On September 18th, chip maker Nvidia launched sales for its latest and highly-awaited graphical processing unit (GPU) chip, the GeForce RTX 3080. For PC gaming fans and videophiles, such a GPU offers extremely high quality 8K graphics capabilities with high frame rates, more detailed video output, smoother onscreen motion, and highly immersive game play to really bring out the best in their favorite games. Naturally, thousands of hardcore gamers around the world wanted to be among the first to acquire this new high-end GPU to further enhance their gaming pleasure, but scalper bots quickly bought up all available stocks within minutes, leaving no stocks available for enthusiasts.
For genuine buyers, it did not help that Nvidia’s website neither showed a CAPTCHA on its checkout page for buyers to solve, nor enforce a one-item-per-purchase policy, which made it very easy for scalpers to swoop in and buy every one of the new GPUs offered for sale. Similarly, all stocks of the new chip at other online retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, and Newegg had been swiftly bought up within minutes of the product being listed. Many users reported that sites like Newegg were slow to load soon after the chips were listed for sale, and news quickly spread online about the massive scalping that was taking place. Of course, all this scalping activity on the latest Nvidia chip was greeted by protests and criticism from disappointed gaming enthusiasts.
Scalping and reselling goods that are in high demand are by themselves age-old practices that have been practiced since time immemorial. However, scalping today is a high-tech affair that uses custom-programmed scalper bots to search online and buy out any available stocks of high-demand goods, and then reselling them at several times their original prices on sites like eBay and other sites that serve the secondary market. One such site that advertises scalper bots is Bounce Alerts, which charges users a $75 monthly fee to monitor availability of products and then buy them out for resale before most consumers get a chance to buy them. Hundreds of scalpers and gamers used the bots sold by Bounce Alerts to snap up RTX 3080s, with one scalper claiming on Twitter to have used Bounce Alerts’ bots to buy 42 of these GPUs all at once. A search on eBay shows hundreds of listings that are reselling the new chip at between $1200 to $2000 (and even higher), a huge markup over its original $699 price. The tech blog Gizmodo reports that one RTX 3080 was sold for an astounding $70000 on eBay. Sony’s much-awaited PlayStation 5 gaming console, which went on pre-order on September 17th, also suffered a similar fate, with all pre-orders having been snapped up within minutes of being offered for sale on various retail sites. The same situation also befell pre-orders for Microsoft’s latest Xbox. Though athletic sneaker enthusiasts have long known about scalpers buying out stocks within minutes of the latest product ‘drop’ in gaming parlance, the rapidity of the Nvidia GPU sellout certainly created a stir on gaming forums.
Another site that advertises scalper bots is ‘House of Carts’ which provides access to scalping tools through a Discord server for a fee of $50 per month. The advertised suite of tools including instructions on how to set up bots to automatically add products to carts and complete their purchase, along with customer support and website monitoring tools which automatically check a range of e-commerce websites for availability of stock. When a product in high demand is back in stock (usually indicated by the words ‘add to cart’) businesses like House of Carts send their customers a notification so that they can snap up the goods before most buyers get a chance to do so.
Nvidia, realizing that most of their new chip’s sales were made to scalpers and bots, quickly apologized for the widely-reported snafu, stating “As with many other etailers, the Nvidia Store was also overrun with malicious bots and resellers. To combat this challenge we have made the following changes: we moved our Nvidia Store to a dedicated environment, with increased capacity and more bot protection. We updated the code to be more efficient on the server load. We integrated CAPTCHA to the checkout flow to help offset the use of bots. We implemented additional security protections to the store APIs. And more efforts are underway.” The firm also stated that it had switched to a manual review system for each sale to stop scalpers from ordering any more of their new GPUs. Some frustrated gamers who could not buy the GPU for themselves resorted to trying to punish chip scalpers by deploying their own bots on eBay to make fake bids at jacked-up prices, only to cancel their bids and prevent the scalpers from making off with huge profits. Nvidia later added that “While individuals using bots may have shown images of email inboxes filled with confirmed orders, Nvidia has cancelled hundreds of orders manually before they were able to ship.” The online retailer Newegg also tweeted that they had experienced more traffic on the day of the RTX 3080 launch than on Black Friday, assuring buyers that bot protection was now in place and advising them to turn on the ‘auto-notify’ feature on their site to know when new stocks would be available. These measures helped smooth the launch of their even more expensive and powerful RTX 3090 a few days later, as confirmed by the relatively low number of complaints about stocks being unavailable for purchase.
While many manufacturers escalate the level of hype around their latest and greatest products, the Nvidia GPU controversy has been mentioned by many tech blogs and outraged gamers as being the latest example of the menace of scalpers who use bots to quickly buy out products in high demand and then resell them at multiples of their original cost. This is why bot management solutions such as Radware Bot Manager and competing solutions are increasingly being adopted by e-commerce firms in an effort to stop scalping and other bot attacks such as cart abandonment. With a dedicated bot management solution, retailers and their customers are ensured a level playing field in which legitimate buyers are able to get products at the original price, and retailers reap the benefits of having a bot-free platform to earn loyalty and repeat business from happy customers.