PenniesWith all day at home with an 18-month-old daughter, Cara Clark has enough free time to spend a few hours a day on-line bidding on discounted gift cards at the auction Web site, DFWbid.com. Her computer work has paid off in the six months since the site went live, netting her $3,000 worth of gift cards for $400.

Owner Sanj Raj's DFWbid.com site allows the public to bid as little as a penny for a $50 gift card to Walmart, Target or a prepaid Visa card. But getting to the promised land of winning an auction can take luck and hours of bidding in one-cent increments.

A $3 entry fee gives you the right to enter an auction for items such as a $50 gift card. The auction lasts for a set period of 1 minute and 15 seconds. Every time a new bid is received, however, the price increases by a penny and the auction counter is reset back to 1 minute and 15 seconds to give other users a chance to counter-bid. The auction ends when no new bids are received within that 1 minute and 15 seconds. A $4.99 shipping charge and the $3 to join an auction means winners pay $8 in addition to their winning bid.

Within each auction, however, is a random "penny buy" that pops up and lets bidders pay only 1 penny for the item if they can answer two simple questions before anyone else does. Whether or not the "penny buy" pops up depends on the popularity of the auction item, and it can take from a minute to five hours or even a day before it comes up in an auction.

The trick to making money on DFWbid.com, according to Clark, is to know when to jump in an auction and get in on the "penny buy." Her strategy is to wait for a gift card price to go higher, maybe near $20, and then wait for the "penny buy" to be activated. "Rarely have I seen it where it's $40 on a $50 card. It rarely gets into that range," she said.

Clark's life is getting busier so she doesn't spend more than an hour a day bidding, but someone in front of a computer all day could make it worth their while if they could constantly increase bids by a penny for various auctions. "I don't have the time, necessarily, to milk it, with my schedule," Clark said.

Unlike eBay, where auctions end at a set time, DFWbid's resets after every new one-cent bid, which can lead to hours in front of a computer. A bidder can't set an amount, say $20 maximum, and have the site automatically bid in one-penny increments up to that amount.

Raj told me in a telephone interview from his office in Dallas-Fort Worth, (the source of his site's name), that he wanted to make the bidding as fair as possible to everyone and give all bidders a chance to win. He wanted it to replicate a real-life auction.

I don't think it does that, given that a DFWbid auction can easily take an hour with bids going up by a penny every minute or so to about $20 or so for a $50 card. With costs, bidding more than $20 for a $50 card seems worthless, or at least a waste of time.

"The reason we put it for a penny, we wanted to keep the price down," Raj said.

Raj, who goes to Walmart and other stores himself to buy the gift cards at full price, said his revenue comes from 15 to 30 people paying the $3 auction fee. So far he isn't make money on the site, and still has his day job as a software developer.

The more popular auctions, for groceries, entertainment and dining out last about a day, and the less popular ones such as beauty products last two to three hours. "People see value to getting a $50 WalMart card for $20," he said, adding that people at home all day are more likely to bid than people working full time.

Getting a $50 gift card for one penny for 10 minutes worth of work is a great deal. But two hours? Your time is worth something, especially for a stay-at-home parent.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at www.AaronCrowe.net.

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