What are Black Friday scalpers?
Scalpers are people who buy in-demand products and then immediately resell them at a higher price. Let’s say you want to see your favorite band, but you notice that tickets are quickly sold out on mainstream ticket vendors, only to reappear elsewhere on the internet for much higher prices. This is the result of scalping.
The same thing happens around Black Friday (this year, it’s on November 25). Every year, thousands of stores slash prices and offer temporary discounts on popular products. While these sales happen in brick-and-mortar stores too, the biggest Black Friday deals are usually found online. These affordable prices don’t last long, so it is the perfect opportunity for scalpers to buy low and sell high.
Scalpers can manually buy the merchandise, but then they would have to jostle in line with genuine consumers. If the products are in high demand, they won’t be able to grab that many before stocks run out. This is especially true of high-demand commodities like popular clothing items and newly-released tech.
Manual scalping is never very effective and doesn’t scale well. That’s why many scalpers have now turned to a more efficient option: scalper bots.
What are scalper bots?
Scalper bots are automated programs that purchase items on behalf of the scalper. They can engage with ecommerce platforms faster than most human consumers and, depending on the sophistication of the individual bot, can operate without much oversight from the scalper.
Websites put some safeguards in place to try and block scalper bots from their platforms. You’ve probably had to solve small visual puzzles, known as CAPTCHAs, when trying to access an online store or set up an account. These are intended to confound non-human users, but they’re not always successful.
Bots have become more sophisticated in the last decade, and if the scalpers are willing to pay extra, they can usually buy the services of programs intelligent enough to bypass CAPTCHAs. While more advanced scalper bots might be costly, the profits that can be gained through their use far exceed any initial expense.
Why are scalper bots a problem?
Scalper bots make the consumer experience worse and force people to pay higher prices than they would if they bought from the original retailer. On Black Friday, customers are already competing with each other to grab the latest deals. Going up against an army of robots makes it even less likely that you’ll be able to get what you’re looking for.
When it comes to gig and event tickets, scalper bots are especially problematic because the tickets they snatch up don’t always sell. If scalpers fail to flip all of their merchandise, the result can be rows of empty seats at sold-out events.
The problem for consumers is that mainstream retailers just aren’t incentivized to really deal with this problem. For an online store, it doesn’t really matter whether a new TV is bought by a human or a scalper bot; the original seller gets paid either way.
Types of scalper bots
Different scalper bots perform different functions, with some focusing on stock monitoring, others on purchasing, and more expensive options covering the entire scalping process.
Monitor bots track the online store listings and inventories, looking out for new items going on sale. The scalper behind the bot can program it to watch specific stores and products. If an item becomes available, the monitor bot can alert the scalper or communicate with another bot, which then begins the purchasing process.
Spinner bots focus on getting items into an online shopping cart. They might be able to complete a purchase, but in seconds (or less) they can add a preset number of products to a cart, where they will be held for a short period of time before being released back into circulation for other customers. As soon as the spinner bot has done its work, it can notify the scalper, who then completes the payment process and circumvents any final anti-bot measures at the checkout.
All-in-one bots, also known as AIO bots, combine all the scalper bot functions into a single program. From tracking stock to completing complex payment processes, the bot takes every step on its own at lightning speed. A common example of AIO services are sneaker bots, which are designed to track the sale of expensive footwear brands and snap up new releases.
Are scalper bots legal?
Scalper bots are legal in most countries, though certain rules and restrictions do apply. In the US, for example, the 2016 Better Online Ticket Sales Act made it illegal for an individual or organization to sell tickets purchased with bots. Notably, the use of bots was not outlawed, just the resale of bot-purchased tickets.
Momentum is also growing in the US behind legislation to criminalize the use of bots to scalp high-value products like gaming consoles. The PlayStation 5, released in 2020, was heavily targeted by scalpers, raising public and government awareness of the problem.
However, narrowly focused laws banning the resale of certain products under specific circumstances is a very long way from an all-out ban on scalper bots. For scalpers, most items on sale this Black Friday are up for grabs.
What can be done to stop scalper bots?
As a consumer, you don’t have many options for getting ahead of bots. These programs are faster than you, they don’t need to sleep, and most online stores rely on ineffective anti-bot measures that fail to keep out more sophisticated AIO services.
In the long run, real change can only come from legislators. If you want to take action yourself, contact local government representatives and raise your concerns about scalper bots and their negative impact on consumers. You can also avoid buying from resale websites, although it’s not always easy to tell which ones are relying on scalping practices.
To prepare for a safe Black Friday shopping experience, you should decide in advance what items you want to buy, cutting down the amount of time you spend browsing when the day comes. It’s also worth visiting stores in-person whenever possible, since scalpers are predominantly active online.
You should also be on your guard against online scams and cyber extortion, as these threats always spike around Black Friday. These problems will continue after November 25, too; as Christmas approaches, so-called grinch bots will be busy scalping popular Christmas gifts. Online shopping scams and phishing emails are likely to increase too. Stay safe and stay informed of online risks.
Want to read more like this?
Get the latest news and tips from NordVPN.