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The science of sniping on eBay

June 25, 2006
Courtesy American Physical Society
and World Science staff

If you often bid in online auctions, chances are you’ve been sniped. That is, someone came along and placed a high bid just moments before the bidding deadline—eliminating your chance of winning. 

Many people consider sniping unethical, robbing other bidders of a chance to buy an item and impoverishing sellers by stifling fair competition. But ethical or not, it turns out sniping is the best way to win an auction, scientists say. 

Researchers at Seoul National University produced a model that mimics bidding behavior on eBay and a Korean auction site, auction.co.kr. 

The model backed  previous statistical studies of winning bidders, they said. These studies found that people who refrain from bidding until the last seconds are much more likely to win than people who take part in earlier, incremental bidding. 

Although snipers miss out sometimes—if their late bids are not registered in time for the auction close—they are usually successful, the study found. The researchers’ advice: unless online auction companies adjust their rules to extend bidding deadlines when large, last-second bids come in, as live auctioneers do, you’ll be better off sniping if you really must have that rare Pokemon card or Chia Pet planter.

The findings appear in the June issue of the physics journal Physical Review E.

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