The Tech-pert: Are Penny Auction Sites Worth the Price?

The Tech-pert: Are Penny Auction Sites Worth the Price?

Could I interest you in a brand new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 digital camera for $4.26? How about an iPad 2 for $12.75? Or a $100 Bed Bath & Beyond gift card for $0.92?

Those aren’t made-up prices. They’re among the recently completed sales at Sixjax, a new penny-auction site where you can score some pretty big-ticket items for a fraction of the list price.

At least, that’s the promise. The reality is a bit different. If you’re going to pitch your pennies at a site like this (and there are many), be prepared for costs, confusion and–quite probably–disappointment. Sixjax works like BidRivals, QuiBids, and countless other penny-auction sites that have sprung up over the years: You pay up front for a virtual “bid package,” a fixed number of bids you can use to try to win an auction. (In Sixjax parlance, you’re buying tokens; each token is good for one bid.)

With that done, just find an item you want, then start bidding. Each bid raises the item’s price by a penny. When the countdown timer for that auction reaches zero, the last bidder wins. The challenge–the game, if you will–lies in making sure you’re the last bidder. And that’s trickier than it sounds.

For one things, bids aren’t cheap. QuiBids charges 60 cents per bid, though the going rate at most other sites is 50 cents. Sixjax is actually the bargain of the bunch, with bids going for just 40 cents apiece (in packages starting at $10).


So, let’s say you’re bidding on a Kindle. There’s no way to know how many other bidders you’ll be competing against or how high the final price will be. If it ends up at $2.75, that works out to 275 total bids (remember, each bid drives the price up a penny). Let’s say you have to use 50 tokens to win the auction. That means your total cost is $20, plus the $2.75 auction price, plus shipping (which might be $5-10).

Needless to say, a brand new Kindle for around $30 out the door is a killer deal. And, who knows, maybe you used only 20 tokens. On the other hand, you could easily burn through 20, 50, or 100 tokens and not win the auction. You might spend $50 just for the privilege of bidding and walk away with nothing.

There’s also a time consideration. Every time someone bids, the countdown timer adds another 30 seconds. If an auction gets as high as, say, $5, that translates to roughly 250 extra minutes, or about four hours–time you had to spend clicking “bid” to make sure someone else didn’t take the prize.

Sixjax, for its part, offers automated “bid bots” that can do the bidding for you, but I found them confusing and ultimately fruitless. In my experience, I’d come back to my PC to discover that I’d burned through all my tokens–and lost the auction to someone else.

Ultimately, your success with penny auctions depends on how much time and money you’re willing to invest. Just today a $99 Apple TV sold on Sixjax for $0.14–and the winning bidder used just one token (you can review the complete bid history after an auction closes). That means someone was able to buy that Apple TV for a mere 54 cents, plus $5 for shipping. And spent only a few minutes doing it. That’s pretty incredible.

My advice: Do a lot of homework before you sign up with any penny-auction site. There are dozens upon dozens of them, and some have poor reputations . Make sure you know how the bidding process works, how much any given item usually sells for, and how much you’re willing to spend. Ultimately, this is a form of gambling, so make sure you know yourself before you start.

If you’ve had any experience with penny-auction sites, good or bad, hit the comments and tell me about it!

Self-proclaimed cheapskate Rick Broida has been a technology writer for over 20 years. He has authored over a dozen books, including, most recently, “How to Do Everything: Palm Pre.” Currently he writes the Cheapskate blog.

Rick Broida has spent the last 25 years writing about technology in all its forms. A self-proclaimed cheapskate, he authors an eponymous blog for CNET. He is also a contributor to CNET's iPhone Atlas and Ehow Tech. Broida's book credits include the best-selling "How to Do Everything with Your Palm Handheld" and the more recent "The Cheapskate Rules: 21 Easy Money-Saving Tech Secrets."

There are 16 comments for this article
  1. SavingsIQ at 9:03 pm

    No experience with penny auctions, but wow, If you can get an Apple tv for $0.14, that’s incredible indeed!

  2. Kenny01 at 9:57 pm

    I’ve never used a penny site before, but I know enough about them to know that they’re filled with broken promises and unfulfilled hopes and dreams.

  3. GuyCopes at 11:30 pm

    I’m not a fan of extra costs, confusion, or disappointment. So l generally pass on sites like these. Thanks for the heads up Rick.

  4. Allegra.Ringo at 1:12 am

    This sounds kind of fun, but more difficult. I think I’d be scared of losing money on an ultimately fruitless auction. Thanks for the informative post, I didn’t know anything about penny auction sites before this.

  5. stella.louise at 2:59 pm

    I noticed that Sixjax also has a gaming site. It seems to me that the penny auction site would appeal to the gaming crowd–sort of like a carnival penny arcade where you can spend hours (and tons of money) trying to win a stupid stuffed bear…

  6. PennyAuctions at 12:21 am

    Penny auctions are growing in popularity, but in order to score great deals, new users need to be familiar with the penny auction business model, as well as successful penny auction strategies.

    As GuyCopes and Kenny01 indicated, penny auctions aren’t for everyone. I always encourage new bidders to start playing on sites that have beginner auctions or a bid-to-buy feature.

  7. hawknj at 3:13 pm

    I find this type of site plays on people’s lack of reading brfore taking the plundge. I looked at sites like these and after a lot of reading and watching items people were bidding on I found it a waste of time your chance to win a bid was very little. Not to mention what if the company had paid people to bid items up to cover the cost of the item. Many popular items you would see several hundred bids and if you multiply the number of bids times the bid cost you will see that the company has more then covered all cost in getting the product. They do not even need to have the product in stock they can just take all the bid money go buy the product and ship it keeping the extra bid money as profit. And that profit is great if you figure out the cost.

    Just to many ways to get ripped off here and help make someone else very rich.

  8. TylerWV at 3:24 pm

    I played on QuiBids for 2 mos. this winter and won some nice stainless steel small appliances. I paid .14 for the toaster, .98 for the coffeemaker, several JC Penny and Walmart gift cards and a lot of free bids. The gift cards totalled 140.00 and the appliances 70.00. Shipping was 6.00 on each item. I purchased 2 – 45.00 bid pkgs. so I came out ahead. I stopped playing when a slew of new bidders came aboard in January and started bidding ridiculous prices and using more paid bids then they were winnig in free bids. After observing for a month and seeing that trend remaining, I quit the site. I lost one JC Penny card and they did replace it so it definitely is on the up and up and its fun and time consuming.

  9. Bill06 at 6:24 pm

    Had a terrible 2-month experience with WAVEE.COM a few months back. I participated in several auctions, seemingly losing each because my final bids were not recognized by the site. After blowing through over $40, I finally decided to just burn my remaining credits on a cheap desk clock; which I won. I received congratulations and confirmation in an email stating the clock should be received in a couple of weeks. A couple of MONTHS later I queried WAVEE.COM to see where my clock was. A week or so later I received an email from WAVEE.COM stating that a number of auctions that had occurred during the time period I won the clock were subjected to machine errors, and had all been cancelled. They gave me a 6 credit rebate. I wrote them back and asked for rebates of credits spent during the auctions I lost during the same period. They never replied. WAVEE.COM IS A FRAUD! I just checked their website to see if they were even still in existence. The site lights up, but with a sign st

  10. GadgetGuru at 9:58 pm

    I was reading the replies from people to this article and I came across one that sounded too much like a sound-bite..and sure enough, its author was PennyAuctions.
    It’s funny how you can just read the reply and know instantly that this reply is not from an actual user, but instead a shill spouting propaganda even though what they were saying was no less accurate!

  11. GAgor1 at 11:02 pm

    Legal gambling. I did the quibids one and won some items and stopped since the iPADs and cameras I was looking to win took toooo much time, it’s not worth it. Try it if you have the time and money to blow but it’s just gambling!

  12. Tom-Kuljis at 5:34 am

    Great write up Rick…I’ve had some older less internet savvy friends/relatives stumble across these sites and have some negative experiences since they did not fully understand how it works. You’ve done a good job of summarizing what they are all about.

  13. yoohooboy at 5:40 pm

    I don’t understand what the confusion is with these penny auction sites. As Rick, and many other sites, explain, it seems simple. You pay per bid. At some point, each bid extends the auction for some time period until some final expiration date/time. Each time period gives others lots of sniping time. Bid bots make no sense because a whole mess of people are bound to jump in during the last few seconds, extending the time, making the bot useless. The only way to win is to outlast everyone.

    It reminds me of that old slapstick routine where you find a frog on the ground. As you reach to get it, you make it jump away from you. This keeps happening until you just fall down on it in frustration.

  14. dibrahim12 at 5:22 pm

    I’ve used Quibids and DealDash and have been successful on both sites. I have lost a few and won a few but came out on top overall. The trick with these sites is simple; a lot of time researching the site, the bidders and the items being auctioned before ever pacing a bid. And since most of these site allow the losers to buy the item retail (either getting your bids used returned or having the value of your bids deducted from the price), you should never bid on an item that you haven’t already considered buying retail and can afford to do so.

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