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Battling The Bots: How Retailers Are Reacting To Bots Snatching Up Hard-To-Find Holiday Gifts

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - If you're struggling to get one of those hard-to-find gifts like a PlayStation 5, you are far from alone.

The problem, is you're a human - and you're competing against bots.

The bots, or computer programs, are in a battle with the big retailers as they try to meet the demands of their customers.

They're losing the battle and so are we as consumers.

In this fight, there's no such thing as fair.

"This has always been a problem but more so in the PS5, they are everywhere there is one thing everybody wants and it has a big resale value on the secondary market and they're just computer programs they can click the buy button faster than you can in many windows at once and they have an unfair advantage," says CNET Computer and Gaming Editorial Director Dan Ackerman.

Bots are not solely focused on gaming systems. They also go after any new phones that hit the market.

"If you've ever tried to get a concert ticket when they go on sale and minute one they're all sold out already, that's the same sort of shot bots that are snapping up game consoles," Ackerman says.

The budget killer is that once the bots get their hands on a PS5 the price is going to soar.

The digital version of the system goes for about $400 and the Blu-Ray version for $500.

"If the bots get them all for example, and they're on the secondary market or on eBay, you could pay several hundred More than that," he says.

A couple hundred dollars more is standard but many of the units are being bundled and those prices easily top a thousand dollars.

"People who are buying up hard-to-find items and then you know trying to get people to pay more for them than that, you know, they're not a nice business, to begin with," Ackerman points out. "So I would be a little cautious dealing with any of that."

Retailers don't like the bots coming between them and their customers and are finding ways to combat it.

"Over the past year a lot of the big retail brands whether it's Walmart or Target or Best Buy, have tried to lock out the bots by adding additional steps to the purchase process where you have to enter one of those little questions to prove you're human," he explains.

Besides using boxes where you have to visually identify things like buses in the pictures, there are also combinations of letters that you have to duplicate. Ackerman says often times you have to do it several times to prove you are a person.

WATCH: Battling The Bots

Some retailers are also setting up preferred buying clubs to block out the bots.

"We're going to give our members the first shot at these so they can start buying them an hour earlier," he explains. "We'll send them an email ahead of time so they know but to be a member it's going to cost you and for Best Buy, it's like $200 a year, for Walmart, it's 100 bucks."

He says those retailers are essentially doing what Amazon has done for some time with its Prime membership.

"Even if you're a member that does not guarantee that you're going to get a console or whatever high demand item you're looking for, you just may get access to an additional sale date or an earlier time than everybody else or some sort of advanced notice that you can prepare so it's better but it's not a sure thing," Ackerman cautions.

So are there any new hot items the bots are after?

"I don't think there's one single item that's outpacing everything else in that, 'God I have to have it,' category," he says. "It is still Playstation 5 and the Xbox Series X, they both came out within two days of each other last year, and they both are exactly one-year-old now are still in theory very, very hard to find."

CNET says there are some indications the retailers are saving up stock to release on Black Friday or in some other big promotion that will block out the bots.

Ironically in all this, the best deal you might be able to get is to buy it for the listed retail price without having to buy a membership or an elaborate bundle.

The key is vigilance.

Keep monitoring the store sites and googling the item you are looking for because opportunities could pop up at any time.

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