How Bidding Works on eBay ... and How to WIN!

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Bidding Overview

Your bid is the maximum you want to pay

When you bid on eBay, you aren't really placing a single bid: you are instructing eBay to automatically bid on your behalf up to the maximum you are prepared to bid.

Your maximum bid is kept secret. No buyers or sellers can see your maximum bid while you are winning an auction.Your maximum bid is only revealed if you are outbid and no longer in the lead.

Example: You are first to bid on one of our auctions with a $14.99 start price. You want to pay no more than $30, so place a bid for $30. You now lead the auction with a bid of $14.99 showing. Your bid will only increase if someone else places a bid. Unless you change your mind, you won't need to bid again.

Bid Increments

Put simply, this is how much you have to beat the previous bid by to take the lead. The lower the bid price, the smaller an increment that is needed for the lead to change.

The main increments you are likely to encounter on eBay are:

Current Price           Bid Increment
$0.01 - $0.99             $0.05
$1.00 - $4.99             $0.25
$5.00 - $24.99           $0.50
$25.00 - $99.99         $1.00
$100.00 - $249.99     $2.50

(The full table can be found here: Bid Increments )

Example: A  second eBayer tries to outbid you. They can see your current bid of $14.99 but cannot see your $30 maximum. They bid $20. From the table above, you only need to outbid $20 by $0.50. eBay bids for you automatically. You are now winning the auction with a bid of $20.50


Sniping means bidding in the last few seconds of an auction so that it ends before another bidder gets a chance to outbid you. The idea is that this will get you a lower price. It sounds good in theory, but there are a few catches. For one, you have to be at your computer when the auction ends, and hope that you don't have any internet problems. Or you have to use a sniping service. But the biggest problem with sniping is it only works if other bidders don't understand how eBay bidding works.

Example: You are still winning the auction with your $20.50 bid. ($30 maximum) A sniper bids $25 in the last few seconds. You will still win the auction with an automatic bid of $26.00. If  instead the sniper bid $40, they would win with a bid of $31 (i.e. one increment above your $30 maximum)

At the end of the auction - you either win, paying your maximum or less. Or you lose if someone offers to pay MORE than your maximum.

So you can see, sniping ONLY really works if no previous bidders have played their maximum bids. This doesn't mean sniping never works: after all, there are a lot of eBayers who don't understand how bidding works. Another benefit of sniping is you are forced to bid your maximum at the last minute: you don't leave yourself time to be tempted to bid a little bit more than your maximum if outbid earlier.

The highest bid wins - not the last one.

It doesn't matter when you bid. If your bid is the highest, you will win the auction. Even if your bid was placed first. Apologies if you were hoping to find a super secret trick or tip! eBay isn't rocket surgery: it really is as simple as the highest bid wins.

Tips and Tricks

Bid odd numbers. Instead of the $30 I've used in our examples, bid something like $30.27 or $31.33. Most people bid in round numbers. If both highest bidders bid exactly $30, the first bidder wins. But if you bid $30.01, you win, no matter when you bid.

An early bid can deter competition, especially from eBayers who don't understand how automatic bidding works and try to nibble away at your bid with a series of very low bids.

Example: You are winning our $14.99 start price with your $30 maximum bid. A nibble bidder sees your $14.99 bids $16.00 and is automatically outbid: you still lead. They then bid $17 and are outbid again. Then $18. And so on. They eventually give up - perhaps well below the maximum they would have otherwise bid if they knew better.

Know your competion: If you get the feeling the other bidders aren't bidding their maximums, then this is the time when sniping is most likely to be beneficial. Nibble bidders might be planning to come back later, but often run out of time at the end!

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