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Bots buying 2021 Christmas Gifts this holiday season

Bots take over Christmas shopping

Bots buying 2021 Christmas Gifts this holiday season
Bots buying Christmas gifts // illustration by Kate Walker

Bots take over Christmas shopping

The Future. The use of automatic shopping software (or bots) on e-commerce sites may make already-strapped retailers even more empty-handed (thanks, supply chains). But without strict legislation to curb them, bots may soon become a common tool for consumers to score in-demand products… fueling an already-sizable market around selling bots (for consumers) or software that protects them from their use (for retailers).

Cut the digital line
Retailers are concerned about a robot invasion this holiday season.

  • Infamous for vacuuming up limited-edition sneakers, retailers are gearing up for bots to be used on any product in short supply due to supply-chain issues.
  • Bot users typically use the software to purchase a high quantity of products, only to resell them at a profit… creating chaos for markets plagued by limited supply.
  • Big names like Walmart and Nike, worried about the supply of PS5s and Air Jordans, have turned to security firms like Akamai Technologies Inc. to fight against bots in real-time.

Patrick Sullivan, CTO for security strategy at Akamai, says, “People will try to jump the line and leverage automation to grab anything that has a limited inventory. It used to be concert tickets, then purses and tennis shoes, and now it’s vaccine reservations and even more mundane things.”

That’s strangely good news for Akamai, which has seen its bot-battling services generate almost $200 million in revenue… increasing by a staggering 40% per year.

Drowning in demand
So, is there any data behind all this worry? Akamai says look no further than India.

  • In early October, bot activity jumped 55% for two weeks in the run-up to the Diwali holiday, which begins November 4.
  • These bots included web scrapers, automated shopping cart ‘sniper’ bots, and login and checkout abusers.
  • Akamai believes this “is a sign of things to come for holiday shoppers in the U.S. and Europe.”

When the bot infestation hit live events hard (via platforms like StubHub) around 2013, the government had to step in with the Better Online Ticket Sales (or BOTS) Act. The law never imagined the software’s use beyond ticket sellers… so we may be on the precipice of even stricter legislation if Christmas presents run out.