Shopping eBay the Machiavellian Way

When you've shopped eBay for a while, you will know the user IDs of many of the people you bid against in auctions. Don't be surprised that other people in the eBay universe have the same quirky interests as you. You may even come to dislike them if they outbid you often enough. It's a wretched feeling, being outbid, especially when it happens at the last minute.

The user ID of the person the item would belong to if the auction ended right now is listed on the auction item page (assuming someone has bid on the item). Take a look at this name because you may see it again in auctions for similar items. If the high bidder has lots of feedback, he or she may know the ropes — and be back to fight if you up the ante.

You may have heard the old comedy routine about how much quicker it is to shop in a supermarket from other people's carts rather than running from aisle to aisle. eBay is no different. When you get to know the IDs of your bidding competitors, you can run bidder searches on them.

For example, say meanguy123 outbids you in an auction for rare antique glockenspiels. You can run a bidder search on the old meany and find out what else he has been bidding on lately — and how much he bids.

You can find out the following information when you run a bidder search:

  • The items the bidder tends to be interested in: Might as well let your competition do the legwork of finding good auctions for the items you like.
  • What time of day the bidder likes to make bids: You can get a sense of whether the bidder is in another part of the country (or the world) and use the time difference to your advantage.
  • Other bidding habits: Some bidders like to place an initial bid at the beginning of the auction and then swoop in at the end and snipe. Or they never bid until the end of the auction. Or they never snipe. No matter what strategy your competition chooses, you can come up with a counter strategy to improve your likelihood of winning.
  • How high the bidder tends to like to bid: This is a key to enable you to win the auction by as few pennies as possible. Does the bidder end with .27? End yours with .32. Also, if the bidder is accumulating items one at a time, you really have a good picture of exactly how much he or she will bid. Information is power!

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

Investigating the opposing bidder is not snooping! It's totally legal and acceptable. (Okay, maybe it's a little sneaky.) When you've checked out your competition's shopping cart, you can swoop in and bid or snipe back if you like the other items this bidder is interested in. Isn't it easier to let someone else do the legwork and find the bargains for you?

You can run a bidder search by doing the following:

1. Click the Advanced Search link, which appears in the top-right corner of almost every eBay page.

2. In the Search links area on the left, click the Items by Bidder link.

3. Enter the user ID of the bidder you want to check out.

4. To check the bidder's previous auctions, click to add a check mark in the Include Completed Listings box.

By studying the past bidding history, you can see how high the bidder is willing to bid on certain items. This is invaluable information if you want to get a drift of how high you have to bid to win the next auction.

5. Tell eBay whether you also want to see the person's bid even if he or she is not the high bidder.

Selecting the Even If Not the High Bidder option means that you want to see the bidder's activity in every auction, even if the person is not the current high bidder. Check all the bidder's auctions to see how aggressively he or she bids on items. You can also see how badly a bidder wants specific items.

If the bidder was bidding on an item in the past that you're both interested in now, you can get a fairly good idea of how high that person is willing to go for the item this time.

6. Choose the number of items you want to see per page.

7. Click the Search button.

You may find that relying on the bidder search can give you a false sense of knowledge and confidence. Others may use the bidder search to become familiar with your habits, too. And many savvy buyers have two eBay user IDs and alternate to confuse those who try to follow their bidding patterns. Sniping can also help because no one will know you're interested in the auction until you win the item. Mix your bidding patterns up a bit to keep the competition wondering!

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