Going, Going, Sold!

I’ll sometimes go on eBay to see if I can get something for a better price than I would if I went into a store—everyday items like tube socks or face wash, and those once every year or so things like headphones.

But it’s not common for me to actually bid on an item and track it for a few days. Nope! I find bidding on items a bit stressful, which is why I mostly use eBay’s “Buy It Now” section. If the price is right, I’ll just click to buy, and move on with my day. The “Buy It Now” price is less stressful to deal with, and it also frequently turns out to be less than what people are paying for the same item in the bidding process. I noticed this the other week while buying headphones on eBay—the “Buy It Now” price was lower than what people were bidding in an auction for the same item. People often get caught up in the frenzy of bidding on auction items, and pay more than they normally would.

Why is that? The BBC has a few scientific explanations:

1) People get “auction fever,” which means it becomes a competitive game that’s part wanting to own an item, and part the need to beat the invisible people who are trying to outbid you. Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced this, and ended up feeling a little remorseful after you’ve won (Me! I am raising my hand, which is why I like the “Buy It Now” feature).

2) We overvalue things when we perceive them to be rare. This has a lot more to do with bidding on one-of-a-kind items, like a vintage article of clothing, or memorabilia, but we get caught up in the idea this may be the only chance for us to own this one-of-a-kind thing, so we must own it! And then we end up bidding a bunch of money, and it doesn’t help that the people we’re bidding against is also in the same frame of mind as us, which drives up the price even more.

3) The endowment effect: We look at photos of items we want, and then picture the item in our hands, in our homes, sitting on our bookshelf. Since we have an image in our heads of what it’d be like to own the item, we pay as much as possible to make sure that we make our dreams a reality.

So basically, if you’re bidding on something, the best way of doing it is to set a bid ceiling for yourself. The problem is that we tend to ignore these ceilings when we feel like we must have something.

Photo: Wednesday Elf

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6 Comments / Post A Comment

sally (#917)

It is very interesting to read the rants about auction sniping by those fever people.

Sniping is when you set your ceiling, and then have a remote service put your bid in at the very end of the auction. It’s like proxy bidding (put in your max and ebay will bid up to it for you, topping each lower bid as it’s entered) but keeps the price lower, because fewer bids, lower price. And it drives some people in-SANE because they think it’s depriving them of some kind of righteous competition. Like, “I don’t know my maximum price for the thing until I know how badly you want it, and that’s why you must give me time to top your bid, or else it’s cheating.” Pure craziness.

selenana (#673)

@sally But then the snipers try to out-snipe each other.

nf (#949)

@sally I just came here to say that everyone who bids on ebay should be sniping–just use gixen, it’s super easy. It makes it easier to set a bid ceiling and stick to it because you can just set it and forget it.

My favorite crazy ebay behavior is when people buy gift cards for the face value or even a few cents over the face value–no idea what’s going on there.

Megano! (#124)

Yeah I have never bid on something ever.

Mike Daaaang! I love eBay. I recently bought socks on there and have been buying Christmas presents as well. When I get shopping fever but I don’t have a lot of money to spend, I’ll search for things that are under $3 with free shipping and buy away. It’s probably an addiction, but it’s also fun and cheap.

I rarely have the patience for auctions, I love buy-it-now, sort by price + shipping. There are millions of listings for amusing garbage from China that you can buy for a couple bucks. Light-up bow headband, $2. Hilarious lace panties that my American ass doesn’t come close to fitting into, $1. Battery-powered Christmas lights in a variety of shapes and colors, $6. I like buying things I actually need on there too, like replacement laptop components (new battery and charger for my Macbook, $10 each) or other electronics (like I would actually drive, in my car, wearing shoes, to go to Best Buy and look at speakers? Please.)

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