You've browsed through Completed Listings on Ebay before, trying to get a read on what price you should bid for a card you'd like. There are eight or ten at a normal price, and then there's one that went for far less than it should have. Sometimes this happens because the listing ended late at night; other times, it's because an auction for the same item just ended and people might not have aggressively bid on two of the same card.
If you want to be the lucky person snagging those underpriced cards; if you want to assemble a collection while you sleep, with an hour a week worth of work; if you have the patience to wait out some great prices because "your door is always open," then this article is for you. This article is about how you can use bidding schedulers to automatically scoop up cards that you want at prices below what they should be. Kelly Reid coined the term "Price Enforcing" to describe the process of going to local stores and looting the cases for underpriced cards, and there's no reason you cannot do it on Ebay, either.
What is a bid scheduler?
These are programs or websites that will automatically place a bid for you when you tell it to. They will bid the price that you would like and put it in when you specify that it should. You shouldn't just tack bids onto every item you see, because people are emotionally tied to their desire to win. They will just re-raise you. Bidding in the last few seconds cuts off the possibility of a re-raise.
You really shouldn't be paying money for scheduled bids, even if it is a couple of pennies. You should avoid downloaded programs; they are simply a pain in the butt and you expose yourself to spyware. I use www.biddingscheduler.com to bid on Magic cards. They use advertising to make money (ads I don't see, thank you No-Script). Firefox warns me that the information I send is encrypted but going to a third party. This is somewhat concerning, because it has my Ebay ID and password, but my Paypal is not linked to it. I haven't had problems in the months that I've used it. Use your best judgment and never give out a Paypal password.
What cards should I target for price enforcement?
I have been snagging Ravnica shock lands for awhile. They exhibit a high degree of variability in price and they are worth a bit of money; I definitely wouldn't do this with dollar cards most of the time. Generally, any card worth about $15 that has a good trade volume is a good target. Something that makes your trade binder look better is also nice. If you want to narrow things down, take a look at the charts on www.magictraders.com and look up your cards. For example, here is what Breeding Pool says:
Card Price StdDev Average High Low Change Raw N
Breeding Pool, 23.08, 8.68, 24.21, 32.99, 16.84, -0.14, 51
This has all the hallmarks of an excellent card to sit on with your bidding scheduler. It's got a good price, a good volume (the Raw N number) and it's got an insane standard deviation. If you avoided Stats 110 in college, standard deviation is generally a measure of how far the price varies from the most common price. The difference between the high and low is nearly $20 and the deviation is $8.68. That means that the price wildly varies, which is corroborated by just looking up the card sales. The cheap sales were regular cards, in good condition. The expensive cards are selling because there are bidding wars on them, not because they are foil/altered/foreign. I made sure that the prices were current and that there were some going low and some going high - pay attention that you're not just looking at the residue of a burst bubble.
How should I bid?
I try to set a price that's pretty close to what the cards are selling for normally. I want a deal, but I also want to win a few of these. I also put in bids on every card at auction. I make sure the shipping price isn't astronomical and I adjust my price on it. Let's take a quick look at some investing theory, by way of Benjamin Graham. He came up with the idea of "Mr. Market," which was a personification of the stock market that sat down at your desk all day during trading hours. Sometimes, he'd say "look, I'll sell you all the Breeding Pools you want at $30" and you'll balk. Other times, he comes in drunk to work and says "sell me as many Breeding Pools as you have for $35." If you don't want to do business with Mr. Market that day, you pass. You only engage the market when it's profitable for you to. You get to act like Mr. Market in this (but sober!). You say to Ebay, "look, I'll buy any Breeding Pools you're willing to sell for $19 shipped." You tell Ebay this by scheduling all of your bids on auctions for Breeding Pools to reflect this. Sometimes, the market won't sell you anything. Other times, you'll get a deluge of good cards for low prices. Since you are assembling cards to trade or flip, you don't care that you now have eleven Breeding Pools.
Eventually, your scheduler will look like this:
In this example, I only won one card - a Blood Crypt for $13.50 shipped. The other Blood Crypt went for $18.00 shipped, which was closer to the going rate at the time - a big savings, and one that especially adds up over time.
Note the caption on the picture. If you are winning a lot of these, you are screwing up! You're showing up drunk to work again, Mr. Market! If you're winning a lot, that means that you're paying closer to market price. You are not getting the scoops, you're just paying what every other schmoe does. The cure for this disorder is to lower your "will buy for" price and place a lot more bids. You will win a lot less, but you will get much better deals.
I suggest checking in on Ebay two times a week. It'll usually take a half hour or less to check your list of cards. Use Ebay's filters and just find the new auctions for cards that you want to watch. Make sure to pay your bills when you win cards and keep a very clear list of what you have won. Check off cards when they arrive (and note who sent them), or you will lose track of something and lose all your money on it. I speak from experience.
If you do this, you will win cards for a lot less than what they normally go for. Look, I can't explain why people set their auctions to end at 2am on a Tuesday morning, but they do. They put up auctions for cards that don't have a lot of motion or turnover, and they'll sell very cheaply. These are the sort of auctions you can win with a good frequency.
Why should I schedule bids if I'm not building a big binder?
This is a legitimate question, and there are two reasons you should still do this. First, you should schedule all of your bids anyway - it's a fact that people will re-raise you on Ebay even if they think they've already bid their highest amount. You're buying commodities, not unique items, so you don't need to win that one antique letter opener (like me last month). Schedulers will tell you when your scheduled bid is too low, so you can raise it if you really need to win the item - and you're doing it with stealth.
Second, if you trade at all, this is a great way to buy trade stock at a really good price. You can buy all the Breeding Pools you can at $20 and then put them in your binder for $27 in trade. That's an entirely fair trading price and you've bought the cards at about a 25% discount. Anything you trade them into will have the same discount applied. You don't even have to pick big, dynamic cards to trade in, as long as they have a good secondary market. I've been sitting on Tawnos's Coffin auctions for awhile now. Every now and then, the $15 card will sell for $4. I'm determined to be the next one to get it at a fire sale price, and the Coffin is such a fun Commander card that I'll have no trouble getting rid of it. I just saw a High Market close for $2.25 shipped, when that card easily trades at $5 on any floor you'll find.
When you are buying your binder's contents for 60 cents on the dollar, you don't have to rip off trading partners to make real profits. Nobody seems to be price-enforcing Ebay right now and this is a great untapped market for Insiders. Like I said, this takes very little work and it will remind you of the old thrills when you first started winning auctions on Ebay again.
I'm happy to answer questions about the theory and practice here. Join me next week when we look at more trading techniques and tips!