Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2012 Issue

eBay:  I bid you not

Screen shot 2012-03-31 at 11.02.43 am

An image from auctionbusinessreviews.com

Recently on my browser, Chrome, the id number of eBay lots drifted down the item description page and lost a few point sizes making it a bit less obvious to those who use third party bidding software to automatically place bids as time expires.  It’s understandable that eBay would want to make such numbers less obvious so to encourage the use of eBay’s own bidding software that moves the bid immediately if higher bids are in their bid system.  For buyers of course potentially showing their maximum bid early makes no sense.  It can cost you money.

How does this work?

If I see an item on eBay that’s interesting I can immediately place a bid in my third party automated bidding software that does two things.  It insures I’ll be bidding up to my maximum specified price and lets no one know I’m interested until my bid is placed with a few seconds to go.  If instead I use eBay’s software and place the same maximum bid it immediately exposes my bid to incremental counter bidding.  I may still end up winning but possibly, even probably, pay more.

As time expires and my bid is entered eBay learns I’m willing to pay more, sometimes much more and I’m sure they would like to earn more commissions and help the seller get a higher percentage of my maximum bid.    But this is an auction and what makes these auctions so appealing is the possibility of buying well.  Lessen that possibility and I think eBay and sellers both lose.  Fail to obtain better outcomes for sellers and they risk some sellers giving up.  The good news for eBay is that more serious collectors are buying there today although their numbers are not yet sufficient to increase prices.  In time they will. 

A weakness for sellers on eBay for years has been their inability to regularly obtain comparable outcomes to what is listed in dealer catalogues and on listing sites.  A few years back I estimated the outcome of a theoretically identical item on all the major platforms.  Here is an updated version including the likelihood of a sale:

Level

Potential Price as a % of the Logically Possible

Likelihood of Sale

Time Needed

 

 

 

 

Serious Dealers

100%

50%

1-2 years

Auctions

70%

75%

90-150 Days

Listing Sites

60%

10%

5 Years

eBay

25% to 30%

80%

2 Weeks


It’s not a pretty picture but its probably reality.  For every item there is the perfect buyer, the one who will pay the highest price and feel the greatest satisfaction with the acquisition.  Sellers have a technical term for such buyers – their lottery winners - but the likelihood of consistently attracting such bidders [in real life] is zero.  Of course I do see some sellers who consistently have 10 to 20 bids for their items, most placed early and frequently over the 7 to 10 day lives of their sales.  Their self-less bidders tell the world of their interest and bravely post their offers early and often so to encourage a rich outcome for the seller.  They are true friends, maybe even relatives.

For the rest of us who collect we seek to acquire when the item fits and the price makes sense.  The recent eBay decision to make the lot number a bit less obvious will for some make prices go a bit higher but also potentially reduce the interest and fervor of some buyers who have come to love the site.  If so, it’s a shame.  For the old, rare and obscure there’s really nothing like it.     


Posted On: 2012-04-01 00:00
User Name: PhilipCohen

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