Getting top billing in search on eBay has never been more complicated. In the system they call ‘Best Match’ there is a lot that remains unknown. What do we know for sure? We know that Feedback DSRs are important. We also know that having made a sale on a 30 day multiple BIN listing boosts your probability of making the front page of search results. It is something of a vicious circle: don’t make a sale and you have a lower chance of being found, if you don’t make search you can’t make sales.
And so here we are in November. The next six weeks are the best of the year to make sales. And with a recession looming and a rocky year in the rear-view mirror, it strikes me that many eBay sellers are banking on a stellar Christmas. Any eBay seller would be crazy to dismiss any tactic that could help them, right? So my question is: have you considered ‘shill buying’?
What is ‘Shill Buying’?
We’re all familiar with the concept of shill bidding (bidding on your own items to inflate a buyer’s winning bid) and contrary to popular belief it’s reasonably easy to rumble and eBay do a good job of detecting it. It’s not too tricky: most shill bidders do it so badly it’s easy to spot. ‘Shill buying’ (the practice by which you purchase one of your own items to boost your prominence in search results) is rather different and, if executed with guile, style and cunning, should be undetectable.
Here’s how it would best be done:
1) Ask someone totally unrelated and unlinkable to your eBay selling ID (preferably in a town far, far away and with a different surname) to buy a 30 day multiple BIN item you want to appear higher in search. (Best to choose a new listing that will benefit the most for the ‘shilling’.)
2) Once your shill has bought the item, they should pay via PayPal. Without undue haste, you should leave each other Feedback. (Sort out the money between yourselves: DO NOT refund via PayPal.)
3) Measure the results using an identical ‘control’ item.
4) If successful, repeat sparingly with other lines and with other ‘shill buyers’
Here’s how to get caught:
Do you want to be the seller who is suspended because they made the ‘shill buying’ mistake tantamount to saying ‘Thank you’ to the Nazi who wished them ‘Good Luck’ as they boarded a bus the morning after tunnelling out of a POW camp? Here’s how you’d most likely get caught:
– Using a buying account that is in ANY WAY connected to your selling account. And that includes the IP addresses of any computer you have ever used with that account. eBay is cleverer than you think when it comes to detecting shill bidding. I assume those systems are employed to detect ‘shill buying’ too. If you think, ‘Oh, I’ve got an old buying account I can use, that’ll do.â€ You’ll get caught.
– Doing it again. And again. Even more than once with the same buying ID is very risky.
– Claiming back your fees from eBay on a ‘shill buy’ might look a bit dodgy. Especially if there is no dispute and the PayPal payment is processed normally. Consider the eBay fees a legitimate cost of ‘shill buying’. It’s much likely cheaper than Featured First, after all.
– Leaving Feedback too quickly (like within minutes of the payment) could rumble you.
– Doing it across all your lines will look suss.
– Not completing the sale might ring alarm bells. It has to look like a normal, run-of the-mill transaction.
What are the rules and what is the punishment?
According to the Shill Bidding rules page (under ‘Additional Info’): ‘Friends and people you know who are truly interested in buying items you have listed may do so, provided they use fixed price buying options like Buy It Now. Bidding on your item for any other reason is forbidden.â€
eBay hasn’t specifically published rules on ‘shill buying’ but it’s safe to assume that the shill bidding rules apply: it’s forbidden and account suspension is more than likely.
Is it ethical?
That’s up to you but unlike shill bidding, no one gets hurt. No one is paying more as a result of the bids. And eBay and PayPal get paid.
Couldn’t I just set up a new account and do it myself?
Yes, but establishing a plausible buying account with a history of previous purchases could take some time. It’s not long to Christmas. Do you have time?
Are you recommending that eBay sellers ‘shill buy’?
Certainly not. That would be enormously irresponsible. Wouldn’t it?