I haven't used ebay much so I don't know it very well, but I cannot figure out what it is that I'm missing in this case.

You see, in ebay when you want to place a bid on an item, you don't place a direct bid. You place a "maximum bet" - that's how much you are willing to pay for an item if it comes to a bidding war. The next person to bid however must immediately place an amount larger than your maximum bet - otherwise it doesn't make sense of course because the person instantly loses.

So, say, you see a nice T-shirt that's currently going for $1, which also happens to be the maximum bet for the previous guy. Now I get to choose my own maximum bet which should be at least $1.50. Let's say I bet $5. Ebay will note my maximum bet but will only bid $1.50 for me. So if I win now, I will only have to pay $1.50. But the next bidder will have to place a maximum bet of at least $5.50, or he will instantly lose anyway. Thus ebay doesn't even allow him to enter anything less than $5.50, it's even written there.

So what would prevent me from entering, say, $99,999 as my maximum bet? It's pretty clear that nobody in their right mind would bet more than that for a simple T-shirt. However I won't have to pay more than $1.50, because that's the next step after the current bid.

So... what exactly am I missing here?

3 Answers 3


That's not how it goes. Any user can post a higher bid than your current one, there's only a minimun (the bid increment). If your maximum bid is still higher than the new bid, ebay will add the bid increment to the last bid and count it as your new bid, so you're still going to be the highest bidder, as long as no-one surpasses your maximum bid.

Now to why you shouldn't enter 99,999$ as your maximum bid... If your maximum bid is ridiculously high, you'll be sure to win the item, but you may end up paying a lot more than the original value of the product.
In your example, as long as someone is interested enough in the T-shirt to bid up to $100 for it, if your maximum bet was 99,999$ you'd find yourself paying $100.25 for a T-shirt that in other circumstances you'd only have paid $15 for.


I think you are misinterpreting what the minimum bid is that the counter-bidders see. The bidder who is bidding against you doesn’t see your maximum bid. She only sees the current winning bid. So she only has to bid that amount plus the bid increment.

In your example, where you have placed a maximum bid of $5 and you are the current highest bidder at $1.50, the counter-bidder only has to bid a minimum of $1.75, i.e. the current highest bid plus the $0.25 bid increment.

  • 1
    Oh, I though they could see it. At least I think I did. Or maybe I can just see my own maximum bid then. Anyways, this clears it up.
    – Vilx-
    Aug 19, 2010 at 6:25
  • Btw - I would accept your answer, but stackexchange doesn't associate my older anonymous question with my newly created account. :(
    – Vilx-
    Aug 19, 2010 at 6:25
  • That’s right; eBay will show you your own maximum amount that you are prepared to pay, so that you can increase your bid if you want to. For other bidders, it only shows bids up to the current highest maximum bid for the item, which may be a lower amount than the currently winning bidder is prepared to pay. So, as Jmin says, if you bid a very high maximum amount, you’ll very likely win the auction. However, you lay yourself open to ultimately paying too much, as other bidders increase their bids and push the price up, to try to discover what your maximum amount is.
    – Mike Green
    Aug 19, 2010 at 11:20

You can win items cheaply on eBay if:

  1. They are not unique

  2. You are willing to wait (and make multiple attempts)

If you search for your item of interest and look at "sold listings" (a search criteria) you can see how much actual sold prices varied. Assuming you want a good deal, just keep watching and bidding at the low end of that price range. Eventually you will win won, assuming points #s 1 & 2 are true.

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