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The science of sniping on eBay

If you have ever tried to bid in an online auction, the chances are you have been sniped. That is, someone came along and placed a high bid just moments before the bidding deadline -- eliminating your chances of outbidding them.

Woman cheering at computer

Many people consider sniping unethical, robbing other bidders of a chance to buy an item and taking money out of sellers pockets by stifling fair competition.

Ethical or not, it turns out that sniping is the best way to win an auction. Researchers at Seoul National University have produced a model that mimics bidding behavior on eBay and a Korean auction site (auction.co.kr). The model confirms previous statistical studies of winning bidders that show that people who refrain from bidding at all until the very last seconds are much more likely to win than people who take part in earlier incremental bidding. Although snipers miss out on occasion (if their late bids are not registered in time for the auction close) they are usually successful.

Unless online auction companies adjust their rules to extend bidding deadlines when large, last second bids come in (as live auctioneers do), you are going to be better off sniping if you really must have that rare Pokemon card or Chia Pet planter.

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