How Bots Are Changing the Face of Online Retail

December 23, 2020 / Internet Marketing Web Hosting

How Bots Are Changing the Face of Online Retail

Shopping bots are causing a dilemma for online retailers. On the good side, they can result in businesses selling their most sought after products very quickly. The downside is that the products are not being bought by the genuine customers that are the long-term lifeblood of any retail operation. The consequences are that, in return for a quick boost in income, real customers shop elsewhere. Here, we’ll look at the rising use of bots and their impact.

Bots have been around for years but because of the pandemic, their use has grown enormously. These are apps that run continually, hunting out the cheapest prices on thousands of websites or seeking hot products to buy as soon as they go live. They can either send an alert to the user to inform them that a product is available at a certain price or buy the product automatically.

While these bots are used by some genuine purchasers, many are used by individuals and companies looking to sell on the product more expensively. What’s more, instead of buying a single product like a normal customer would, these traders will often buy as many items as they can. Just like ticket touts who will buy up all the tickets at normal prices and sell them at a profit, these are the buyers who will stick the latest PlayStation, Xbox or iPhone on eBay or their own websites at vastly inflated prices. They do so, knowing that the consumer will not be able to get them at the RRP because they have all been bought up. 

The pandemic has created more opportunities for bot users to make money. With supply chains disrupted, physical stores closed and more shoppers browsing for what’s available online, many more products are in hot demand. However, the use of bots means genuine customers cannot get their hands on them.

The origin of today’s super-bots comes from the demand for limited edition trainers. In the past, people have queued around the block for sports clothing stores to open, today, this has led to the development of the most advanced bots on the market. These all-in-one sniping apps scrape the net, find the best deal and buy the product immediately – and will continue doing so until the buyer has bought enough. Limited edition trainers can sell for tens of thousands of pounds, it is a lucrative market worth over $2bn in the US alone and estimated to be growing by 20% every year.

What’s perhaps more concerning is that bot users are now collaborating with each other. Paid membership private user groups swap advice about which websites will be selling which stock and when items will be launched. This means they can target these websites in advance of the products becoming available, making it even more likely they’ll be able to make a purchase. They will even go to the extent of renting a server that is physically located near that of the retailer’s server to reduce the latency times of their bot and outperform other bot users. This is a clear indication of the competition between bot users to source products cheaply and make the most money selling them on.

Another development in the market is the rise of ‘Bots as a Service’. As bots have become more advanced and sophisticated, they have become far more expensive, sometimes costing thousands of pounds. They also demand far more computer resources to run in order to continually search the internet. This has made it far more cost-effective to rent a bot rather than buy one – an of course, where there’s demand, there is someone to provide the service.

The economic disruption in the retail sector that has been caused by the pandemic means many online retailers are happy to make a sale, regardless of whether the buyer is a genuine customer or a bot. It’s money in the bank at a time of uncertainty. Long term, however, it could have serious implications for the sites that bots are buying from. If genuine customers cannot find the products on one site, they’ll turn to other websites. The price might not be as cheap, but the fact that it’s in stock gives a better customer experience – something essential for building long-lasting customer relationships.

Apart from the purchasing of tickets, the use of bots to buy items is not illegal and looks set to continue. Businesses need to be inventive to prevent their genuine customers losing out, perhaps advertising hot products via an email link in the first instance to prevent bot owners getting there first. Other retailers restrict purchases to one per customers and even cancel existing orders if someone has purchased an item numerous times.


Shopping bots are being increasingly used by both genuine shoppers and those selling products on for profit. It is the latter, however, that are making more aggressive purchases, buying up in bulk to prevent real customers getting the products they want. To ensure businesses don’t let these customers down, they will need to find innovative ways to make sure hot products don’t vanish from the shops too quickly. For more information about our hosting solutions visit

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