Reserve Prices and Sniping: Evidence from Two Field Experiments on eBay
(Research Seminar, November 11th, 2004)

David Reiley
University of Arizona

This talk will report results from the following two field experiments on eBay:

1. Public Versus Secret Reserve Prices in eBay Auctions (with Rama Katkar): Sellers in eBay auctions have the opportunity to choose both a public minimum bid amount and a secret reserve price. We ask, empirically, whether the seller is made better or worse off by setting a secret reserve above a low minimum bid, versus the option of making the reserve public by using it as the minimum bid level. In a field experiment, we auction 50 matched pairs of Pokémon cards on eBay, half with secret reserves and half with equivalently high public minimum bids. We find that secret reserve prices make us worse off as sellers, by reducing the probability of the auction resulting in a sale, deterring serious bidders from entering the auction, and lowering the expected transaction price of the auction.

2. Measuring the Benefits to Sniping on eBay(with Sean Gray): Bidders on eBay frequently engage in sniping: submitting a bid seconds before the end of the auction. In this paper, we use a field experiment to measure the size of the benefit obtained by a bidder who snipes rather than bidding early. Previous research by Roth and Ockenfels (2002) documents the extent of this sniping. We identified pairs of identical items sold by the same seller and ending near the same time. In half the auctions, we submitted our maximum bid several days before the end of the auction, and in the other half, we submitted the same bid just 10 seconds before the end of the auction, using automated sniping software. Items included Playstation 2 games, movie DVDs, coin proof sets, Xbox games, die cast Hot Wheels cars, and Game Boy Advance games. Our results, from a set of 70 pairs of items, indicate no benefit to sniping. We found evidence of 2.54% lower prices for the sniped auction, but we did not find this benefit to be statistically significant.