If you have been looking for a PS5 in recent months – convinced that the solution to the boredom of lockdown life lies in next-gen gaming – chances are you’ve made yourself a new hated enemy: retail bots.
For many, attempts to purchase the console followed the same sad pattern. A store, like Argos, Currys PC World or GAME, announces that it has new stock. Customers descend on the site – over 160,000 at a time, in the case of Currys – crush it. When the virtual dust settles, the consoles are gone. Almost instantly, hundreds start showing up on eBay for double the price. The guilty? Scalpers and their weapon of choice: retail robots. And the pandemic has created an ideal hunting ground.
There are three types of bots at work, says Thomas Platt, e-commerce manager at Netacea, a cybersecurity company. The first, and most notorious, is called an AIO robot, or all-in-one robot. These move at an inhuman pace, scanning hundreds of websites every second to check if the PS5 is in stock. The instant an object drops, the robot will buy it and check it out, faster than a human could ever type in its details. These bots, Platt explains, will have multiple accounts loaded with multiple credit cards, which will allow them to collect large amounts of PS5s.
The other two common types of bot are similar. We will check if an item becomes available, then send the bot owner a text or a notification; the other allows you to pay a fee to get a payment slot. “Or they take a break and keep that stock rotating until they sell it,” Platt says. “This is something that we saw a lot in the ticketing industry a while ago, and we see a lot in the airline industry, where you could keep the item, put it on retail. on another site, and as soon as you get an offer on it, you automatically buy it. “
Scalping robots are nothing new. Online ticket scalping has been banned in the UK in 2018, and “sneakerbots” stimulate a secondary retail market for rare sneakers worth $ 2 billion. It was typical to see bots targeting big business events like Black Friday. Before the pandemic, they were growing in popularity due to the retail industry’s growing reliance on hype and limited inventory. “We are seeing more and more difficult sales recently, with limited inventory,” said Benjamin Fabre, CTO of DataDome, a cybersecurity company.
But the pandemic blew up those bots, and it’s not just the result of more aggressive sales events and online shopping (you obviously can’t have a retail bot camp in front of your GAME store. local). Damaged supply chains have limited the stock of generally abundant items, creating a shortage, and scarcity is plagued by scalpers. “We used to see niche groups of people targeting niche groups,” Platt says. “And now what we’re realizing is that they can target things that aren’t that niche, and they can make a lot of money. And that’s the real change for us.”
From gym equipment to spas and Magic the Gathering Trading Cards, the network has grown for these groups, which have become huge communities. “It’s spreading across the board,” says Jason Kent of Cequence Security, a cybersecurity software company. “The guys who worked on buying the most desirable shoes realized they could impart their knowledge, skills, and concepts to anything.”
Data provided by Netacea showed that a botnet that used 300 compromised machines made 1 million attempts to purchase a PS5 in six hours, and that potential scalping “cook communities” can reach up to 20,000 people. . When Google searches for a PS5 spike, so do scalping bots.