This year’s Black Friday has now come and gone, which means the Christmas shopping rush is about to be in full swing. The holiday season has consumers eyeing the latest and greatest deals on gifts such as gaming consoles and electronic appliances, which are bound to be hot-ticket items that many buyers will covet. In 2021, though, it seems more than likely that these in-demand gifts will be snatched up by bots before most consumers can get their hands on them.
The pandemic has created a huge demand for certain gifts that consumers are eager to purchase. Its effects have impacted the relationship between physical retail, ecommerce stores, and the payments industry, which has resulted in a new wave of cybercriminals and given rise to automated bots that run software programs. These bots’ programs are affecting the online retail space this holiday season, coinciding with an uptick in shoppers browsing for gifts online.
How bots are impacting this year’s Christmas shoppers
Bots with constantly running software programs have been affecting online retailers – who already contend with cyber criminals finding security loopholes in their websites – for years at this point. Now, with the pandemic generating higher demand for specific gift items, online retailers are under greater pressure than ever from an army of bots that are trying to make a profit amidst an unprecedented number of shoppers doing their buying online.
At first glance, one may assume that the current surge of online shoppers bodes well for online retail businesses. In fact, 71% of consumers prefer to pay with a debit card or credit card these days, and online businesses offer ease of payment that many consumers are interested in. Unfortunately for these consumers, plenty of retail bots are able to purchase the items they’re after before they can even add anything to their online shopping carts.
Automated bots are so quick to snap up in-demand items, in fact, that even the world’s most popular websites such as Amazon can’t afford much of a speed-related advantage to their consumers.
These websites have blazing fast server speeds with low total blocking times that, in theory, should let users snap up items that are on sale while only facing human competition. Still, there isn’t much that website owners, online retailers, or consumers can do to get an edge over bots when it comes to sheer speed.
Niche audiences, in particular, or companies with high-profile product launches, are especially susceptible to sudden surges of retail bots ready to make a quick profit for their cybercriminal owners. It stands to reason, however, that anything from cuddly toys to film collectibles, may soon be targeted by bots during the holiday season.
When certain hot-ticket items – especially ones of the electronic variety – go on sale, retail bots simply need to activate their scanning programs to let their nefarious owners know to pounce on those items before the rest of the crowd can. All of the clever online marketing methods in the world, from email marketing strategies and social media to display advertising and search engine optimization, still aren’t going to be enough to help human consumers snag attractive on-sale items before bots can.
How serious is the bot problem?
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a variety of issues with manufacturer supply chains, which in turn have affected physical stores that have been forced to close and whose owners have taken to the online retail space to maintain the continuity of their businesses. Bots are becoming readily available for a wide audience of cybercriminals to use, a scenario that coincides with a holiday season that’s rife with a larger-than-ever number of online shoppers.
As an example of how quickly bots can snatch up high-ticket items, one may consider looking at the launch of Nvidia’s PC gaming graphics card, the 3080, which went out of stock less than a second after it launched for public purchase. Although an extreme case of what bots are capable of doing, it nevertheless highlights the fact that users on retail websites – no matter how fast and responsive – had no option to purchase items that simply appeared as “sold out”.
Even with technical options to perform tasks such as load testing to anticipate the expected traffic of a website from its users, there is unfortunately little to be done to protect against the buildup of bots and scrapers visiting sites on product launch days. And if very few customers can get their hands on a product before bots can, it stands to reason that those customers will simply go elsewhere to purchase what they’re looking for.
What can be done about these bots?
Although there are few ways to stave off this holiday season’s incoming wave of bots, online retailers can still create defenses against cybercriminals and put protections in place to safeguard their customers. One of the most important aspects of building a website with an online store is choosing a good hosting provider. This is more important than ever to protect payments of customers who submit their information through a site, making payment-related security a top priority.
In light of the strain that bot-related web traffic can place on websites, it’s also important to choose a website hosting provider that can guarantee the requisite amount of resources website owners will need to maintain availability of product and checkout pages to their customers. Resource limitations are one of the biggest reasons to avoid cheap hosting; these limitations inevitably result in website overloads that create a less-than-stellar user experience for your visitors, who will likely feel more inclined to peruse the product pages of competitor retail sites instead.
Additionally, retailers can consider listing in-demand products on their website for more than they’re actually worth – this tactic can keep bots at bay and give site owners enough time to send real customers who purchased pre-orders discount codes with which they can purchase items for their retail price. Some retailers are also charging bank cards at the full price of an item to guarantee a place in a queue. In this case, it’s recommended that retailers use SSL/TLS certificates for added security, and to prevent customers from visiting and purchasing from fraudulent copy-cat websites.
Bots are heavily impacting this year's Christmas shoppers by making it nearly impossible to purchase in-demand items before they're snatched up with malicious intent. The bot problem is particularly serious in light of the COVID-19 pandemic's effect on manufacturer supply chains as well as the relationship between retail, ecommerce stores, and the payments industry.
Understanding the strain that bots are going to place on online retailers this holiday season, it's important that website owners keep their customers' payment information secure while giving them certain advantages over automated bots such as discount codes or guaranteed spots in product purchase queues.
Note: This blog article was written by a guest contributor for the purpose of offering a wider variety of content for our readers. The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of GlobalSign.