By Thomas Platt - September 02, 2020 4 Mins Read
Ed Sheeran made £85m last year, putting him in the top five celebrity earners. But others are also making millions from his work, in less honest ways. In February, the owners of ticket resellers BZZ were jailed, but not before they had made £9.3m in profit from reselling Ed Sheeran and other artists’ tickets to desperate buyers. Their secret? Buy the tickets before anyone else using automated bots. The case to convict the owners of BZZ has been described as a “landmark”, suggesting that more cases could be on the way.
Bad actors are using bots to either hold items in baskets, pushing customers to competitor websites, or to snap up limited edition items to later resell them at the double and triple the price. Every retailer needs to understand this threat or risk seeing their loyal customers ripped off in a similar way—leading to a loss of earnings and seeing customer loyalty destroyed.
Bad actors use bots in two main ways, for two main reasons when it comes to targeting retailers.
The first is inventory denial. Automated bots are programmed to take items out of stock by adding them to a basket. Often, the threat actor has no intention of completing the checkout process but is actively preventing legitimate customers from purchasing the item as this drives customers to competitor sites.
Automated bots are programmed to take items out of stock by adding them to a basket. Often, the threat actor has no intention of completing the checkout process but is actively preventing legitimate customers from purchasing the item.
The second is the use of snipper bots. These are so closely associated with sneakers that the industry has termed them ‘sneaker bots’. The purpose of these automated bots is to purchase limited-edition items quicker than any human, using sneaker proxies. The bad actors behind these bots then re-sell limited-edition items at over double the price. With regards to sneakers, the most expensive pair ever resold was for $473,500.
And it’s pretty clear what motivates the use of snipper bots – profit. Bad actors can price limited-edition items at over double what they paid, and still get people to purchase. Consumers and retailers alike are impacted by bots plaguing online stores. For consumers, they face paying extortionate prices for limited-edition items, and their customer service diminished as they become frustrated at the seeming ‘lack of stock’.
As bots become more sophisticated, so must retailers’ defenses. Yet, differentiating between human and bot traffic is just the first step. Retailers must also differentiate between good and bad bot activity. With good bots bolstering a retailer’s online presence and bad bots, threatening customer loyalty and brand reputation, simply blocking all bot traffic is no longer the answer.
Instead of asking if their website traffic is human or non-human, retailers must focus on the intent of their website traffic, as bots tend to follow certain patterns of behavior. Their retail journey, from entering a retailer’s website to checkout, takes nanoseconds compared to consumers who can scroll through items for hours at a time. If retailers are also noticing increased traffic from unknown sources and unexpected countries, this can also be indicative of bot behavior.
As the event industry grows wise to ticket resale bots and holds bad actors to account, the retail industry must follow. Retailers must ensure they have visibility into all their online assets, and the user journeys happening on their online stores, to protect customers and their own brand reputation.
Tom works with leading e-commerce, fin-tech, gaming and media organizations, to help them understand and quantify the impact of bots. He works closely with Netacea's largest customers to ensure they stay ahead of the latest bot challenges, whilst collaborating with the company’s product and threat teams to research emerging bot trends across industries.
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