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1. Overview

This is a brief guide to using Bidwatcher. It is assumed that the program is properly installed and you have a valid account with eBay. For information on installing Bidwatcher refer to the INSTALL file that came with your distribution.

To get an idea of what Bidwatcher looks like, check out these Screen Shots.

2. For the Impatient

Start the program and open the configuration window by pressing the preferences icon (). At a minimum you'll at least want to enter your eBay username here. If you plan on using the bidding or email lookup features you'll also need to provide your eBay password. See the Configure Bidwatcher section below for more on what to do here. Once this is done, and you're connected to the Internet, you are ready to roll. Bidwatcher will pull a list of all items you have outstanding bids on and any auctions you have listed for sale.

This list of "watched auctions" will be updated with varying frequency depending on the time left in the auction (auctions with less time remaining are updated more often). Right-clicking an item on the list produces a pop-up menu of operations you can perform. For a description of all the programs functionality, read on.

3. The Main Window

The list at the bottom of the window are the auctions that Bidwatcher is currently monitoring for you.

You can right click on one of the auctions, and a pop-up menu of options will be displayed. From here, you can set up bids, remove the auction from being monitored, and view bidding logs.

By double clicking on an auction, bidwatcher will open a browser window to that auction.

Across the top, you see these icons:
Configure your preferences for Bidwatcher.
Add an auction to the list that Bidwatcher monitors.
Synchronize clock with eBay.
Update all auction information from eBay
About Bidwatcher
Exit Bidwatcher
Stop updating auction information. (This not shown unless an update is happening.)

To the right of the icons is the status window. The time displayed in this window is what Bidwatcher thinks that Ebay's time is, make sure it matches the current time on the west cost of the USA.

4. Configure Bidwatcher

For Bidwatcher to do something beyond displaying the current time in San Francisco, you need to configure it to do something. Pressing the configuration button (the one that looks like a drivers license) should produce the configuration window with the following fields:

Enter User ID:
Your eBay username, this field is required to do anything useful with Bidwatcher.
Enter Password:
Your eBay password. You only need to enter this if you plan to use the bidding, sniping, or email lookup facilities in Bidwatcher. Since this password is saved on disk, paranoids might want to leave this field blank.
Path to Web Browser:
This is the path to your browser of choice (I use 'xterm -e lynx'), by default it is set to netscape.
Path to Email Client:
The path to your email client. By default it is set to 'xterm -e pine'
Track my eBay Listings:
If this box is checked, Bidwatcher will automatically track auctions that you have listed on eBay.
Track current bids:
If this is checked, Bidwatcher will track all active auctions that you have bid on, whether or not you are the current high bidder.
Check auctions on startup:
If this option is checked, Bidwatcher will updated your current bids/listings and update all auctions immediately when the program is started, otherwise it will begin updates on it's regular cycle.
Automatically delete ended auctions:
Bidwatcher will delete ended auctions that have ended over a day ago. Some people want to make sure they see the results of the auction before it is deleted, so this option is offered.
Snipe Timer:
The number of seconds before an auction ends that your snipe bid will be executed.

Be aware that there will always be some network delays and delays in processing on eBay's end. Even slight problems with the network or problems with eBay will make last second bids unreliable. Time synchronization problems with eBay's clock can also cause problems.

I strongly recommend not using anything less than 5 seconds, I personally use 10 seconds. The goal of sniping is to keep other people from reacting to your bid, and anything around 15 seconds will accomplish that goal.

Start out with the default of 15 seconds, and after you have had a few successful snipes, check to see when eBay registered your snipes in the bidding history. This will give you a feel for the typical lag. Then, you can crank it down, but make sure you leave enough time to handle the unusual lags. On a busy Sunday night, processing a bid sometimes takes a couple of seconds, so bidwatcher doesn't give up on the first snipe for 2-4 seconds. It will then try again, but if you set the snipe timer too short, there may be no time left.

On my machine, I see a typical lag of 1-2 seconds, and I have seen unusual lags of up to 5-6 seconds.

5. What's Going On?

Once Bidwatcher is properly configured, it more or less runs on 'autopilot', updating bid information on your auction list and executing any snipes you may have set up. If you have Bidwatcher configured to auto-deleted auctions and the auction ended over a day ago, it will be deleted from the list.

Bidwatcher will periodically check the status of the auctions. The closer the auction is to ending, the more often it will be updated. Bidwatcher will use these updates to judge how quickly eBay and the Internet are responding, and it will adjust things like your snipe time accordingly.

On startup, and once every two hours there after, bidwatcher will check what time eBay thinks it is to insure accurate ending times. At the same time, it also checks to see if you have bid on anything outside of bidwatcher and will also monitor those auctions. Likewise, it checks to see if you have listed anything new for sale.

On the list of "watched auctions" that Bidwatcher displays, the color of the line indicates when the auction ends. A green line says that the auction will end more than 4 hours from now. A red line says that the auction hasn't ended yet, but will end within the next 4 hours. A blue line means that the auction has ended.

Each line contains the following information, from left to right:

  1. The Bid status icon is a small colored dot that indicates the bid status of the auction
    Black dot You have never bid on this item, you are just watching it.
    Green dot You are currently the high bidder of this auction
    Blue dot You have bid on this auction, but you are not the high bidder. If a snipe fails for any reason, you will get a blue dot. Check the logs for errors.
    Red arrow You have selected to snipe this auction.
    Red dot You are the the seller of this auction
  2. The eBay auction number.
  3. The current bid value with the number of bids in parentheses. If the number of bids ends with an 'R', it means that the reserve has not been met. If it ends with a 'D' it means that this is a Dutch auction.
  4. The amount of time left before the auction ends.
  5. The auction title.

6. Bidding / Sniping

Right clicking an item on the auction list and choosing 'bid / set up snipe' opens the bid window. From here you can set up a snipe (a bid that is executed a prescribed number of seconds before the auction ends), or bid on the item immediately. The window shows some information on the auction, and a countdown timer that shows the time remaining in real time.

WARNING - placing a bid here is the same as pressing the 'confirm bid' button at eBay, and you are entering a binding commitment per their rules. I've made every effort to make sure this works reliably - but if you are worried that Bidwatcher will handle this incorrectly by all means don't use it!

A few words on bidding

Before you place a bid on something, it is very important for you to think about how much you should pay for an item. Check out past auctions for similar items. Do a web search to find similar items in retail outlets. Search for similar items that are still out there. It is very rare for anything to show up only once on eBay, usually another similar item comes along in just a few days (if not hours).

After you have figured out how much an item is worth to you, put that amount in as your proxy bid or your snipe amount. Ask yourself, "if this item sold to someone else for a dollar more, would I be upset?" If the answer is yes, then you haven't bid your true maximum. The item always goes to the person who said they wanted it the most (by them entering a larger bid amount). Too many people make the mistake of bidding what they want to pay for something rather than what they are willing to pay. After they lose the auction, they say "but I would have been willing bid a little more", to which you should reply "well, why didn't you?".

Bidding the absolute maximum that you are willing to pay is critical if you want to snipe since you have only one chance to bid. Likewise bidding your true maximum critical to protect yourself from snipers, since you won't have a second chance to bid against a sniper.

Some people feel they need to know what other people are willing to pay for something in order to determine how much they are willing to pay. This is a very dangerous attitude. Some sellers will "shill" an auction up by placing bids with a second eBay account to goad the sucker into continuing to bid on the item. (Sometimes they use several eBay accounts.) People are often willing to pay "just a little more", but if they haven't thought about what their real maximum bid is, then they can be tricked into paying much more than they should.

Many people also bid round numbers such as $10.00. In the case of a tie, the first bidder wins. To prevent this from happening, always throw in a few extra cents, or even a few extra dollars. If you think something is worth $150 to you, bid $153.78, or some such random number.

Of course, you should also check the sellers feedback carefully. A lot can be learned by even some of the positive feedbacks. Check to see if the seller is primarily a buyer or not. It is much easier to get positive feedback as a buyer than as a seller.

Read the description carefully and note what the shipping charges will be. Some sellers hide a lot of their profit in large "handling fees". Note that if the seller has selected "Actual Shipping" for the shipping cost, eBay will allow them to add in anything the seller want for a "handling fee", including packing material, labor costs, gas to go to the post office, rent for storage of the item until your check clears, etc.

It is all too common for, say, a baseball card seller, to charge $3.00 "handling fee" for each card, and so if you win 10 cards, you will be charged $30 in "handling fees", plus whatever your bids were.

Ask questions, and if you don't get an answer, or something just looks wrong about the auction, don't bid. There will almost always be another, better described item being sold by a better seller sometime in the near future.

Finally, many people feel like when they put a bid in on an auction and become the high bidder, they have somehow become the "mental owner" of that item, or have put a "down payment" on it. They haven't. The bidding is not over until you see the "auction ended" on the web page. I've been the high bidder when the web page said "0 sec left", but ended up not being the high bidder. Don't count your chickens before they hatch.

A few words on sniping

A snipe is a bid set up to execute a few moments before the end of an auction. Sniping has several advantages, namely:
  • Many adults act like 4 year old kids and want whatever it is that other people have. If you bid early, you will attract attention to the auction and there will be some people who will bid just because you bid. This causes the price to go up.
  • Some people when they are out bid will feel "hurt" or feel like they are "losing" and will let their emotions get away from them. (See above about high bidders thinking they have "mental ownership", when they don't.)

    They will then bid up an auction past what they would rationally pay for the item if they would relax and think about it. By sniping, you prevent yourself from being drawn into a bidding war, and you do not give the other bidders a chance to start a bidding war.

    Bidding is not a game, with winners and losers. You should Bid on something in order to get what you want, when you want it, and for a price that you think is reasonable. If someone else is desperate and is willing to pay more than you, let them have it. Another one will come along.

  • When you place a snipe using Bidwatcher, you can easily change your mind about how much you want to bid, or even if you want to bid at all. If you bid early, then you would have to retract your bid if you change your mind. Too many bid retractions can get you kicked off of eBay.

    If the item you are looking at gets bid up too high, you can cancel your snipe and go onto the next item. If you had actually placed your bid, it is possible that the people who had outbid you could retract their bids, or have their bids cancelled by the seller or eBay. At that point, you would then be held to your bid again. Yes, this actually happens every once and a while.

    Likewise, if you learn more about the item you are bidding on or about the seller, you can easily cancel your snipe and not risk anything.

  • If you bid early, you run the risk of becoming a "free finder and appraisal service" for other people. If you are knowledgeable about the stuff you are bidding on, never over bid, and only bid on "good stuff", other people will notice and will watch what you are bidding on. If you bid early, you tell everyone that this is a good item, and if they outbid you, they know that they haven't over paid for the item, or at least not by very much.
  • By sniping, you reduce the ability of the seller to shill up your bid up.
There are also some disadvantages to sniping:
  • If anything bad happens, a snipe might not be placed and you could lose the item. This includes network problems, problems with eBay (they are known for crashing or become very slow), problems with synchronizing the time with eBay, or bugs in bidwatcher.

    If you really, absolutely, positively, HAVE to have something, don't snipe.

  • If you are the first person to bid, or are the current high bidder, then other people will look at the auction and realize that they will have to outbid you to get the item.

    If you can easily get an item for $15, and the current bid is $14, then it probably isn't worth bidding because you can't outbid the current bidder without overpaying. This gives a very slight advantage to being the first bidder.

7. Bidding History and Error Logs

Bidwatcher creates two different log files about the auctions that you have watched.

To view these logs, right click on the an auction, and select the "view completed snipes" or "view completed auctions" options. These logs can also be found in a directory called "~/.bidwatcher" in your home directory. The month and the year are attached as part of the file name to keep the logs a manageable size.

The first set of logs, the "completed snipes", contains information about your snipes. Besides the eBay auction number and the auction title, it also contains what your maximum bid was set to (not just the final price was), and also a description of how the snipe went.

The second set of logs, the "completed auctions", contains a list of every auction you have asked bidwatcher to monitor. Besides the eBay auction number and the auction title, it also contains the name of the high bidder and what the final price was.

If you are having problems with snipes failing, it is a good idea to look in the snipe log file and see what the error message says.

8. Bugs and Problems

Because Bidwatcher depends on how the folks at eBay have their website set up, bugs can and do pop up without warning. Things can be working one minute, but not the next.

If you encounter a problem, first read this documentation carefully to see if the is an answer here. (Yes, I know, since you have read this far, you have probably read the rest, but it needs to be said anyway.)

Next, check to see if there is anything in the logs that might explain the errors.

If the logs don't help, you should probably check to see if there is a new version of Bidwatcher available. The Bidwatcher home page is at:


Finally, if all else fails, try contacting me at wayne@schlitt.net. I may or may not be able to help, but it is worth a shot.

While I'm not an expert, I believe the information on this page is correct. Please send suggestions and corrections to the webmaster.
This web site runs on 100% Open Source Software. This web page was last changed on 12/01/2004 at 20:54:20.