While companies like Apple and Samsung launch several new smartphones every year, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo only release a new console once or twice a decade. Accordingly, the console fans were excited to finally be able to hold a Playstation 5 in their hands on November 19th.
But most gamblers – both in Germany and in the rest of the world – had no luck in the online shops. The pre-orders were partly sold out after a few seconds.
On the one hand, this imbalance between supply and demand was due to the production downtimes caused by the coronavirus. On the other hand at the so-called scalpers, i.e. black market dealers who use various tricks to buy up complete ranges as quickly as possible in order to later sell the products to fans at a higher price.
This has not only been a problem since the Playstation 5. The problem has existed in the limited-edition sneaker market for many years. Ticket sales for sporting events or concerts are also repeatedly affected by unfair trading practices. With the Playstation 5, due to the global corona pandemic, Sony decided to only sell the console online and prohibit buyers from stationary retail. Going to Media Markt, Saturn or Gamestop on the day of publication is therefore not worthwhile. And that makes it easier for scalpers to grab even larger parts of the range.
One trick in particular gives black market traders the decisive advantage here: bots.
These are the scalpers’ bots
While fans painstakingly write and click their way through the purchase process, fill out payment details and adjust delivery addresses, bots – special computer programs – can do all of this within milliseconds.
In so-called cook groups, the traders exchange ideas, recommend bots to each other and discuss the most suitable online shops for their purchases, as reported by the “PC Mag” portal. Accordingly, membership in such a group of prospective scalpers costs an average of around 50 US dollars. A bot, such as that of the company AIO Bot, then costs another US $ 325 and takes over the purchase of the goods for the scalper – fully automated and legal.
The retailer only has to select the desired product and the amount and the bot buys the desired amount for him with so-called scripts. Once provided with the necessary information, these scripts automatically fill out the forms in the online shops.
Thanks to bots, black market dealers can keep an eye on the stocks of online shops. Since Media Markt, Saturn, Amazon and Co. kept adding smaller stocks to the online assortments in the days and weeks after the pre-sale premiere, the bots also scored quickly here – until fans from the social networks of the new ones When we learned of stocks, they were often already out of stock.
This is how online shops defend themselves against scalper bots
One defense technique of the online shops against these unfair practices is the limitation of the purchased consoles to one copy per buyer. But even here some bots can trick – and with many different profiles at the same time bypass the control mechanisms of the online shops and create virtual credit cards that enable them to make bulk purchases with just one real credit card.
Another defense technique are the so-called captcha codes, which are already used in many online shops and other sites on the Internet to distinguish people from bot. In them you have to enter hard-to-read numbers and letters in a text field or select images from a series of photos that show a boat or a car, for example.
If the online shops were to incorporate such captcha security mechanisms in all steps of the ordering process, the work of the bots would be considerably more difficult. So far, however, very few online shops have more than one of these barriers. And this is how some of the scalpers continue to present their consoles online:
The vast majority of the gaming community sharply condemn black market dealers. But their business model is so economically viable that the end of the practice is not in sight. Ebay users sometimes pay up to 1,000 euros for the consoles, which cost almost half as much in regular retail: a return of 100 percent.