eBay Sellers: Have you considered ‘Shill Buying’?

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’?

ebay logo

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.” 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.”

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?

13 thoughts on “eBay Sellers: Have you considered ‘Shill Buying’?”

  1. I’m not convinced that – as the rules stand – it is forbidden, but I think it’s a fairly safe bet that it will be made forbidden in the next few days now 😉

  2. Pingback: eBay Elsewhere : Links for 16th November 2008 : TameBay : eBay news blog and forum

  3. Dan, if you think ebay are good at stopping shill buying have a look at justdeals-uk and byb3618… see if you can spot their other shill bidding accounts… not that good then?
    And these accounts have been reported by me and others over and over and over to ebay.

  4. Well, Andy:what does your example mean?

    a) That some people may slip through the net.
    b) That they are aren’t shill bidders.
    c) That clever people can evade detection (which is the crux of my blog post).

    A single example doesn’t really knowledge/shake my confidence that eBay are actually pretty hot on shill bidding.

    What people seem to forget is sheer scale of eBay, it’s like a country. Just because one person gets away with speeding it doesn’t mean millions of points and fines aren’t being issued every day.

  5. Pingback: The Whine Seller » Blog Archive » Week in Review (November 13th through November 17th)

  6. Well, eBay will love to read that, won’t they? Putting that in the shop window will surely mean no-one tries it on now. Job done.Is the writer on eBay staff – if not wait for an offer????

  7. Pingback: “Shill Buying” - Das Kaufen der eigenen Festpreisangebote | eBay blog

  8. I don’t see anything wrong with your concept of “shill buying” on BIN items to improve your chances of being seen on eBay, and I am absolutely sure that eBay would have no objection to taking the fees, as they have been quite prepared to do so with shill bidding; though, knowing eBay, if they became aware of the practice they would no doubt attempt to place a minimum value of such shill buying to make sure that it is worth their while to let you jump the search queue.

    Your idea would appear to be simply a necessary “strategy” not a crime. “Shill” activity is only a crime if the intention is to defraud; there is nothing unethical about “shill buying”: there is no intention to defraud. eBay’s “Shill bidding” rules don’t apply, indeed eBay’s rules specifically say that related parties may buy BIN listed items, although why anyone would otherwise wish to do so I could not imagine.

    And, don’t kid yourself about eBay being against “shill bidding”. eBay are only against that shill blatant bidding that they have not been game to obscure and that bidders can still detect, otherwise, sophisticated shillers have a free reign under the “hidden bidders” regime.

    Shill Bidding on eBay: A Case Study

    For anyone who buys on eBay, a detailed case study of another classic instance of blatant shill bidding and the abuse of eBay’s proxy bidding system—all exacerbated by eBay’s introduction of “hidden bidders”—and a detailed comment on eBay’s disingenuous attitude thereto, at http://www.auctionbytes.com/forum/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=24033

  9. Good news that the trading standards made it’s first conviction against Paul Barrett for shill bidding on ebay and to think it only took them 12 years so you never know they might just manage one fraud conviction this year and this makes you ask just what are we paying taxes when the trading standards is allowed to provide such a poor level of service.

    eBuster has been asked to find members of the public that live in the UK who would like to take part in a live debate with ebay about shill bidding and can be contacted on the ‘Contact us’ page on eBuster,co,uk

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