How to bid at an eBay auction


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How to bid at an eBay auction

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In this activity, you'll learn how bidding on items works in eBay. This will help you manage the auction, and improve your chances of buying the goods you want at prices you like.

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The highest bid wins the auction!

How do you win an eBay auction?

Like any auction, you win an eBay auction by having the highest bid when the auction ends. eBay can help manage your bids for you once you've set the maximum amount that you're prepared to bid.

When you are deciding the highest amount that you're prepared to bid, you should also bear in mind any associated delivery costs, as they will be additional to the cost of the item itself in most cases.

How much should you bid?

You can try to enter small bids one by one, just like a regular auction, but it's unlikely you will win an auction in this way.

That's because eBay uses an automatic system that makes it easier for buyers to bid. Buyers first decide the highest amount that they're prepared to pay for an item and enter that as their maximum bid. eBay then automatically bids for everyone in the auction up to their maximum amount for the item. This means that any small bids that you make manually are often instantly outbid.

You can add small bids manually if you prefer in an eBay auction.
Your maximum bid isn't your starting bid in an eBay auction.

Your maximum bid isn't your starting bid

On eBay, your maximum bid is just the most you'll pay for the auction item, should the bids progress to that amount.

eBay will make a smaller bid on your behalf as your fist bid, the value of which is dependent on where the bidding is up to in the auction.

For example, if you are the first bidder, eBay will enter your bid at the starting bid for the item. The starting bid value is set by the seller, and is usually a lot lower than the expected price for the item so as to attract interest from buyers.

If you are not the first to bid, however, eBay will bid on your behalf by adding an increment above the current highest bid.

How much is an increment?

eBay makes automatic bids on your behalf, increasing your bid by increments each time you are outbid. The amount of the increment depends on the current bid. An increment can be as little as 50 cents for low-cost items, to as high as $100 for items above $5000.

Incremental bids can be as little as a few cents up to $100, depending on the value of the item up for auction.
You will receive updates from eBay if your maximum bid is outbid by another bidder in an auction.

Bidding at an eBay auction example

Let's say you want to buy a listed MacBook computer. You have found one for auction on eBay, and the listing currently shows bidding has reached $527, with 11 bids placed so far.

You log into eBay and enter a bid manually for $530, but a new bid is made instantly, and the price goes up to $540! You receive a message from eBay saying, You've been outbid by someone else's max bid.

You've been outbid because another bidder has entered a maximum bid that is higher than your initial bid of $530, and eBay automatically increased that person's bid by, in this instance, a $10 increment to beat your bid. That message from eBay will offer you the opportunity to make a new higher bid, should you wish to keep bidding.

Increasing your bid

You decide to increase the maximum amount you're prepared to pay for the computer. You decide to really go for it, and enter a bid of $700. The listed price instantly changes, but only goes up to $610.

The reason for this is that eBay hasn't used all of your $700 bid in one go. It's increased your bid one increment, or $10, above the previous highest bidder's maximum (which, it turns out was $600), and sends you a message saying You are currently the highest bidder.

If other bidders increase their maximums, you will keep outbidding them until the price gets to your maximum of $700. When that happens, you will get the You were outbid message once again.

You can increase your maximum bid at any time during an auction.
Don't feel that you must increase your maximum bid if you are outbid in an auction.

What if I get outbid?

If the price goes higher than your maximum bid, you can enter a new maximum bid. Remember, however, that you've already decided the amount you want to pay, so consider carefully before you decide to go higher.

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eSafety Tip

It's easy to get carried away in the excitement of an auction, and end up increasing your bids in small increments to well beyond what you intended. Don't let FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) push you into something you don't really want to do. The wonderful thing about eBay and similar sites is that there are plenty more similar items coming up for sale every day.

How will I know if I've won an auction?

eBay auctions have time limits. If you have the highest bid at the end of the auction, you win! eBay will then send you a notification either by email or text message.

As the winner of an auction, you must pay the seller. You entered a legal contract with eBay and the seller when you made the bid. If you fail to pay, you may receive a negative review or rating from the seller. This may mean others won't want to buy or sell with you in future.

eBay will send you a notification to tell you if you have won an auction.
An auction is a binding contract, but there are some exceptions that might allow you to retract your bid.

What if I change my mind?

There are some circumstances where you can retract your bid, including:

  • if the description of the item has changed “significantly” during or subsequent to the auction period
  • you accidentally put in the wrong amount
  • if there are more than 12 hours left before the auction ends, or
  • it's less than one hour since you made the bid.

If all else fails, and there are other genuine reasons making it impossible for you to complete the purchase, you can contact the seller and ask if they will cancel your bid for you. They may or may not agree to do so, however, so bear this in mind and think very carefully before entering bids in an auction.

Well done!

You've reached the end of the How to bid at an eBay auction activity. You have learned that eBay bids on items for you, up to a maximum amount that you choose, and that you can increase that maximum if you are outbid.

Next up, we'll see how to complete a purchase in the What happens after winning an auction? activity.

A couple relax at home.