The Grinch Bots That Stole Christmas, Walmart Accused Of Allowing Them

One-star consumer reviews for the latest Sony PlayStation 5 gaming console on the Walmart website are not necessarily a reflection of the game console’s performance, but rather the retailer that is allowing auto-generated bots to dominate purchases for the difficult-to-find item.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a shortage of electronic components earlier in the year, and then it trickled down to slow production and build cycles at Sony’s contract manufacturing plants, creating shortages of the game console. The same situation occurred with Microsoft Xbox Series X.

The lack of inventory, mostly sold online due to the pandemic, began when manufacturers closed up shop.  

This popular products, now in demand among game enthusiasts who want the latest this holiday season, are being scooped up by hackers and scalpers with the knowledge of how to build auto-generated bots that can buy up online inventory within seconds of it going on sale.



The products — Sony PS5, and Microsoft Xbox Series X game consoles —  are being resold on Facebook Marketplace and eBay for double the price. These hackers' ability to take advantage of online technology has become a reflection of the retailers' and marketplaces' lack of technology to protect consumers.

“Idk if it's the website or bots online but this thing really feels impossible to get,” a consumer named Raymond wrote on Thanksgiving Day. “I literally have tried every release and the same thing happens the website glitches or it asks me to re-do my address for no reason and by the time everything is said and done it sells out with in a min of release. This is Ridiculous!”

Another consumer wrote that she will not pay three times the price to hackers on eBay.

Retailers like Walmart and marketplaces like eBay lack the sophisticated technology on their websites to combat auto-generated computer bots that help hackers buy up the inventory within seconds of it going on sale.

Walmart this week announced it would have a new stock of Sony PS5s at 6 p.m. Pacific time. Within minutes, the game console was completely sold out. 

Hacking and scalping occurs on other sites too. "At times, more than 60% of our traffic -- across hundreds of millions of visitors a day -- was bots or scrapers,” a former director at GameStop told the BBC. “Especially in the run-up to big launches."

eBay, an open marketplace with more more than 1.6 billion listings worldwide, has a policy that prohibits price gouging, but it is specific to essential items. The consoles are not essential. It's not clear whether that will change given the most recent development.

MediaPost also reached out to Facebook and will update the article with any response. 

The pandemic added $15 billion to the games market this year, bringing game revenue to $174.9 billion, according to Newzoo data.

The game market insights and analytics company forecasts the market will generate $217.9 billion in 2023. More than one-third of next-gen console users in the U.S. played the new "Call of Duty," 37.8% of PS5 users played "Spider-Man Miles Morales," and 24.8% of Xbox Series X users played Assassin's "Creed Valhalla."

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