Are you sick of trying to find a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X selling for its retail price online? If so, you might be in luck. US lawmakers have introduced a new bill that aims to cut down on the number of bots that snap up the stock of hard-to-find items before humans have a chance to buy them.
The bill is called the “Stopping Grinch Bots Act.” It would make it illegal to use automated programs to buy goods online for resale. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Ben Ray Luján, Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Representative Paul Tonko introduced the legislation on November 29.
In the announcement, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer argues that Congress should act to help consumers fight scalpers. Oddly, the proposed law frames scalping as a Christmas issue, even though it’s a problem for customers all year.
“The average holiday shopper is unable to compete with the light speed of the all-too-common Grinch bot and are then held at ransom by scalpers and third-party resellers when trying to buy holiday presents.”Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
As anyone who has tried to buy a console this year will tell you, scalping is a massive problem with online shopping. It’s too easy for resellers to set up automated programs that buy out the stock of PlayStations and Xboxes before regular shoppers have a chance to purchase them. These resellers then head to secondhand sites like eBay and relist the consoles, sometimes at double their original retail price.
This problem isn’t just limited to consoles, either. Exclusive sneakers, limited-edition T-shirts, and graphics cards also fall victim to attention from scalpers. Unfortunately, manufacturers and retailers don’t have much incentive to keep resellers from buying up their items, either.
From a shop’s point of view, a sale is a sale. When an automated program rushes in and buys out the stock of a new item, the seller is usually just happy to sell through the production run quickly. Nike doesn’t care what people do with their shoes once they’re out the door: they only care about selling them.
Even if the proposed bill becomes a law, resellers might not stop buying out hot new items. Enforcing a ban on secondhand online sales will be difficult. For one thing, online retailers would need to implement security measures to differentiate automated scripts from legitimate buyers. For another thing, secondhand sites like eBay and Amazon would need to cooperate with the law to make it harder for scalpers to list their items.
Lawmakers have compared the bill to the 2016 Better Online Ticket Sales Act, which outlaws the practice of scalping concert tickets. However, the new bill’s expanded scope will make enforcement significantly trickier. Instead of regulating only ticket sales, the Stopping Grinch Bots Act seeks to regulate the entirety of secondhand online commerce.
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The fundamental issue with the current secondhand market is a lack of supply and an excess of demand. More people want PS5s than there are PS5s. As long as this imbalance exists, opportunistic resellers will find a way to make a quick buck on customers’ impatience.