With the holiday gifting season just around the corner, the effect these bots have on the market is crystal clear. One of the hottest children's toys of the season, Fingerlings (a strangely cute monkey that you can wrap around your finger) is sold out at all major retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Toys R Us and Walmart. And every time they restock, resellers snatch them up within seconds. Fingerlings, which come in a variety of colors, retail for around $15, but the cheapest you can currently find them for on sites like eBay is about $40 -- more than double their original price.
You'll find a similar situation with Nintendo's SNES Classic Edition. Although it's been months since it launched, the mini retro console is also out of stock everywhere online. And, as with the Fingerlings, every time it restocks on GameStop or another retailer, it's gone almost instantly. The SNES Classic Edition has an MSRP of $80, but on the reseller market it goes for anywhere between $115 and $200. This is part of the reason why Amazon, Best Buy and others have resorted to selling it at brick-and-mortar stores instead, where restocks happen randomly and are more easily limited to one per customer.
Stores won't share data to reveal how many of these go to bots, but a quick look at people's tweets of disappointment suggests that resellers grabbed whatever stock was loaded. What happens is that a retailer will tweet that the SNES Classic is available again in limited quantities, but by the time most people add the product to the cart and go to check out, it's no longer available. Resellers can successfully beat this system by creating a software script that constantly scans product pages and sees when they come back in stock even before the store can tell the general public.
While bots are at the core of a reseller's system, there's also a network of Twitter accounts and stock-monitoring sites that help them get to any product first. Steal Supply, for example, has only about 7,000 followers on Twitter, but the account is one of the most effective when it comes to tweeting about restocks of popular products, such as the SNES Classic. There are many accounts and services similar to Steal Supply, created to help not just resellers but regular shoppers buy sought-after stuff. Nowinstock.net, for example, lets you make an account and get product stock alerts sent directly to your email or phone.
Sometimes all you need is to follow a Twitter account or a website and have push notifications turned on. Catching them off guard, and being on high alert, might be the best way to potentially beat the bots. It may not be the ideal shopping experience, but remember all the things Arnold Schwarzenegger's character went through in Jingle All the Way to get a Turbo Man toy for his kid? Things could be much worse.
Nike has taken an interesting approach to fighting software scripts designed for shopping. The sportswear giant recently started using augmented reality to sell limited-edition, highly coveted sneakers. Through its SNKRS app, users can go to a specific place, look for a physical sticker and use their phone to bring up a 3D model of the shoe. If you find it, you can buy right there and then. This means an actual human is necessary for the entire purchase process, but not everyone is going to have a compatible device. It's also not exactly different from brick-and-mortar sales, since you have to physically go to a place to buy the shoe.