers demand English auctions then sellers might well decide to use them to get more buyers, because no matter what bias your auction system introduces, having more bidders is almost always better for the seller.

Sniping can be both good and bad for you

My own experience is that sniping on ebay is most beneficial when used for items whose value is less known in advance (e.g. rare coins or items with unstable price). Submitting your bid early is a valuable information for other bidders and you should not do it (definitely use sniping). On the other hand, if the value of item is well known and stable (e.g. electric toothbrush), you may be better off submitting your bid early due to ebay bid increments (that favor early bidder).

As for the sniping software / services used, this used to cost some money a while ago, but now I can see several free services. I used to pay for esnipe, but now I use Gixen (http://www.gixen.com), which is free.

Sniping Isnt Fair but Nessasary

Coming from an ebay buyer perspective I really think Ebay should consider eliminating the Proxy bidding during the last few min. of an auction. These days you cant win anything anymore without (manually or software wise) sniping an auction. Too many people wait for that window when they can put in a rediculous amount to try and win an item and then end up paying what you wanted to pay. Obviously, if they had the true intention of paying the price that gets entered in the last 6 seconds of an auction they wouldnt wait till the last min to do so. They know for a fact they wont pay it unless its a close auction. I think if you bid 100 dollars in the last min. of an auction and the second price is 50 you should pay 100 because thats what your saying the item is worth to you. Its almost like ebay should start having 1 day auctions because the majority of the bids take place on the last day anyway because people dont want to drive up the price of the item. I always wondered why they dont consider fixing this problem. I admit I snipe because if I really want somthing I have to. With all the snipe software and websites out its almost impossible not to, unless you plan on loosing your item. However, the whole thing would be alot more fair if it wasnt allowed to continue. Until then Ill keep plugging all my items into EZSnipe, and if I REALLY want somthing Ill just have to snipe manually during the last 30 sec like everbody else.

Very risky

Most sniping programs have you enter your true bid. If you enter an artificially high bid, and somebody else has sniped an artificially high bid, one of the two is going to get burned very badly. So badly that they will end up taking a bad feedback, I suspect -- and they will stop doing this strategy.

eBay auctions are longer than a day because many buyers don't go to ebay every day to search, so thus you want to catch, over the course of a week, all the people who go looking for your item, so they will set up a bid or snipe on it. If you are selling a high-demand item where every item gets several bidders, yes, you might was well just do a 1-day auction.

eBay is a sealed bid second price auction. The ability to bid early and disclose your bid confuses people, and they really should not have it if they wanted everybody to be clear, but ignorant bidders like it so they keep it in spite of the confusion it causes. Once you realize eBay is a sealed bid second price auction where some bidders can foolishly reveal their intentions early, you quickly get over any issues about sniping.

sniping

I read this blog with great interest. I love to snipe on ebay. It is absolutely effective and there is nothing wrong with it whatsoever. The only reason it is so effective, is because it takes advantage of other bidders who are not using the proxy bidding properly. I can't believe scientist have spent so much time studying this when it comes down to a combination of simple logic mixed with some basic psychology.

To proxy bid properly on ebay, you MUST decide to the penny how much you want something. This is psychologically a difficult (but not impossible) task which is why I disagree strongly with Charles. It is because this is difficult and many people don't do it, that makes sniping so effective.

If you're not willing to decide exactly how much something is worth to you, then how can you possibly complain if somebody snipes something at the last moment? Even when I am sniping, I still decide the exact amount I am willing to pay, afterwards I feel no regrets if I didn't get it.

If it's not broken, don't fix it.

I know this is off topic but I must bring it up. If you want to complain about something, complain about hidden reserves. Talk about stupid, I will not bid on anything with an unlisted reserve price. Ebay's own description for the purpose of a reserve is because a high initial price may tend to discourage people from bidding. Well, if you're stupid enough to pay more for something once you've started bidding than you would have otherwise, I guess sellers might as well take advantage of it.

I personally think that

I personally think that using secondary "sniping" programs is taking advantage, or rather, exploiting the concept of open bidding on items. I think that ebay should be taking proactive steps in preventing it. In my opinion it does take a lot of the "fun" out of bidding on items, and it is frustrating when you lose an auction in the last few seconds. In a way, it takes the competitivness out of the whole process, which could potentially be harmful to ebay. I like the concept of their "submit best offer" feature, which I have noticed that a lot of sellers are using this, along side of a "buy it now" price and not even offering their auctions up for open bidding. Having a fixed price does cause some disadvantage to buyers who are looking to get something at the lowest price possible, but I feel that it is the only way to maintain true competitivness on ebay, if not, people will begin to take their business elsewhere. However, since ebay basically monopolizes the online auction market (the same way WalMart does in the consumer products market) I doubt they will ever be threatened by the idea of another online auction house taking thier business away. Losing my business would only be a drop in the bucket for them, and they will continue to make their money with, or without my participation. Hooray for capitalism!

Competitive

Again, you are one of those confused by the fact that you can reveal your bid before the auction closes. This fact makes many people (not just you) think of eBay like a competitive bidding auction, but it is not. The way they do that fools you into thinking it, but just repeat it again and again. It isn't that. It's a sealed-bid (or rather a strange slightly unsealed bid), second price auction. If a sniper beats you it's because the sniper knows what eBay is, and you got tricked into thinking it was something else. You just have to get the concept of the back and forth bidding auction out of your mind. This is hard because of how eBay sets it up, but you have to do it.

Sealed-bid second price auctions are competitive too. Almost all the major auction forms are competitive and form efficient markets when there are lots of buyers and sellers. They all have different balances between buyer, seller and auction house and there is no one right balance.

Perfectly sums up the "right or wrong" of eBay sniping

The above reply from Brad sums up the issue; I'll explain:

The gamble of eBay still exists greatly for the buyer, and still benefits the seller. The fact is that when the proxy bids come in a day early or last second there will be a winner. Users abusing the proxy will either pay much higher than expected or gain negative feedback for non-pay. Knowledge of the most effective bid process is the key for every auction genre you attend online or in person. If you don't know eBay; learn more effective bid processes to increase your odds of winning.

Simply put, if you remove the dreams of granger from the buyers searching for that next bargain, then you will lose the popularity of the site altogether. If a tactical advantage is exploited, level the field by using the same tactical advantage and it boils down to who placed the highest bid when the buzzer sounds. That is the magic of eBay folks.

If ebay bands snipping, you

If ebay bands snipping, you will no longer be using ebay. They say sniping only accounts for 5% of online bidding. Well maybe it does. But that doesn't change the fact that snipers contribute to ebay by raising the final price. People who are frustrated at being sniped, think again on trying to get rid of the "problem". So many things in this world have been ruined by trying to address a so called problem. Ebay may be one of them. People who are frustrated need to realize they where beat fair and square, the loser failed to assess the market value of the item and the experienced sniper probably will win the auction having assess and determined how much they are will to pay. By "extending" the auction of sniping, you will believe me ruin the ebay experience. Sellers may get less for their items vs if there was a expended time limit, but if bidders keep jacking up the price, every one ends up paying more. Here is how this hurts every one. When bidders don't get a deal and end up paying more, they are not going to bid on those extra few auctions they thought they could afford. Now the bad part with more spent on each purchase; each bidder will not bid on and win more items. Thus the balance of sniping, the auction closes at higher that what it would have, and the buyer gets a deal, thus an incentive to buy more stuff. How it affects the seller, bidders might not get into huge bidding wars but however, more product is sold; so more sellers are satisfied, and things are sold for slightly lower or over "whole sale" prices. This means that their not going to get that "one time" huge bid money bonanza(some psycho ebayers want to extend the bidding time, they don't realize that would hurt sellers dramatically and would only benefit people willing to spend large amounts at one time for one auction) but they do get to unload a lot of product within a short time. Because people are buying more sellers can list more. The sellers aren't going to get one huge some of money from one bid, but they will get that same money from more sales from multiple buyers, made possible by people not going psycho on the bidding and let the people who pay for stuff buy more. Hint: people who got beat by snipers, face it you got beat because you didn't set a high enough bid in the first place, proxy bid always beats sniper if it is higher. STOP COMPLAINING and try to see how this benefits everyone. Keep pushing for that petition, because if it ever goes through I will not participate in any auctions ever again on ebay. And ebay will collapse if they ever go to an extended auction set up. People stop trying to change something just because you wanna see it work the way you want it to, you want ebay to be like the mirror, a reflection of your self, wake up it is not and it will never be if it wants to stay alive. Stop crying and set the highest maximum bid higher. I am a freaken sniper here telling you how to beat me. Stop saying "computer world; these haxors are cheating, how do I make things simpler and more "on demand for me." Wake up things work fine the way they do, and it can't get any simpler. Stop trying to change the rules just because you have a PERSONAL issue with sniping. Ebay is not a "english auction" stop trying to make it that way, you will destroy it. Btw: Snipers are smart because they avoid the lemming masses which bid ridiculously so much so it ruins the experience by insane over bids. Any one realizing that mass herds of people in "group think" doesn't work EVER; is a genius. That is why "US oh so evil snipers" avoid the general populace, because sorry but if you can't figure out how to put in your highest possible proxy bid, then you are and rightfully so an idiot.

To Snipe, or not to Snipe....

"There is none more blind than he who refuses to see."
This is all truly an interesting study into the human psyche.

OK, first, my name is Michael and I'm a "snipe". I both buy and sell regularly on eBay and don't see any major problem from either perspective. Well, aside from eBay & PayPals combined 10%+ fees. But that's a different rant entirely.

I am amazed how it can be explained so well in so many ways and people still refuse to understand how the system works. When people get into a bidding war over an item days in advance or go around "licking" items, as if placing a tiny bid of $1 on a factory new iPad actually does anything to bennifit anyone. If you wanted to watch an item, that's what the "watch item" button does. I think even less of the person who then bids $2 on the same iPad 5 minutes later.
I have never used software or web bots for sniping. I have even used proxy bidding when I'm not going to be available, tho with phone apps this is no longer an issue. I understand the system isn't obvious at first and even truly does send mixed signals to the uninitiated, but once it becomes clear a petition isn't the correct answer. Sorry, you fail. If it sounds good, go spend some cash "winning" on z-bid or any of the other numerous penny auction sites, then tell me how "great" extending end times is.
The person with the highest bid wins p-e-r-i-o-d
Sniping is just bidding without holding your wallet open and asking "is this enough?"
I have won, I have lost. I have won as a proxy despite snipers. I have lost to proxies despite sniping. Why? The final tally gave the "win" to the highest bidder.
If I want something I watch it. I ponder what I will pay for it, not what I hope to pay for it. If it exceeds my top price I delete it from my watch list. If its ending and it's still below my threshold, I bid my top price in the last seconds. Maybe I get it, maybe I don't.
A lot of the complaints are coming from users operating with a flawed understanding, not because of sniping, obserdly high bids or end times. eBay is not a brick and mortar auction house. It does not operate the same. Adapt or fail.
On to another subject, the pudding I eat on The Sims just isn't as filling as the "real world" pudding I eat. Anybody want to sign my petition?

I agree, ebay should have Brad's system for multiple items

"They would have to provide a UI to set up such bids (something they are not yet so good at) and effectively place your max bid on each successive item the moment it fails to take the prior item. This would look just like sniping if the auctions were spaced minutes apart, just like late bidding if they are further apart."

This would help level the playing field. Currently, if you want to bid on multiple items but only get 1, and you are not online all day, you are forced to use sniping services or software.

There are two other things eBay could do that would make the early-bidding strategy better for buyers, to even up the sniping advantage. One is to not report another bid when the current winner raises their max bid. The other is that if my secret reserve bid is $20.01 and somebody else bids $20, that person should not be able to know (by seeing the bid at $20.01 instead of $20.50) what my high bid is. eBay could implement this either by not incrementing the earlier bid beyond the later one (that is, leave it at $20), but that would lead to lower prices - they won't do that. Instead, they should report the "price to beat" as $20.50, even though my secret winning price is still $20.01. While this might discourage them from beating my price, it would be just as likely to make them bid $21 - so it is in eBay's interest to make this change.

Both of the above changes, by keeping your secret bid truly secret, would make it easier to maintain a dominant stance of "I will always beat you, so don't even try", even if you are bidding on multiple items and cannot afford to win them all. If you have $200 to spend on one of 4 items, you could put in a bid for $50 on each, then increase that bid to $67, $100, and then $200 as each auction closed without you winning. This would probably be enough to maintain leadership in many auctions, because few items get bid up too high early.

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