I've been buying a game or two on Ebay lately for my shiny new PS3 (OK it's a few months old now, but whatever). I hadn't used Ebay in almost a decade and returning to it I was struck by how little it has changed. In many ways it looks and feels like a relic of the last century. More surprising though was the behaviour of some of Ebay's userbase, who seem like relics of the stone age.
Let me expound upon that last statement.
As far as I'm aware most auctions on ebay work using a secret bidding process whereby the bidder with the highest maximum bid wins. I'm sure there's a technical term for this, but frankly I can't be bothered finding out what that might be as it's not relevant to this rant. What it means in layman's terms is that when you bid on something you can stipulate what your maximum bid is, i.e. the most you are willing to pay for an item. This bid is hidden from other users. The system then automatically bids on your behalf until you become the high bidder or your limit is reached (i.e. someone else has stipulated a maximum bid that is higher than yours).
Now, if you are bidding on an item the rational thing to do is to immediately enter your maximum bid and leave it at that. There's simply no point in bidding a bit more than the current bid, seeing if you're the high bidder and then bidding again if you aren't. The system automatically bids till one of the maximum bids prevails over the others (I believe the oldest of the two bids wins out if maximum bids are equal).
Unfortunately, a fair number of the users of Ebay appear to be morons. Here's why. What these MORONS do is wait till the last minutes of the auction and then rapidly start increasing their bids, as if they are - like a dramatic movie auction - engaging in some kind of bidding war against the clock.
This phenomenon is irritating to say the least, since on many an occasion I've seen myself as the top bidder for days, only to suddenly lose at the last minute (literally). I never change my maximum bid - after all that is the most I'm prepared to pay for the item. If these idiots put in their maximum straight away then we'd find out who the winner was straight away instead of in the final moments of the auction.
What's hilarious is that on occasions in which I've won I can see (in the bid history) that some idiot tried to outbid me in the dying seconds of an auction by raising their maximum bid in increments and then running out of time because my maximum bid still trumped theirs. News flash moron, if you'd just put your maximum in straight away, you may have beaten me! I on the other hand don't engage in such foolishness and so will not increase my bid at the eleventh hour.
Seriously, is there some kind of explanation for this? Are people that foolish? I suppose in an irrational world where most of the bidders behave this way it makes some kind of sense, but really, if there's something you want you place a value on it and leave it at that. If these last minute bidders beat me then they were willing to pay more, plain and simple. It matters not at all that they beat me 5 seconds or 5 days before the end of the auction.
There must be some sociological or psychological explanation* for this truly bone headed phenomenon, or I'm missing something fundamental about the way Ebay works. I doubt the latter because apart from the annoyance of it all, at the end of the day I pay no more than I'm willing to pay, and often when I win I pay less than that. It's the rest of the loons who are missing something - probably a few brain cells.
* One theory is that perhaps by increasing the bid value too early they increase the perceived value of the item. I.E. not bidding till the end is feigning disinterest in the product, in the hope that others will also not be interested or will not bid higher values, thereby 'tricking' people into not bidding too high. This allows these last minute vultures to swoop in at the end and win by making marginal increases to their maximum bid. Of course this strategy doesn't work against rational bidders who will still set a maximum for an item regardless of its current bid price (as a basis for comparison I look at how much the item costs on other online retailers' sites and set a maximum bid that is lower than the cheapest of those prices - why bother buying second hand from Ebay if the price goes above Amazon's, for example? And yes, I have seen people paying more for something second hand on Ebay that could have been purchased for less brand new somewhere else! THE FOOLS!)