Members of the UK government are keen to explore ways to ban scalper bots. Is this realistic and how would it work in practice?
Popular UK station BBC Radio 4 recently explored the UK government’s efforts to combat games console scalpers. As we know, the release of this generation of consoles has suffered due to more organized scalper groups.
These groups have been buying up the PS5, Xbox Series X/S stock before people have the chance to buy a console themselves. This is causing frustration and has forced some people to buy a console at a vastly inflated price.
One interviewee for the station told the BBC, “We’re being held to ransom by retail bots.” The man in question has been trying to buy a PS5 since launch but refuses to pay scalpers prices.
Douglas Chapman, a member of the UK’s Scottish National Party, told the radio station,
“It’s simply not in consumers interests to have lots of stock of in-demand very exciting new products just being bought up en masse. It doesn’t give the ordinary consumer fair access to the market.”
“There’s obviously a lot of money to be made in reselling, and it’s just so unfair on the ordinary person in the street who just wants to play their game or give a gift to a child for Christmas and so on. And I know there’s been a lot of disappointed people over the last Christmas and it’s just going to get worse and worse.”
Can The UK Government Ban Scalper Bots?
It’s complicated because the bots themselves aren’t illegal. A purchasing bot is just the automation of a manual online transaction.
Anyone with some basic programming knowledge could create one, and policing it would be next to impossible online. Also, not everyone who uses retail bots uses them for nefarious purposes.
For many, they are a legitimate tool to buy something during a time when that customer is unavailable. However, scalper bots have a tendency to buy in bulk – and do quickly.
These have been identified and combated by retailers in the past. PS5 bundle packages also stand in the way of scalpers.
The question is, how would this translate to government legislation?
One way is via the banning of bots on concert ticket sites. These have been banned already in the UK. But only on ticket sale sites, the tools themselves are still perfectly legal.
The ticket sites however, are able to detect these bots and block their efforts. Could the console market use a similar method?
It’s not impossible, but it will require the cooperation of major retailers throughout the UK. But even then, would it manage to stop all retail bots? And what about the legitimate ones?
It’s also worth asking the question that once the console industry has recovered from the impact of COVID-19, will stock shortages still be a problem?
If PS5 and Xbox Series X/S stock becomes more plentiful, scalpers will have a more challenging job buying it all up. They will then struggle to sell the stock they have secured for an inflated price.
In short, the market itself could bring about the end of the scalper problem. It could also do so without lawmakers needing to intervene.