Sneakers are among the most sought-after collectibles. They are also a prime target for scalpers.
Grand View Research values the global sneaker industry at $86 billion and predicts it will reach $128 billion by 2030. The resale market is also growing strongly, with Cowen Research estimating it will grow to $30 billion by the end of the decade.
Such popularity makes sneakers an easy target for bots or software applications that can replace humans in performing certain tasks. Sneaker bots can speed up the checkout process, wait in a virtual queue, or even fill out payment information.
Sneaker bots took off in 2012 when Nike released their Air Jordan Doernbecher 9 shoes on Twitter. Nike requires users to send a direct message to the company to be able to reserve the shoe. What followed was the creation of bots that would send messages to Nike when they found keywords like “RSVP now” and “Doernbecher.” The bots were able to respond faster than humans, beating out customers for a chance at the shoes.
Sneaker bots are now big business for the people behind them
“In 2022, I grossed $131,000,” said “Botter Boy Nova,” a sneaker bot developer and YouTube creator who uses that pseudonym due to security concerns.
Jesper Essendrop, CEO of Queue-it, agrees. His company specializes in controlling Internet traffic with virtual waiting rooms.
Essendrop said that when looking at “sales of high-end items like sneakers,” 40 percent to 95 percent “of all traffic coming to web stores is from bots.”
In 2021, cybersecurity software company Imperva found that nearly 23% of retail site traffic came from bots with malicious intent. And CHEQ, another software vendor in the space, found that 1 in 4 Black Friday 2022 shoppers were fake.
There are currently no laws against using bots to buy sneakers or other retail goods. But legislation, such as a bill called the Stop the Grinch Bots Act, authored by Rep. Paul Tonko, DN.Y., has been introduced.
“Bots are like a thorn in my side,” said Richie Roxas, who collects New Balance sneakers. “Now I compete with them all the time for special editions and collaborations.”
Top sneaker brands like Nike, Adidas and New Balance are under constant bot attack. Nike says their SNKRS app receives an average of 12 billion bot calls or logins trying to game the system per month.
In the SNKRS app, a customer can submit a drawing entry by selecting a shoe and size. Nike then selects participants at random to buy the shoe. Many of these clients are actually bots.
According to Nike, bots can make up to 10% to 50% of entries depending on demand. For example, on the 2023 edition of the Travis Scott x Air Jordan 1 Low OG “Olive,” almost half of the entries were bots. But Nike told CNBC that it has up to a 98 percent bot-fighting success rate on high-demand releases.
Nova and other bot creators have been less successful in recent years, but still find loopholes and ways to circumvent anti-bot measures such as CAPTCHA systems. One workaround is called jigging, when the creator slightly changes an address, name, or other identifying information.
“People still manage to boot Nike SNKRS,” Nova said. “However, the way to do it is to really understand how the Nike filter works.”
Nike has not commented on whether customers can still successfully use bots in the SNKRS app.
Watch the video to learn more about sneaker bots and how companies like Nike are tackling them.