Written by Jonathan Mahon-Heap
In a time when the economy is f*cked, we now have to compete with goddamn robots?
In Isaac Asmiov’s telling, the first law of robotics prescribes that “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm”. It’s obvious that Asimov never observed a sneaker-head on Black Friday, one who weaponises their bot software to buy up exclusive product drops in bulk, and blast the competition. But now, it’s not just shoes the bots want, it’s your luxury wardrobe.
“Telfar is for the people. Not the bots” cult-handbag brand Telfar posted on their Instagram last week, once bots flooded their restock, scooping bags only to resurface them at 200 per cent mark-up within the same day. Sneaker bots, known interchangeably as bad bots, scalper bots, or scraper bots, cop much-hyped product drops and restocks faster than any human can (when you live in the Cloud, you don’t lose milliseconds typing out your postcode).
The bot-purchased goods re-emerge on third-party platforms, seconds later, at eye-wateringly high mark-ups. Priding themselves on accessible positioning, this trend disorients both Telfar and the customer alike, not to mention “[breaking] the backend with thousands of orders being submitted at the exact same time,” as designer Telfar Clemens issued in an email statement.
As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s an ethically-ambiguous tech start-up happy to subvert industry norms to help get your way. Like Botter Boy Nova, a YouTube personality priding himself on bot-manipulation, partnering with third-party bot development companies, and parading his wares for the losing party to see. Companies such as Supbot and CookLab similarly target hardcore sneakerheads, in order to, according to Alex Kabbara, VP and Co-creator of AIOBot.com: “Give the average sneakerhead a chance… In just one day, you can make back all the money you spent to purchase the bot.”
Certain companies now institute their own tech (by monitoring IP addresses or utilising biometric tracking services) as a defence, such as Nike, but others acquiesce — FootLocker and Farfetch have both purchased reseller companies in the last three years, deciding that if you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em.
The loser, as with many of Big Tech narratives, is the casual consumer. In the words of Andy Still, chief technology officer, Netacea:“ It’s not the legions of hardcore sneaker fans buying the limited-edition stock, instead, an army of bots has swung into action, checking out with the goods at a speed that no human can match.” The algorithm is always ahead of us, and this time, it’s coming for your loafers.