The increased use of Add to Cart bots on online shopping sites is reportedly gaining the attention of major retailers worldwide. When online releases are announced, thousands will line up in an attempt to purchase merchandise of a limited quantity. Most of the time, if not always, they will come up short after websites crash or either product sells out.
Marketing strategy and celebrity endorsements typically surround the most sought-after releases, therefore; drops such as Kanye West’s’ “Yeezy” have the highest social media presence and response rate. Sneaker politics may even make the argument that these hyped releases are potentially inside jobs. Nevertheless, bot technology is responsible for dominating the urban market and shifting the culture of sneakers and fashion.
What are Add to Cart bots and where do they come from? It’s a collection of algorithms, a sequence of automated computational steps that transforms input into output. In this case, the preferred site of purchase, time of purchase and desired payment method are all examples of inputs, providing variety for the user. The output is successfully checked out merchandise at retail price, which in turn gets flipped for profit. A 2017 Complex report claims server-based bots can simulate the actions of hundreds of customers in a matter of seconds. It’s no surprise as to how the man behind RSVP Sniper netted $250,000 from just one Supreme box-logo tee drop.
Bot technology is constantly evolving. Most of the action taking place from the safety of one’s home makes it even easier for developers to capitalize. With rationalization as the goal and platforms like Instagram allowing for instant promotion, tech-savvy sneakerheads are now becoming young entrepreneurs of the world. Computer science Professor Thomas Cormen writes, knowledge of how the computer works, and what algorithms are operating behind each application can improve the efficiency of computer use. Applications now are user-friendly, meaning we can use them without understanding how they work, just as we can drive a car without knowing how the engine works.
Today, retailers such as Nike and Adidas market their products with defense as the priority, utilizing anti-bot systems. Bot prevention tactics such as online raffles, cell phone app and old school in person releases are traditional yet still flawed. Furthermore, retailers argue that the practice of botting is unethical as typical marketing strategies are no longer determining the value of limited supply merchandise.
Instead, bots are acting as both merchandising and marketing tools, which essentially manipulate and shape its own market. On the other hand, bot advocates will argue that since bot technology, the lives of many are being preserved as in the late 2000s when innocent people were at risk due to the overwhelming number of robberies that would take place during first come first serve releases.
Let’s say we do give the developers freedom. Will they be aware of the broader risks? The call for regulation is at an all-time high. Repercussions that could ascend from greater anonymity and price inflation could potentially affect E-commerce and internet rights as a whole. Going against the values the internets were based upon (free speech and free internet) could potentially arise from bots, as we have the power to determine what lawful decisions will be made for the internet.
Today, the U.S. Congress lacks the knowledge and awareness to ideally regulate, leaving accountability in the hands of the developers themselves. Whether or not this practice gets abused or used for individual commerce will decide how we shape our future. Unfortunately, bots are currently in the gray area of regulation, for lawmakers and bot developers are too caught up in the benefits to notice the risks. Proxies and IP cloaks also make it hard to identify and defeat them. Needless to say, time will only tell whether the common man stands a chance against our superior robotic overlords.