If you’ve tried to get your hands on a Playstation 5 at any point since its launch, you’re probably sick of hearing the word “scalpers”.
Whether it’s from other gamers lamenting getting nowhere in the queue or the perpetrators themselves bragging about hauls on social media, the reality is scalpers and scalper bots have managed to swipe up a ridiculous number of PS5s since the console’s release last November.
So, why is this? Surely, four months is more than enough time for retailers to catch on to the scalpers’ methods.
We reached out to Head of eCommerce at Netacea, Thomas Platt, along with several leading retailers to discover what measures are currently in place – and how scalpers are still getting around them.
What are retailers doing to curb bot sales?
According to Platt, there are three key points during which retailers will try to combat bots – pre-launch, during launch and post-launch.
Ahead of a restock, retailers might avoid announcing the exact launch date or time, instead opting to send a targeted email to customers a few hours before the drop.
“Publicising the exact launch time and date is a quick and easy win for scalper bots – they’ll be programmed to hit the website one minute before the launch and snap up the goods in seconds”.
During the launch, some retailers have introduced Captcha challenges and online queues. Processes like these allow the retailer to spot bots from real customers and stop them in their tracks.
In terms of post-launch, many retailers have been selling consoles as “pre-orders” rather than regular sales. This gives those sellers the opportunity to scrutinise orders after they’ve been placed, and block those linked to the same address or payment card.
Game and Argos both employ these post-launch tactics to ensure the less savvy bots are caught out before their payments are processed.
Here’s what Game said
“PlayStation 5’s continue to be in very high demand and that demand far outweighs current supply”, a spokesperson for Game UK told Trusted Reviews.
“We have strong measures in place to help ensure that our ‘1 per customer’ statement is maintained to allow for as many individual customers to successfully purchase as possible. All pre-orders are subject to automatic checks and order updates such as cancellations following these checks take place after a customer will have received a valid order confirmation email. At the present time these orders are still pre-orders and as such no payments have yet been taken from customers. Payments will commence once our order checks have been completed”.
Here’s what Argos said
“We have stringent processes in place to make sure our customers get the best possible experience when shopping with us”, said a spokesperson for Argos. “As part of this, PlayStation 5’s are limited to one per customer and any duplicate orders are cancelled.”
While this all sounds well and good, frustrated shoppers might question whether there is nothing more retailers can do to stop bots right now.
What else is being done?
“Retailers are getting more creative in preventing scalper bots”, reassured Platt. “Some could follow a similar approach to Currys, which sold the PS5 at a much higher price than the actual value, and then refunded the difference back to genuine customers”.
However, as retailers introduce more measures to prevent bots from swiping up consoles, the scalpers behind those bots continue to develop ways to get around them.
“Scalper bots and scalpers have become more sophisticated over the past year”, explained Platt. “Most recently we’ve identified and stopped bots that are using compromised and hacked computer networks to make attempts to buy consoles in huge numbers. Some have even developed the functionality to bypass captcha. We have also seen the attackers themselves starting to use disposable cards and fake addresses which are then changed directly with the courier”.
Are retailers’ partially to blame for the PS5 shortage?
While it might be tempting to place part of the blame on the stores failing to recognise bots from regular shoppers, it’s important to understand what these sellers are up against.
“They were caught off guard due to the number of factors going on: there’s the pandemic which meant the PS5 launch was bigger than anyone could have predicted, all the shops are shut, and the drop happened in the Christmas period, which is the busiest time of year”, said Platt. “Then you throw the rapid rate of bot evolution into the mix. The bots that targeted the original launch of the PS5 back in November will have advanced and developed new ways to conceal their identity, some posing as real customers, giving bot actors the opportunity to still escape with the goods.
“Many might have also underestimated the pressure websites come under when these bots are operating. Thousands of scalper bots are available to buy, but it only takes a handful of them to make a big impact on a retailer. In some instances, just one or two bots can equate to the same amount of pressure on that website as 10,000 people”.
So, what is the best way to secure a PS5?
While those numbers are daunting to say the least, all hope is not lost for gamers hoping to secure a PS5 in 2021.
“Don’t give up!”, advised Platt. “Look out for raffles, sign up to newsletters, and register your interest on sites that may have stock. Stock is also predicted to increase towards the back end of 2021”.
If you’re hoping to get your hands on a PS5 in the near future, make sure to keep an eye on our PS5 stock guide. Here we keep an up to date list of all the biggest retailers, along with which stores have stock right now and which we expect to restock soon. If you’re lucky enough to get one also make sure to check out our best PS5 games guide, to find out which titles you should get first.