September 16, 2007

ESnipe Snaps Up Nothing

eSnipe is a service that a friend of mine at Yahoo told me about. He loved it, so I tried it. The way it works is you give them your Ebay login, and an auction you'd like them to bid on for you a few seconds before the end of the auction. They put through the bid and mostly, with them I've won, until yesterday.

I've gone from a happy user on the first few transactions to an unhappy user. Not a great trend on their part. I think Ebay may be causing trouble for Esnipe (via anticompetitive behavior), but the reality is, I can't have Esnipe causing problems. I can't trust them to bid for me. Details below on the situation.

First, eSnipe lets you make three successful Ebay bids for free. Then, without really explicitly telling you, you can do three more, but Esnipe charges you 1% of the auction, on credit. Example, if something cost $100 on Ebay, they charge you $1.00 for 100 points in their system. It was a surprise when they stopped me from making a 7th purchase because they wanted money for "points" which I didn't understand at all, and they didn't do much to make clear what points were. The surprise was mostly due to the lack of notice on previous transactions, which I think they should have given. And then at the time of the 7th bid, when I needed to make the bid and run off to a meeting in a hurry, they wanted money. So I paid through PayPal, $10, and then they said they needed 7 days to put through the transaction, even though I know that PayPal notifies them immediately of the payment from me and I can't take the payment back.

UGG. That was so uncool. So I made another Esnipe account, and made the bid, and went on my way. But not without significant frustration and lack on information. They weren't helpful and the interface doesn't give you a lot of information about what's going on.

But the latest disaster happened yesterday. Far worse than the stupid payment fiasco. I put through a bid, and eSnipe confirmed on the page and in email that all was well. Then, for something I've tracked for 10 days on Ebay, I sat and watched as the item went for 30% of my top bid with Esnipe, to SOMEONE ELSE. Esnipe didn't put through the bid effectively.

I went to my account at eSnipe, which said "eBay weekly bidding limit" under status. WHA? Are you kidding?

I've had this Ebay account for years, and the Paypal account associated with it. I'm not a big fan of Paypal, in fact I think some of their procedures and behaviors are pretty ridiculous, but I do have a solid track record with both companies and a good history over several years.

So I ask eSnipe, what happened? I'm pretty annoyed that they've done this, and now made me lose the auction.

They respond with the following message:

eBay rejected this bid because you have "exceeded your weekly spending limits". This is a new security measure that eBay has added to their site. You can read the details on this by going to these eBay pages:
They will sometimes give this result if you are spending more than normal or your account has been inactive for a while and suddenly you are spending a lot, or have a fairly new account. Had you placed this bid directly, eBay would have prompted you to some verification process, but since Rovatron (eSnipe's system name.. like users even know what this is? I had to go read their FAQ to figure that one out...) can not answer questions for you, the bid was just rejected.

Um. Not true. I'm well within my normal Ebay use (about 10 a month, and this month so far, I've done 2 auctions, both of which I won and paid for on the spot). This is, according to the Ebay info, something that was instituted to keep new Ebay bidders in line, if they don't pay.

In the meantime, I use the Ebay interface to bid on another item a half our after the eSnipe bid fiasco, on something from the same seller. Which BTW is a seller I've purchase 5 things from over the past few months. Perfect transactions. And the bid was not at all rejected, and Ebay didn't ask for any verification.

So eSnipe writes back again:

eBay is the one who gave you this result of bidding limit and not eSnipe. I cannot explain to you why eBay is allowing bids to go in through their site directly and putting up the bidding limit notice on others. I can tell you that we are getting this notice which is why we are reporting it back to you.
Until you do the extra registration through eBay, your bids may continue to be rejected.

I reply: no way. I went to the link, which said these sorts of limits are put on new users (I'm in since 1998 as a regular customer of both EBay and Paypal), on users with unusually high bid rates out of sync with normal bid rates (I'm absolutely within my normal ranges), on users with low feedback scores (mine is quite high, with high recommendations), on users who need to submit a credit card to Paypal (PP has had credit card and checking info for me, consistently and unchanged -- other than expiration updates -- since 1998).

So what gives? I think Ebay is blocking randomly eSnipe transactions though I have no proof. And I think Esnipe probably knows or suspects this, but is taking bids anyway, with no notice to their users that they may fail, and causing their users to lose items (had they put through my bid on the items I tried for yesterday, there would have been no issue, I would have won well within my maximum bid, and won the auction. Damn!)

It may be anticompetitive, Ebay's actions, or something else. But the upshot is, I can't trust eSnipe anymore. I can't use them. Bummer, because the concept is great, and when it works it's great. But they don't have the interface, the documentation, the support emails or the bidding together. It's not just the bidding issue though that is significant. They can't tell me about their other issues and help me through them well at all. eSnipe has become high stress and unhelpful. And that's just not cool.

Update: a couple of people have suggested that I should share what I was buying: I had wanted a painting, and that's not something you can replace with something else, exactly. It happened to go for only 33 Euros, which is very reasonable, and so, you know, I was disappointed after getting my hopes up.

Posted by Mary Hodder at September 16, 2007 08:53 AM | TrackBack

Why use such a service at all? The basic eBay algorithm will automatically bid against any bot up to the maximum price you set. Just set the max you'd pay for the item and forget about it; you'll pay the minimum bid increment above the next bidder. If they're using eSnipe, it'll outbid them dynamically.

Posted by: Kevin Marks at September 16, 2007 11:46 PM

Well, I use a nice free java program called jbidwatcher for my sniping. You do have to be one of those people who keeps their computer on to use a program on your own machine, of course, but free is a good price.

However, while I have never run into these bidding limits, it is true that any sniping system will have trouble with special prompts on a bid.

However, sniping is indeed the correct way to bid. It is opposed by people who don't understand that eBay is really a sealed bid, 2nd price auction. eBay disguises these auctions by letting unwise bidders disclose their bidding intentions before the close of the sealed auction, and in fact turning it into a game that resembles a traditional auction house auction, but it is not an auction house style auction. eBay may do this because sometimes people get irrational in those auctions and bid higher than they otherwise would.

However, as far as I know, in spite of many calls from those who don't understand that eBay is a sealed bid 2nd price auction to do something about sniping, eBay has never done anything about it, so I have to conclude they like it. If they wanted to stop it there are many simple things they could do to stop sniping. They might not like eSnipe's high fees perhaps but if they are going after sniping tools it's a first.

In truth, you need to use sniping tools even if you like eBay's illusion of an auction house because only they allow useful things like bidding on several identical items but only wanting to take the first one you win, etc.

Posted by: Brad Templeton at September 17, 2007 12:14 AM

Kevin Marks you are a moron. You just don't get it! By bidding the most you are willing to pay with only 1 or 2 seconds left, it prevents other bidders from counter bidding against you and therefore driving the price up. I don't know how else to explain it. But, from your comment, you obviously DON'T get it! Esnipe is the tits! Everyone without Esnipe is spending WAY more than they have to, and also making me spend more money than I have too sometimes when I snipe them after their stupid little bidding wars with other morons. Anyone who bids with more than 2 seconds left in the auction is a straight up SUCKER!

Posted by: 2secondsniper at September 25, 2007 12:08 AM

I just ran into the identical bidding problem with esnipe. This is a new account created yesterday and I did this to bid on two opteron servers that were going for under a $1K. First, since I had run into this same problem before, I bid on a small $5 item to make sure that My ebay account worked. No problem. I set up esnipe to bid $680 on one of the servers. The auction came and went...looked at the esnipe response..."ebay bidding limit" in purple...OK feces!!...there is another one...lets bid through ebay to see if it accepts my $580 through ebay ---no problem....set up esnipe to bid up to $800 ...same error message from esnipe.... conclusion...ebay is penalizing new accounts that go through esnipe...SORRY ESNIPE, I CAN NEVER USE YOU AGAIN...then dear dumbshit Amy @ esnipe tells me it's my fault for not registering correctly.
Anybody know where I can get some good sniping software??? Please someone tell CEO Tom Campbell that his esnipe empire is about to collapse.

Posted by: Jason Nimak at October 1, 2007 05:25 PM

I signed up with esnipe today for the first time and not even an hour later I got an email from eBay stating
"It appears your account was accessed by an unauthorized third party and used to send unsolicited emails to other community members, including email offers to sell items outside of eBay. It does not appear that your account was used to list or bid on any items. Additionally, the email address on your account may have been tampered with, which is why you may not have received any emails about this activity."
It also said I need to change my password. When I went to eBay to sign in, my account info was not valid and I was not able to change it. I had to go to their Live Help site and chat with an ebay rep to be able to change it.
The rep said they would note that I used esnipe but that was not the only reason my account was flagged but she could not disclose why.
I have decided not to update my password on esnipe and will not use them. Do they send emails out with users email adresses?
I have used other snipe sites with no problems like this.

Posted by: Beth Daniels at October 2, 2007 12:58 AM