Monday, August 19, 2013

My Penny Auction Experience

I've always wondered how penny auctions actually work, as in how the company makes money off you when they're selling a 1,800SGD MacBook for 50SGD and how easy or hard is it really to win in one of these auctions. Well I found out over this weekend and it was quite a wild ride.

Here's how it all went down:

Thursday - I get an email link to though I can't remember from where. I check it out and it seems reputable. I sign up and get 10 free tokens. Each token = 1 bid and each token = 0.75SGD. The company makes money by selling you these tokens upfront in addition to the amount you eventually pay for the product once you win an auction. I look through the list of live auction items and not really interested in anything but there's a MacBook up for auction on Friday so I'm gearing up for that one. Still, I practice bid on a couple of auctions, some simple ones like free tokens and free 50SGD vouchers. Then I spy a live auction for an Ipad Mini and think I'll try my hand in that. I spend the next 3 hours bidding on the Ipad Mini. Note the general rule is to try to bid during the auction's last 20 seconds as that is when the frenzied bidding starts to happen. Each subsequent bid extends the timer for another 20 seconds and so you try to outwit other bidders and strategize how long the other bidders can hold out and how much they're willing to put in, in terms of tokens before deciding it's too much/not worth it and call it a day. I think I put in about 70 tokens and still had room to maneuver but I made what I guess is a rookie mistake of being stingy with my tokens and assuming someone could bid and extend the time instead of me bidding. Unfortunately, I didn't bid one time and no one else did and so the timer ran out and the auction closed at about 14SGD even when I still had tokens to spare. Aaarrggh. First heartache. Still not too bad. Just three hours in and just blew off a couple of tokens. I write it off as practice.

Friday - If you've ever wondered how long a knock-out drag-down bidding war really lasts (this was for a MacBook), let me tell this case, it was 14 hours. Here's what happened:

2pm - Auction's last 20 seconds. No sense bidding. An item like this would generate a lot of interest and would sell at 15-20SGD or more. I check first few bids then I compute how long it would take to get to 11SGD. Each bid = 20 seconds x 100 bids to get to a dollar = 2000 seconds/60 seconds per minute = 33.33 minutes which means it would take 30 minutes for the bidding to get to a dollar if the bidders maximize the time before bidding and not wait till the last second. I vow to check again at the end of the day.

530pm - I leave work and try to get a taxi but as it's a Friday, that's an impossibility so I'm forced to take the bus. I open the auction website on my mobile and monitor the bidding. It's about an hour's trip to get home so I have time.

630pm - I get off at Orchard to try and get a taxi. My husband sends me an sms about it being date night. I decide to wait for him at Takashimaya and settle in a cafe for the next hour. I bring out the goods. Laptop. Personal hotspot on my mobile. And continue monitoring. I start to bid at about 11SGD in. I wait until the very last second, in the countdown usually when there's 4 or 3 seconds left. I do that every time and each time the timer starts counting down, my heart starts beating faster. It's like a cardio workout this whole exercise. It takes my husband an hour or so to reach me but I don't mind. I'm quite preoccupied. In fact I'm anxious about leaving the auction too early. I worry that the auction would close while I went off to dinner. Hmmm. Husband of course wins out. Whatever will happen will happen. I close the site once my husband arrives.

730pm - We moved to nearby Ion and had dinner at a favorite Yakitori place. I surreptitiously check the mobile website on my phone and feel good that bidding still ongoing. We went to Prologue to browse before making our way home.

10pm - I set up my laptop and auction still ongoing. I quickly hunker down find a comfy spot and start to bid again. I am quite efficient with my tokens, still at under a hundred with potential savings at 90%.

1130pm - Two autobidders kickstart the system into overdrive. The clock extends by 2 hours. I use the break to go to the bathroom, get a drink and check my notes on the bidders. Also to buy more tokens. Willing to invest a bit in order to win big I can maybe accept 80% savings. Also need to figure out who's likely to stay through to the bitter end.

130pm - Still doing okay. Not too impatient when bidding and not too visible to other bidders. I note there are still about 5 regular bidders and some stragglers hanging around.

2pm - Fingers starting to get tired. Eyes a bit bleary. Just want to sleep but keep thinking about the prize at the end of it all. A few minutes into it, two autobidders again kick the timer forward another hour. I am simultaneously frustrated and happy. This gives me time to nap and hopefully will discourage stragglers from finishing the auction. I set an alarm on my mobile and go to sleep.

330pm - Wake up disoriented. What was I doing? Oh, auction, right. There are still a couple minutes left on the timer and I use that to try and wake myself up. Gotta get ready for the last stretch (hopefully). And so, the countdown goes to the last few seconds and bidding starts, I see familiar names. Ugh. There's still a whole contingent of us in the auction. I wonder how long this will last. Fed up with this. I try to set up the auto-bidder so I at least buy a few precious minutes of rest for my fingers. Too late. I suddenly see the timer at 3..2... I try to hit the bid button and see the PROCESSING notice and realize I'm too late...and then the CLOSED notice. Stunned. Cannot believe the other bidders all simultaneously failed to hit the bid button. And so after almost 14 hours, the auction finally ends. I try to go through the bid history and figure out where I went wrong. No use crying over spilt milk. And to think I still had about 100 or so tokens to spare. Now I'm truly awake.

345pm - I cannot believe I spent all this time and tokens for nothing. I browse the website for other live auctions. Maybe I can still win something. There's this GoPro camera that looks interesting. I look and bidding still at about 11SGD. Good enough to start. I start bidding.

5pm - I hold on through sheer will and manage to win the GoPro camera auction at about 15SGD. Yay! I check my stats and see that I won the camera which is about 800SGD at 86% savings. I am happy and all spent out. I finally crawl into bed.

The next day my husband threatens to block the site so I can't access. I still can't decide if that's a good or a bad thing.

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