The new holy grail of gaming consoles, the PlayStation 5, went on sale just over three weeks ago. The first day of PS5 sales were online only and retailers sold out quickly. There have been numerous restocks, but it’s been incredibly difficult to land a PS5 due in part to the scarcity of available consoles, combined with the abundance of bots, scammers and scalpers.
Retail bots are software that buy all of the units of an in-demand product as soon as it drops. And then the item is typically resold at high prices for profit. That’s happened over and over with the PS5, as described by the BBC, and some scalpers who use bots have been bragging about the practice and showing photos of their stacks of merchandise on social media, according to Business Insider.
The PS5, which retails for $400 for the digital edition and $500 for the disc console version, has been selling for $1,000 and more on Ebay, StockX, OfferUp and other sites where scalpers can charge whatever people are willing to pay. There are also a variety of scammers out there, ready to take people’s money for units that will never arrive.
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Using a bot makes the playing field unfair for everyone. There are things that retailers can do to prevent the use of bots on their websites.
Jason Kent, hacker in residence for Cequence Security, said, “Utilizing purchasing bots to snap up console inventory isn’t necessarily illegal. There are components of these transactions that border on fraud or are actual fraud but in standard bot purchasing the bot simply enables the transaction. Since most retailers have built their environments for high-speed and high-volume transactions, the bots are being supported by the environment that is trying to keep them out. The effort to build a retail store that delights customers and enables transactions plays right into the bot creators’ hands. In order to keep the bots at bay, organizations need to utilize mechanisms that can see them operating by applying AI and machine learning models that can identify and mitigate bot transactions, even if they are attempting 50,000 transactions per second.”
Trials and tribulations in trying to buy a PS5
Okay, so that’s what a bot does. I’m not as fast as a bot. But here’s my own experience trying to buy a PS5. I didn’t get in on the pre-orders. I’d intended to register with PlayStation to get the opportunity, but I missed the August email. It arrived the same day my son started a hybrid version of 7th grade in the midst of the pandemic, so that day was pretty much a loss. Of course, looking back, that email was probably the most important email of the entire summer. And I missed it.
I’ve now spent nearly every day since Nov. 12, the day the PS5 launched, trying to buy a PlayStation. I’m not picky about whether it’s a digital or disc version. I’d just like to have one to give my son for Christmas since his PS4 is pretty much done for. However, that’s looking less likely every day.
On Nov. 12, I looked at Best Buy and found the button blinking on and off to buy a unit. Every time I tried to add it to my cart, it wouldn’t let me. The “open stock” button appeared several times, too, but that didn’t work, either. I went to Costco, and they were sold out. They were offering a bundle for $640 that seemed expensive at the time, but looks like a great deal now.
Walmart had announced that they would release stock at three separate times on launch day. Each time, I faithfully logged on and tried to purchase a unit. Each time, the site either froze up or crashed and I was unable to make a purchase. Oftentimes after I had the unit in my cart, and I thought it was a done deal. Over the next several restock drops that Walmart announced, I became very familiar with their error page.
My 6 am morning routine before work became a scan of social media and retail sites to see if any stock had dropped. During the week of Nov. 19, I heard that GameStop had dropped some pricey bundles, and by that point, even spending $850 on a console, along with games and accessories, seemed reasonable. I tried to buy one for over 20 minutes on the GameStop site, but it just constantly teased me with a flickering “buy” button that never allowed me to put one in my cart.
Target released thousands of PS5 units yesterday morning around 8 am, but it was the one morning that I didn’t look online, instead diving straight into my work emails and working on other stories.
And then there’s the PlayStation Direct store. My nemesis. The direct store offers a queue at random times on random days for anyone who wants to buy a PS5. Early on the evening of Nov. 19, the queue went live, and I logged on to try to score a unit. It said I had over an hour to wait, but I faithfully settled in at my laptop. Meanwhile, I had a cake baking in the oven because it was my son’s 13th birthday, so after waiting for about 90 minutes online, I stepped away to frost the birthday cake. I came back to my computer to see a notice that it was my turn to enter the store and buy a PS5. But it had grayed out because I had taken too long to get back to my computer.
That would be the first of what is now four times I’ve been in the PlayStation queue. The second time, my wait was “over an hour” the entire time and I never came close. Yesterday, I had 11 minutes left in my wait when the PlayStation Direct store sold out. And today, I had 17 minutes left in my wait when it sold out.
The experience of trying to buy a PS5 has had it’s frustrations. I’ve spent $49 to join a VIP club at Adorama so that I could try to be first in line to buy a unit when they went on sale. I didn’t get one that day. I spent $45 to join Sam’s Club so I could try to buy a unit there when they restocked. I still haven’t gotten one there, either.
The positive side of it has been that I’ve learned quite a bit about where to look, and when to look, and I’ve been regularly updating my article, PS5 restock: Here’s where and how to buy a PlayStation 5 this week, to try to give that information to TechRepublic’s readers.
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