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Outsmarting the Competition on eBay

You're not a loser if you lost at eBay. You just don't know the fine art of sneaky bidding, otherwise known as educated bidding. Sports teams study their rivals, and political candidates scout out what the opposition is doing. Bidding in competition against other bidders is just as serious an enterprise. What you need is a strong bidding strategy to help you outsmart the competition and win more auctions.

Your two cents does matter — at least at eBay. Here's why: Many eBay members tend to round off their bids to the nearest dollar figure. Some choose nice, familiar coin increments like 25, 50, or 75 cents. But the most successful bidders at eBay have found that adding two or three cents to a routine bid can mean the difference between winning and losing. Get in the habit of making your bids in oddish figures, like $15.02 or $45.57, as an inexpensive way to edge out your competition. For the first time ever, your two cents may actually pay off!

That's just one of the many strategies to get you ahead of the rest of the bidding pack without paying more than you should. Note: The following strategies are for bidders who are tracking an item over the course of a week or so, so be sure you have time to track the item and plan your next moves. Also, get a few auctions under your belt before you throw yourself into the middle of a bidding war.

Dutch auction strategy

Dutch auctions (auctions in which the seller has multiple items for sale) are funky. After all, each winner pays the same amount for the item, and Dutch auctions don't have a super-secret reserve price.

But winning a Dutch auction isn't all that different from winning other auctions. Your best strategy is to wait until the closing minutes of the auction to bid and then follow some key bits of advice for optimum success.

Here are the key things to remember about a Dutch auction:

  • The seller must sell all the items at the lowest winning price at the end of the auction, no matter what.
  • Winners are based on the highest bids received. If you up the ante, you could win the auction and only pay the lowest winning price, which may be lower than your bid.
    Confused yet? Say the minimum bid for each of ten Elvis watches is $10 and 20 people bid at $10, each person bidding for one watch. The first ten bidders win the watch. But suppose you come along at the end of the auction and bid $15 as the 21st bidder. You get a watch (as do the first nine people who bid $10), and you get the watch for the lowest successful bid — which is $10! Get it?
  • Know where you stand in the pecking order. You can see a list of high bidders (and their bids) on the auction page, so you always know where you stand in the pecking order.
  • Avoid being the lowest or the highest high bidder. The highest bidder is sure to win, so the usual bidding strategy is to knock out the lowest high bidder. The lowest high bidder is said to be on the bubble and on the verge of losing the auction by a couple of pennies. To avoid being the bidder on the bubble, keep your bid just above the second-lowest winning bid.
  • If you want to buy more than one of an item up for auction, make sure you have that number of successful high bids as the auction draws to a close. Huh? Remember, winners are based on the highest bids. If you're in a Dutch auction for ten items and place five $15 bids, nothing guarantees that you'll win five of the item. Nine other people who want the item could bid $20 apiece. Then they each win one of the items at 15 bucks, and you end up with only one of the item. (At least you still pay only $15 for it.)

Most bidding at eBay goes on during East Coast work time and early evening hours, which gives you a leg up if you live out West. Night-owl bidders will find that after 11 p.m. Pacific Time (about 2 a.m. Eastern Time), lots of bargains are to be had. And believe it or not, lots of auctions end in the wee hours of the morning. Holidays are also great for bargains — especially Thanksgiving. While everyone is in the living room digesting and arguing about what to watch on TV, fire up eBay and be thankful for the great bargains you can win.

Bidding strategies eBay doesn't talk about

Here's a list of Do's and Don'ts that can help you win your item. Of course, some of these tips are eBay-endorsed, but that heading sure grabbed your attention, didn't it?

  • Don't bid early and high. Bidding early and high shows that you have a clear interest in the item. It also shows that you are a rookie, apt to make mistakes. If you bid early and high, you may give away just how much you want the item.
    Of course, a higher bid does mean more bucks for the seller and a healthy cut for the middleman. No big mystery that many sellers recommend it. In fact, when you sell an item, you may want to encourage it too.
  • Do wait and watch your auction. If you're interested in an item and you have the time to watch it from beginning to end, the best strategy is to wait. Mark the auction to Watch This Item on your My eBay page and remember to check it daily. But if you don't have the time, then go ahead — put in your maximum bid early and cross your fingers.
  • Don't freak out if you find yourself in a bidding war. Don't keel over if, at the split second you're convinced that you're the high bidder with your $45.02, someone beats you out at $45.50.
    You can increase your maximum bid to $46, but if your bidding foe also has a maximum of $46, the tie goes to the person who put in the highest bid first. Bid as high as you're willing to go, but bid at the very end of the auction.
  • Do check the item's bidding history. If you find yourself in a bidding war and want an item badly enough, check the bidding history and identify your fiercest competitor; then use the By Bidder search option to find what the bidder's recent auction experience is. Size up your competition.
    To get a pretty exact picture of your opponent's bidding habits, make special note of the times of day when he or she has bid on other auctions. You can adjust your bidding times accordingly.
  • Do remember that most deals go through without a problem. The overwhelming majority of deals at eBay are closed with no trouble, which means that if the auction you're bidding in is typical and you come in second place, you've lost.
    However, if the winning bidder backs out of the auction, the seller could (but isn't obligated to) come to another bidder and offer to sell the item at the second bidder's price through eBay's Personal Offer option.
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