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Sneaker Bots Part One: What Are Sneaker Bots?

By Netacea / 14th Jun 2019

In the first of our four-part sneaker bot series, we’re untying the luxuriously priced laces wrapped around the sneaker bot phenomenon to find out what makes this industry, and the bots that facilitate it, tick.

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, 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 favourite 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?

Enter sneaker bots

A sneaker bot is a highly sophisticated piece 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.

And we haven’t even touched on the considerable stress and strain they put on a website’s infrastructure. The sheer volume of 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 capable of mimicking human behaviour and solving CAPTCHA.

The bots continually monitor eCommerce sites for stock and when it becomes available, add the stock to their cart and head to the checkout.

Bot operators run these bots on specialist “Sneaker” servers and devices, using proxies to mask their identities.

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 market is worth an impressive $2 billion, a figure that is projected to triple by 2025.

The rise of sneaker bots

Sneaker bots 2

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 colourways 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 their bad bot friends.

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.

Are sneaker bots legal?

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

However, as retailers become increasingly aware of 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.

It’s likely that the ticketing industry will be the first to introduce tighter controls around bot use, with anti-ticketing laws already in progress in the US and the UK.

Coming up in Sneaker Bots part two

So far we’ve had a think about what these bots are, how they work and their rise to power. But what security measures does your business need in place to protect the real customers and your revenue?

In Sneaker Bots part two, we’ll be lifting the lid on your Yeezy shoebox to discover how you can detect and prevent the sneaker bot threat.

If you’d like to know more about these bots and bot management itself, contact our team of data scientists today.

Access the series:

Sneaker Bots Part Two: Know Your Enemy

Sneaker Bots Part Three: Stopping Sneaker Bots

Sneaker Bots Part Four: A Case Study