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Reporter: Helen Wellings

Internet shopping's really taken off. A new survey by Core Data reveals 85% of us are now buying on-line and more than half make a purchase at least once a month. The past 3 years has spawned a number of on-line bidding markets where, depending on how many people bid and your skill in knowing how much to bid and when, you can nab incredible bargains, a fraction of the retail price. But, like any game of chance, there are the winners and the losers.

"You can save basically up to 99% off the retail price. Most plasma TVs have all sold for under $7" says Ayal. "Perfect, just in time for Christmas, you can buy some expensive items for almost peanuts."

It's bidding mania - these on-line auction sites offer hundreds of brand new products that sell for a fraction of the normal price. Bid as many times as you like and you could bag the bargain of a lifetime. It is a game of chance and it can cost you - but be canny, a bit of skill, lots of luck and you could bag yourself a bargain.

All our products are brand new, brand name products, we source our products to make sure they are all products that are well-known" says Ayal. "Just about anything for the household. Whether it's for the kitchen, whether it's for the bathroom, whether it's for entertainment. So for example, kitchenware, we've got meat mincers, food processors, slicers, dicers, pizza makers, it really doesn't matter. Incredibly low prices, for example, Netbook, sold for $4.43, amazingly low prices, a Compaq laptop, sold for about $6.20, incredibly low, gaming consoles, a Wii sold the other day for $1.92. Blackberry, very popular item, we had an auction only two days ago, $4.28" recounts Ayal.

Ayal Tusia and Roman Verkh set up BidMadness 3 years ago. Now they have 15,000 registered members. Like their competitor sites, you pay for your bids, usually 50 cents to $2.50 each or a package deal. So multiple bids, hundreds of bidders - that's how the owners rake in the money.

"I saw one which was for a $400 gift voucher for a store, the maximum number of bids was $300 and bids cost $2 so they're going to take in $600 to unload a $400 gift token. I mean, it's money for jam."

At BidHere, BidRivals and Planet Bid, the last, highest winning bid gets the product - at BidMadness it's the highest unique bid that takes the prize. "For example, a plasma TV might have a range between 1cent and $10. If someone has a bid of $3.55 and noone else has made that bid and there's no bid higher than that that is unique, they win that TV for $3.55. Plus any admin fees that they use along the way to make their bids" explains Ayal.

"I got this Panasonic camera, which retails for around $347 for $1.48 plus the bids, so I got it for $5, which is fantastic - saving $340 on a $347 camera" said Susie. As wedding presents for a friend, Susie Beville also bought a $300 Tom Tom Navigator - for $1.65, total outlay including bids $145, still saving $154. I have lost out on 3 to 4 items but because I've won 3 items, it's above and beyond weighed the cost paid for the other items" adds Susie.

"My chartered accounting background I can work out where people have got their bids and it does give you hints throughout the actual auction so if you take notes and sort of follow it through, you can actually try and work it out" says Mark.Mark Greenberg gives himself a strict limit and keeps close track of his expenditure. His stash .. a $2,200 Panasonic Plasma, price paid - $4.30, total price including bids, $426.75, save $1,772 on the retail price. Winning bid on a $500 Coles Myer Gift Card - $2.68, total price including bids $178.25, saves $321.75 on buying retail.

Remember don't get carried away. There's only one lucky winner, the rest are losers. If you're unsuccessful, you've lost all that money you've spent on bids. Maybe $200 or so if you've played for an expensive item like a TV... all for nothing. "Anyone that goes in to them needs to be very sure about the terms and conditions, you know, what are you bidding for. What are the payment systems, what are your chances of getting the goods" says Christopher Zinn.

Christopher Zinn of Choice, says as with any internet transactions, make sure your credit details you give are safe. "At least with a lottery you know it's a twenty million to one against you, this one you really don't know what the odds are but you can be sure they're pretty high. If you really think you're going to snare a bargain, well, you may, on lucky occasions but it's possibly more of an exception to a rule" says Christopher.

www.bidmadness.com.au

www.bidrivals.com.au

www.planetbid.com.au