by Andy

Sniping FAQ

What is sniping, how common is it, what are bid groups, and is sniping wrong?

Tags: Sniping, FAQs


What is sniping?

Sniping is the practice of bidding so close to the end of an auction that there will not be enough time for anyone else to bid after you.

Do I need to download software or sign up to a web site to snipe?

No, you can snipe manually - simply place a bid in the normal way as close to the auction end as possible. The main problems with manual sniping are that you forget to do it, or try to get the bid in within a few seconds of the end and are too late.

What is the difference between sniping software and services?

Sniping services typically work as follows: you register on a web site, then set up a snipe bid for a specified number of seconds before your target auction ends. The site waits until the appropriate time then bids on the auction using your user name and password - the whole process is hosted on the site's servers.

Sniping software is installed on your PC - you set up bids using its own interface, rather than your web browser. Some programs require that you leave your PC turned on so the software can connect to the Internet and bid for you at the specified time, while "hybrid" software sends your request via a sniping service.

The main advantage of sniping services and "hybrid" software is that nothing further is required from you after the initial set-up - you can turn off your PC and the snipe should still go through. As sniping services are web-based, you can use any computer with an Internet connection to set up, edit and delete snipes. The disadvantages are that if you cannot connect to the Internet you will not be able to cancel your snipe, and you are trusting that the service is reliable and will bid the correct amount at the right time. Sniping services often charge per snipe so the cost can mount up - look carefully at the fees and reliability statistics of any service you are considering.

Sniping software normally has the advantage of a one-off registration cost which will be cheaper if you snipe often. The snipe is controlled from your own computer so you can instantly change or delete it. Disadvantages are that you can only manage snipes from one computer, which must remain on and capable of connecting to the Internet, and you are relying on the speed of your own Internet connection.

How many auctions are won by sniping?

No one, not even eBay, can tell how many bids are placed by sniping programs or websites. The reason is that the eBay API (a way for third-party software to access the eBay database) does not allow bids to be placed, so all snipe bids are made in exactly the same way as "normal" bids - through the eBay website.

Desktop sniping programs generally place bids directly from users' computers, so there is no centralised data on the bids that are made this way. Sniping websites, in contrast, place bids from their own servers, and some data is available on the number of bids made using their services:

  • AuctionStealer: 6,000 to 15,000 per day
  • Bidnapper: 10,000 per day
  • eSnipe: 10,000 per day
  • JustSnipe: 1,500 per day
  • SnipeSwipe: 300 per day

An rough estimate, based on the above, is 50,000 snipes per day from all the sniping sites — or 350,000 per week.

Overall, the number of auctions won by last-minute bids is estimated by savvy eBayers to be around 5%. However, a sample of around 1000 auctions from one category showed a sniping rate of 18%, which suggests wide variations on the popularity of sniping across different categories. For a more detailed look at last-minute bidding see Statistics You Won't Find on eBay.

— UPDATE 19 May 2007 —

Mario Vodopivec of free sniping site Gixen has kindly provided us with up-to-date sniping statistics:

Sniping, by definition, only includes bids that leave no time to counter-bid, thus limiting it to around 10 seconds before auction end (I don't consider 30 or 60 seconds bids to be sniping). Gixen places bids around 5 seconds before auction end. 3% of placed snipes get "outsniped", so I estimate total number of sniped auctions to be around 6%.

Gixen is at 9,000 snipes per week at the moment, 3,600 of which are won. The total number of Gixen users just passed 10,000, and is around 10,200.

Sundays are busiest, with around 2,100 snipes scheduled per day. However the busiest days for eBay (when those snipes are placed) are Monday and Tuesday. Weekly data is more useful than daily, as differences between individual week days are significant.

Based on the data below and traffic statistics from Alexa, the data you have for web-based sniping services is too high. After this table you can see my estimate for Gixen's competitors.

Data on number of snipes placed and won using Gixen:

Week Beginning Bids Won Active Users
April 16 8,640 3,412 2,148
April 23 8,682 3,503 2,213
April 30 8,562 3,510 2,257
May 7 9,086 3,672 2,289

Estimated number of placed snipes for Gixen and competitors:

Site Estimated bids per week
Gixen 9,000
Auction Sniper 54,000
AuctionStealer 18,000
AuctionStealer through Auction LotWatch 9,000
eSnipe 18,000
Bidnapper 13,500
JustSnipe 9,000
SnipeSwipe 4,500
EZ sniper 9,000
PowerSnipe 9,000
Snip 18,000
BidRobot, StealthBid, BidSlammer, Esteal, etc. 10,000
TOTAL 181,000

When you add all these, you get a number of around 181,000 snipes placed per week by automated services. I estimate that 68,000 of those are winning. This does not include snipes placed by user-installed software or manual sniping.

Mario Vodopivec

Many thanks to Mario of for that information.

Does sniping avoid the "bidding frenzy"?

Advocates of snipe bidding claim that it avoids an early "bidding frenzy" on an auction - this is when the price is driven up quickly by several keen buyers outbidding each other. However, common items tend to fetch very similar prices at eBay auctions whether there are many bids in a short time, or a few bids days apart because the volume of bidders is sufficient to set a predictable market price.

What is "friendly" sniping?

Some sniping tools have a feature that is designed to imitate "normal" bidding practices and so trick the seller and other bidders into thinking you are not sniping. This also announces your interest in the auction, which would remain unknown with a normal snipe.

These tools place a few incremental (slightly higher each time) bids on the auction before a final snipe bid to win in the last minute. The idea is that others will interpret this as a human placing a few tentative bids before finally bidding high enough to win the auction, and because they think you are not a sniper they won't get upset with you for what they see as "cheating."

If you want to snipe but are worried that other eBayers won't like you for it then this could be for you. Be aware of two things if you take this approach: (1) part of the appeal of sniping is not driving the price up, which you could do with this method, and (2) if the pre-snipe bids are not convincing the other eBayers may think you are more devious than a straight sniper.

What is a "bid group"?

Some sniping services offer a feature often called "bid groups". This enables you to select several similar eBay items that you are interested in buying, with the instruction that once one item in the bid group has been won, snipes for other items in the group are cancelled. Bid groups offer a greater degree of automation than normal sniping as it is possible to choose many items to snipe then simply wait for one to be successful, without constantly checking back and scheduling new snipes. Try searching the directory for bid groups to find software with this feature.

Can I win more bargains if I snipe?

Popular items normally have enough bidders for a predictable market price to be reached in every auction. Sniping may be most effective for bidding on unusual or "must-have" collectors' items - to win a bargain when there are few interested buyers, or you are prepared to pay the market price (or even higher).

What would happen if everyone sniped?

If all bids were snipe bids one of following could happen:

  • A market price would be reached in exactly the same way as normal due to proxy bidding
  • Many bids miss the end of the auction so the result is a lottery with random winners and prices
  • The bidders with the best sniping program or service always win, and a new battle to be the fastest sniping company begins

Is sniping wrong?

Both buyers and sellers have good reason not to like sniping. Buyers get irritated by losing auctions to snipers, often because they assume the "unfair" use of a sniping program or service, which is not necessarily true. Sellers do not like sniping because their products sell at a lower price than they expected. For buyers, this is avoidable by using the proxy bid system and entering the highest price they are willing to pay. Sellers could "beat" sniping by setting a reserve price but this tends to put buyers off from bidding at all. Even if sniping is not morally wrong, it can certainly be antisocial.

See this forum topic for further discussion.

How can sniping be stopped?

Sniping only works because bidders do not enter their highest bid in the eBay proxy bidding system. Under the proxy system, buyers only need to bid once on an auction and their bid will be increased incrementally whenever they are outbid, up to the price they enter. Snipe bids cannot succeed if another bidder has already entered a higher proxy bid - timing becomes irrelevant.

The principle of snipe bidding can work in the real world too - if a buyer bids just as the auctioneer is about to close the sale this may catch the previous high bidder off-guard and win the auction. However, there is a very important difference: in the real world the auction will be extended to give others a chance to bid, which makes sniping more of an annoyance than a dependable tactic.

If eBay extended auctions every time there was a bid within the last hour sniping would quickly die out. The downside is that sellers and buyers would not know when auctions will finally end.

Should I snipe?

This has to be a personal decision. If you find that the items you bid on are often lost to others in the last seconds on an auction, you could either make full use of the proxy system by entering your maximum price when you bid, or look into sniping - manually or automated. If you cannot beat the snipers, like many buyers before you, you might decide to join them.

Article Added: 1 August 2003
Last Updated: 12 October 2007

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