OPINION: Scalping for limited edition items hurts

The Playstation 5, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S were released on Nov. 12 and Nov. 10, respectively. I attempted to buy a PS5 on day one and failed, but not for lack of effort. I tried to order it through a major retailer as it released more stock throughout the day, but every time they released more stock, the retailer’s website would crash. As soon as the website was back up, the console would be out of stock. The same thing kept happening each time, and I was unable to buy the console. I went to Twitter to see if the retailer had addressed the issue, but I only saw people complaining about botters and scalpers. That is when I realized I was a victim of automated bot scalpers. 

The PlayStation 5 is seen in this promotional photo.
Sony Interactive Entertainment/TNS The PlayStation 5 is seen in this promotional photo.

When I visited various e-commerce sites, I saw the new consoles on sale for more than $100 above their normal price. This is the result of scalpers buying these consoles en masse. This is not necessarily the fault of the scalpers. I do not blame them for trying to turn a profit. They are following the laws of supply and demand and taking advantage of broken online sites. I blame the retail companies that do not have adequate systems in place to make sure things like this do not happen. 

Oftentimes, the way these scalpers are able to buy so many of these consoles is through retail bots. According to smartproxy.com, these bots, built of many lines of code, can find an item, put it in the cart and complete the transaction as soon as the product is released. While I admit this is a smart system, it is extremely unfair to those who do not have access to these programs and do not have the time to set up bots of their own. 

In addition to gaming, another large market affected by scalpers and botters is the luxury sneaker market. Since many designer shoes are released in limited quantities, these shoes are extremely valuable. Scalpers use these bots to buy as many pairs of the shoes as they can to reduce the stock as low as they can to raise the value. Then they do the same as has been done with the new consoles: they mark up the prices on the e-commerce sites and prospective buyers have no choice but to buy the products at the marked up prices.

The worst part is that all of this is very hard to combat, especially as the bots become more advanced. Many stores use CAPTCHA software, which according to pandasecurity.com, stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. But as these bots evolve, they are beginning to be able to get past these CAPTCHAs and still buy the products en masse. When retail companies do not have software to prevent botters, scalpers have free rein to buy all the consoles almost immediately. The only company that seems to have found a way to defeat the bots, at least for now, has been Nike. 

Nike developed its own app for its limited edition and luxury sneakers, which the company titled SNKRS. (I know, a really creative name choice by Nike.) But the app gets people closer to a fair chance of getting the limited edition shoes they want. The app works by setting up the shoes in a drawing that people using the app have a limited time to enter, according to nike.com.  After a specific amount of time, a countdown begins to the release; and when the shoes drop, access to buy them is randomized. There is no advantage to using bots for this because of the random access.  

This is an excellent way to deter scalpers who seek to stockpile shoes. But for a system like this to work, the shoes have to come from only one retailer, in this case the limited editions that come from Nike’s app. This system would not work for goods such as the PS5 that are released through several different retailers, thus an alternative solution may need to be sought. 

When retail companies worth huge amounts of money allow their sites to be manipulated, these companies’ images suffer. While retail companies may be able to do very little to stop the most advanced bots, when these companies put nothing in place to stop basic bots, the companies are demonstrating a lack of empathy and consideration for their customers, making them less likely to want to shop there. But at the same time, I am not going to buy from a scalper, as tempting as that might be. I am going to wait for the consoles to be restocked and buy them from whichever company manages to avoid the scalpers, and I implore others to do the same. The only way to convince scalpers to stop scalping is to stop buying from them.

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