How Do Sneaker Bots Work?

Alex McConnell
Alex McConnell
4 Minute read
How Do Sneaker Bots Work?

Article Contents

    In modern retail, limited edition merchandise represents an opportunity to build brand awareness while keeping loyal customers happy and on the hook.

    Think Adidas and Kanye West, or H&M and Kenzo. Even US retailer Target and Google are forming a partnership. The aim is to create hype, drive customers to stores and websites and generate lots of lovely sales.

    However, as most of us will have experienced, getting in the queue (either literally or virtually) at your favorite store on the day of an eagerly awaited release doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll lay your paws on the goods. They’re snapped up in the blink of an eye. But how?

    What are sneaker bots?

    Sneaker bots, also known as shoe bots or scalper bots, are a highly sophisticated type of software designed to aid in the purchase of limited availability stock.

    As the name implies, sneaker bots often target sneakers, but the concept remains the same for any product with a limited quantity. They are rampant, often buying most of this precious stock in seconds, leaving real customers frustrated and the retailer’s reputation in tatters. Sneakers are a perfect vehicle for reselling because of the prestige and scarcity that comes with wearing them, which is why they’ve become targets for bots. Sneaker bots are now one of the most prevalent forms of bot in eCommerce today.

    And we haven’t even touched on the considerable stress and strain that shoe bots put on a website’s infrastructure. The sheer volume of sneaker bots can bring a site to its knees, to the detriment of day-to-day customers and revenue.

    How do sneaker bots work?

    Sneaker bots are designed to buy items in bulk, which has a number of deleterious effects. When you come across an item that is limited edition or hard to find, the website will often set limits for how many people can purchase it at once. As soon as those limits are reached, any other visitors attempting to purchase the product will be met with error messages and time-outs while their browsers try unsuccessfully to load pages from the site. Sneaker bots break these rules by refreshing web pages until they see an available quantity on hand and pressing “buy” repeatedly before human customers have had a chance even one page loads. This behavior not only hogs inventory but also causes severe lag times when trying to use certain websites.

    So why put such vast quantities of effort into acquiring special sneakers (or trainers depending on which side of the pond you land)? It all comes down to cold, hard cash, with Cowden & Co estimating in a recent report, that the sneaker resale (shoe botting) market is worth an impressive $2 billion, a figure that is projected to triple by 2025.

    The rise of shoe bots

    Over the last two decades, the likes of Nike, Adidas and New Balance have developed cult followings of Sneaker Heads, who avidly follow the launches of retros, new colorways and collaboration sneakers.

    The brands have created a stream of endless demand, with their own-brand designs serving the more dedicated customers and collaborations with celebrities driving a mainstream demand. This culture has been amplified by the emergence of new, limited-edition clothing and footwear brands such as Off White and Supreme.

    It is in this high demand environment, that the entrepreneurial sneaker reseller can make astronomical profits with a little help from sneaker bots.

    Take, for example, the launch of Supreme’s Box Logo sweatshirt on 8th December. Supreme’s founder Samuel Spitzer, tweeted that the website had received 986,335,133 page views and 1,935,195,305 purchase requests. That’s nearly 2 billion attempts to purchase that, due to the low number of page views, can be directly attributed to bot activity.

    As a relatively recent phenomenon, there are currently no laws against using sneaker bots.

    There is currently no law against using automation software to buy products online. However, as retailers become increasingly aware of shoe botting and the bad bot tactics used to swipe their merchandise out from under the noses of real customers, many have introduced terms prohibiting the use of automated bots into their website’s T&Cs.

    The ticketing industry was the first to introduce tighter controls around bot use, with anti-ticketing laws already in place in the US and the UK.

    How much do sneaker bots cost?

    The current cost of sneaker bots is low for the average customer, which has led to an increased number of customers using them to try and purchase limited-edition products. The lower price point makes it easier to enter the market with sneaker bots, resulting in more scalpers posing a danger to your company.

    The business costs of bad bots are not just the loss of sales, but also the damage they can cause to your website’s performance and user experience. This is increasingly important as retailers increasingly compete on delivering a fast and reliable UX.

    It’s clear that while sneaker bots provide an easy way to purchase limited-edition products and resell them, the damage to your business and the impact on customers is too high a cost to pay.

    How to protect your business from sneaker bots

    Many retailers have attempted to block the use of sneaker bots, with varying degrees of success. One method for combating this phenomenon is by implementing a CAPTCHA system, which makes it much harder programmatically to purchase sneakers and other restricted items from online stores.

    Another way retailers are fighting back against this wave is by utilizing browser cookies – pieces of data stored on your computer so websites know who you are when you come back or login again.

    The only downside to these methods is that they prevent real customers from purchasing limited edition products as well.

    How Netacea Bot Protection Helps Stop Sneaker Bot Attacks

    Netacea bot protection uses industry leading defensive AI to detect the most sophisitcated sneaker bot attacks across websites, apps and APIs. With the ability to identify malicous intent in real-time Netacea is well placed to help sneaker retailers combat the threat of scalper bots and prevent sneaker bot attacks.

    Discover more about Netacea’s Bot Protection Software, take action by booking a demo or call our experts to learn more.

    Find out how Netacea helped an Italian shoe retailer keep sneaker bots away with our machine learning-powered bot detection platform.

    Block Bots Effortlessly with Netacea

    Book a demo and see how Netacea autonomously prevents sophisticated automated attacks.

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