By PAW member muchomaas
Most of you reading this are familiar with the traditional penny auction format. Regardless of the website and the bidding tools, there are two basic components – a timer and a bid button – and one way to win: you bid, and nobody bids after you. Much of the time, you reach that result by clubbing your opponent into submission, outlasting them in the “war of attrition.”
Lowest unique auction sites are different, and for that reason, they may scare off many people. But when done right the lowest unique format is uniquely challenging and engaging, and my absolute favorite site, Smartbid, not only has an outstanding website with clear, easy to use bidding tools, it has absolutely fantastic and responsive customer service. Additionally, Smartbid is set up to offer its players many opportunities to use and re-use their bids, so when you are smart with your bids, and you play them right, if you don’t win the auction the first time, you’ll get them the next time.
Smartbid turns one next week. (Happy birthday!) As part of their anniversary celebration, they are going to expand their bids back auctions and add a lot of new products to the auction line up.
In fact, invest just a little bit of time, and you may find yourself captivated with advanced game theory that goes into successful play. Winning at Smartbid requires careful strategy and plotting. I found Smartbid after a frustrating experience on another penny auction site where I mindlessly battled bid for bid to defend my claim to a bid back. After defending against the jumpers, I was out more than 200 bids to win 50. I didn’t want to fold, because then I’d never win on that site if that happened. But after “winning,” I just couldn’t really see the point, and to the extent that I could, it failed my basic test. It wasn’t fun.
I read the comments about Smartbid here, and thought I’d give it a try. Smartbid is tremendous fun from the start. The biggest winners here aren’t the players with the unlimited bid stack who cover every bid on the board. Instead, they are the master tacticians and strategists. Best of all, Smartbid has a great selection of items for which to shop, including Coach items (which are very popular in our household).
II. A Word About Entertainment Shopping.
As with all penny auctions, your participation on Smartbid should be fun. It is after all “entertainment shopping.” You need to set your limits, and stick to them. Smartbid is set up to cater to players of different backgrounds and with different goals, and there are also differences in the level of experience among the players. If you sign up, buy bids, and go after the highest priced items first (which is what I did), you will get a reality check. (The good news on Smartbid is you will get a chance to re-use those bids in their Reward Auctions; more on that below.)
So as with all websites, start small, learn the ropes, and move up into stronger competition as you learn the basics. Smartbid has made this easy for you by having Beginner and Intermediate Auctions. Start with the Beginner Auctions first, and the move up to the Intermediate Auctions. You should never spend more on bids than you are comfortable losing. Treat the money as your entertainment budget – consider money spent on bids as money already spent. Don’t get in over your head. Keep your sense of humor, no matter what happens.
If you are not having fun, you should not be doing it.
III. Buying Bids
There are frequently promotion codes available on Penny Auction Watch and elsewhere, so make sure you do your research before buying your bids. You should also check Smartbid’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/SmartBid to see if there are any applicable promotion codes. You can also ask questions to Smartbid through their Facebook page.
The cost of each bid varies, depending on the auction, and the phase of the auction (more on that below), and you get 3 free bids for signing up. You can also win bids at auction.
IV. The Basics: The Lowest Unique Auction Concept
The concept of a lowest unique auction is a little hard to explain in words, but once you see it in action, it is really simple. Once the auction closes, you want to have the lowest bid, that nobody else has placed a bid on themselves. For example, one cent will always be the lowest possible bid. But if two or more people bid one cent for the item, then it is not unique. Two cents would then be the lowest unique bid, if you and only you bid two cents.
In practical terms, go through the closed auction pages (the “Winners” link). You will see that the lowest unique bid for some of the higher value items can approach $1.00. If, for example, the lowest unique bid for an iPad was $.80, that means for every bid that was placed below $.80, at least two bids were placed on that amount.
At Smartbid, the auctions do not run on timers. Instead, there is a predetermined number of bids for each auction, and once those bids have been cast, the auction closes. Whoever has the lowest bid when the auction closes, wins.
That is the core concept of the auction. You want to have the lowest, unique bid when the last bid is cast. The concept is simple. The strategies on how to get there are varied and complex and the execution can often be very intense.
V. Getting Started.
If you are new to Smartbid, you may be tempted to start on an iPad auction, or another high value item, like a Coach purse. That’s what I did. But I had no idea what I was doing, and while I got some practice with placing bids and closing out auctions (for other players!), I quickly got my bearings, and headed over to the beginner’s and intermediate auctions.
The beginner and intermediate auctions pit you against other players learning the format, so not only are you competing against players at your same skill level, you can start developing your own strategies. The intermediate auctions are available to players who have won less than 10 auctions. Take full advantage of the intermediate auctions. (Once again, I was impatient and jumped into regular auctions, which counted against the ten win limit.)
VI. How a Smart Bid Auction Works.
There are a few different types of auctions. There are bid back auctions, where bids that are placed at the beginning of an auction are returned as free bids in the event you do not win. (Free bids cannot be used as reward bids later.) There are half bid back auctions, where half the early bids are returned. There are also other auctions where the early bids cost less to place, than later bids.
This Memorial Day Weekend, Smartbid has expanded the number of bid back auctions. That means you can bid essentially risk free in many of the auctions, and if you do not win, you can re-use the bids in another auction.
There are three phases to an auction: what I call the opening phase, the initial closing phase, and the final closing phase, or “Last Call.” In the initial opening phase, this is where you get to place the bids that you will have returned to you as free bids if you do not win. You only get a certain number of free bids, and there is a definite strategy to where you put your bids, and whether you go first or after other people put their bids down. Often, I will lay out the framework for how I plan to win with how I lay out my opening phase bids. Whether my plan survives or not depends on what happens when other players place their bids.
At any given time, Smartbid tells everyone who the lowest unique bid is and who the bidders are, from the most recent on back. At the same time, you know whether your bids are unique bids, or whether another player has placed the same bid. It is very important to keep track of where other players are placing bids. This gives you an idea of what their strategy is. So you need to pay attention to how the bids develop, and when your bids became non-unique and who did it. Every time somebody bids, it is very important to re-assess the board, and your strategy.
Just as you are trying to maneuver your opponents into the rocks, they are trying to do the same to you.
The next phase of the auction is what I call the initial closing phase. When there are roughly 40% of the bids left (the percentage changes from auction to auction to prevent people from gaming it), the price of bids goes up, and an indication that the auction is closing soon is provided.
Finally, when the auction has approximately 20% of the bids left, it is in its last call. Things often move very fast here. Most everyone has a string, and at this point they are all pulling it. To prevent people from just carpet bombing the auction and overbidding it to force it closed, Smartbid only permits 20 bids at a time (10 in smaller auctions) in the final phase. Sometimes, things move so fast at this point, that the auction closes almost immediately after entering this phase.
There is another advantage to bidding early. Smartbid gives you hints about what the lowest unique bid is, and how many bids are left in the auction. The precision of the hints is sharper, the earlier in the auction. Just as you can use your early bids to manage the board and keep track of your opponents, you can also use early bids to get an accurate temperature reading of the auction.
In addition, bidding throughout the auction, particularly after you have some idea how many bids your opponents have used (because they have wiped away your unique bids) allows you to keep a count on how many bids are left in the auction.
VII. Reward Auctions.
Sometimes you don’t win. At Smartbid, unsuccessful bids are returned to you, to be used in Reward Auctions. You can use Reward Bids for discounts on items, or to win bids or American Express gift cards. (Bids previously returned to you as free bids are not eligible; so if you placed early bids, you weren’t successful, and those bids were returned, those bids cannot be used in Reward Auctions.)
Reward Auctions, like beginner auctions, are great to learn the basics, and to actually get something tangible out of bids that were unsuccessfully placed in a regular auction.
VIII. Keep Them Guessing.
There are many ways to play Smartbid. A number of different strategies work at different times. I suggest that you vary your strategy as much as you can, so you can stay a step ahead of your competition. If your traditional one-on-one penny auction format is checkers, Smartbid is grand master Chess.
It is a blast to play, and best of all, when you win, you get to deal with one of the best customer service teams out there.
I first came across the site, basically in the middle of the night. I read some reviews here, and thought I would give it a try. At the start, I had the approach all wrong. I had been used to the traditional penny auction format, and did not understand the specific phases of the auction. The result was comedic. I set my sights on an iPad, and quickly ended up with a lot of reward bids. (And I mean a lot of reward bids.)
The good news was I put them to use in the reward auctions, and quickly figured out some basic strategies. In very little time, I had the basics down. My biggest, early mistake was not appreciating the pacing of a Smartbid auction. A one-on-one battle is over fairly quickly. A Smartbid auction takes a lot longer, and frankly, you do not want to rush your game here. It makes more sense a lot of the time to let other people cast the bids that get the auction closer to closing, so long as you have a plan in place to be the lowest unique standing at the end of the day.
In very short time, I was winning auctions. I won a number of Coach auctions, as well as Apple auctions. My favorite, though, was an xBox auction. I had set the board up in such a manner that I though I had the auction won, and the only thing I needed was for people to come in and test it and try to displace my lowest unique bid. I was grocery shopping as I watched on my iPhone the final bids register, and I saw the execution of my strategy into a win.
One parting suggestion is to not use the same strategy every time. You do not want your opponents to figure out that you play the board the same way each time, otherwise they will devise effective counter-measures.
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