ONE YEAR LATER
Adding Sniping to Bidding to Get the
By LISA GUERNSEY
Clayberg and Dan Riggs crossed paths on eBay a year ago, they were
exuberant newcomers to online auctions. Mr. Clayberg, a software
programmer in Middletown, Mass., had bought an old coin-operated
arcade game from Mr. Riggs, the co-owner of an arcade-game shop in
Tulsa, Okla. They never met or even talked on the phone, but they
raved about the way the Internet had enabled them to find each other
1,400 miles away.
Today they are still big fans of eBay, but they are much more savvy
about how to use it. In many ways they represent the old hands of the
service, which has grown to 15.8 million members from 3.8 million a
year ago. And while some people berate eBay for not doing enough to
combat potential fraud, Mr. Clayberg and Mr. Riggs say they have
managed to avoid problems. Mr. Clayberg uses tools like escrow
services, which ensure that customers are satisfied before the seller
is paid. Mr. Riggs said he protects himself from disputes over sales
by making sure the buyer knows about a game's limitations before it is
Mr. Clayberg, for example, has perfected several strategies for
finding and winning items he wants. He has signed up for a service
called Esnipe (www.esnipe .com), an automated bidding system. The
system makes it easier than ever to rush in with a bid at the last
minute, a practice known as sniping. Instead of waiting until the
final seconds to type in what he hopes to be a winning bid, Esnipe
does the work for him.
"The person on eBay wouldn't even know you are using it," Mr.
Clayberg said. And neither would the other potential buyers who might
drive up the price of an item by starting a bidding war. "You don't
even tip your hand that you are interested," he said.
Mr. Clayberg, who has set up a gallery of more than 40 old arcade
games in his basement, also uses a service offered by eBay that runs
preset queries each time he logs on. That way he can easily find new
games or posters that would match his collection. Meanwhile, he
watches auctions that have already caught his eye by clicking to a
bookmarked page that tallies their status.
A result, Mr. Clayberg said, is that he has drastically reduced the
time he spends browsing on eBay. "But the time I do spend is much more
efficient," he said.
There is another reason that Mr. Clayberg is less inclined to while
away his hours on eBay. He still checks the site every few days,
hoping to come across rare finds, but he is not as prone to get
excited about every auction he sees.
By contrast, Mr. Riggs's company, MVP Vending, is even more
attached to eBay than it was a year ago. "The Internet is almost our
main focus now instead of local sales," he said. As much as 70 percent
of his store's transactions take place through the auction site, and
each week he lists 10 to 15 items, including renovated arcade games
and spare parts. At one point last month, during what Mr. Riggs
considered a slow period, he had listed five coin-operated games:
Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaxian, Robotron and StarGate.
Since last year, MVP Vending has racked up more than 80 feedback
ratings from buyers, and nearly all of them are positive. Those
ratings, Mr. Riggs said, are increasingly valuable, giving him an edge
over competitors who have recently decided to jump into the online
But besides cultivating good feedback, Mr. Riggs said he had
learned how to lure new buyers. He now includes long descriptions of
every item he sells to assure people that the items are worthwhile and
to avoid an avalanche of e-mail messages from interested buyers with
questions about special features. For example, a recent listing for
Galaxian, a game featuring green killer bugs, described the scratches
on the cabinet, the new door lock for the coin box and the sharp
Providing pictures is also a must, Mr. Riggs said. He now includes
at least three photographs with each listing, providing a frontal view
and shots of both sides.
Mr. Riggs is not entirely content with eBay, however. He worries
about the curse of negative feedback. If a buyer posts a message that
derides MVP Vending unfairly, Mr. Riggs said, there is little he can
do. He has complained to eBay about such messages and said he had
received meager responses about the company's inability to investigate
all cases of reportedly slanderous feedback.
OR an auction
company with as many as four million daily listings, Mr. Riggs said,
"They should have a big customer-service staff, too."
Still, he has no plans to reduce his use of the auction site. EBay
cannot be beat for attracting repeat customers, Mr. Riggs said. Many
of them will actually travel to his warehouse in Tulsa to see other
items that have not yet been posted online. "They'll say, 'Hey, I need
a pool table too,' " he said.
And he is not worried about more jaded buyers, like Mr. Clayberg,
who say that eBay has almost exhausted their need for collectibles.
"But there are plenty of customers out there," Mr. Riggs said,
especially considering how many Internet newcomers visit eBay every
"If this customer doesn't want to pay the money, there is another
customer that will."