Rise of the Machines
BoTs and Flippers
Last weeks video about the SMWS was well received, thank you to everyone who watched it, especially to those of you who watched the whole hour of me droning on. And a thank you to those of you who have subscribed to my channel, this week I have had a spike in view, watch hours and subscribers.
Today, I’m going to focus my attention on another subject, which like last week is a touch controversial.
So picture the scene. Its 10:59am, you are on the website of your chosen online whisky retailer, because maybe, you received an email from the store, or via social media or even by word on the grapevine, you hear that a whisky is about to be released to purchase. There has been indication via the distillery and retailers that this whisky was due imminently and now is the time.
You click F5 or refresh on your browser several times before the clock strikes 11am, then, there it is, it’s in stock. Your heart suddenly starts to race, you have made sure that you are logged in before the hour strikes, you have setup auto-complete for you personal details and payment information in the browser. This is the moment, there is nothing more to be done than click ‘Add to basket’ then checkout. The auto-complete works like a dream, your details are entered and you click the payment button, your card details auto-fill. No more than 20 seconds have elapsed, you feel like you have had launch control help you pull away in the best possible way from the starting grid of the Silverstone Grand Prix, you were already in pole position, you made certain of that.
You click the complete purchase button, but a cold anxious sweat is beading on you forehead as you glance at a message that has popped up on the payment screen.. ‘OUT OF STOCK’
"NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! That’s Impossible"
Like a scene from Empire Strikes Back, you are in utter disbelief at the recent news, you glance at the computer clock, its still says 11:00, you glance at your phone 11:00!
How can the store have sold out in less than 1 minute! No less than 30 seconds. What did they have just a single case of bottles?
You go back to the product page, the add button is disabled and the stock status says ‘OUT OF STOCK’. You are raging now, time passes by as you try and work out your next move. Still not sure what has just happened.
Five minutes have now elapsed since your destiny was ripped from away. You visit the retailer Facebook page ready to put a comment on about a poor website, but you are have been beaten too it. For when you see the announcement about the 11am release, there are lots of angry face reactions, it also shows that there are 25 comments. So you click and read, only to discover that you share the same fate as the commentators, with the exception of one commentator, which reads,
“I don’t see any problem, I clicked add then buy and I got a bottle, no issue here”
Your already angry state has just increased a level, if you were at DEFCON 4 before, then you are at DEFCON 3 now. You want to reply, but realization dawn on you. This was just one online store, there are plenty more will be listing the bottle.
You go to your chosen whisky group chat. Everyone is talking about the same thing, very few have secured a bottle, many more share your experience.
Your phone pings, you check the message, a tip off that another store, smaller and less well known are about to release their stock.
Back to your browser, you quickly load the store, register an account and ensure the auto complete details work by testing it out. Everything is good to go. Once again it is that time again, F5 franticly being pressed.
The bottle displays, you click add to basket, your auto-complete details pop into each box, you press pay now, the screen freezes, there is a short pause in the screen loading, but it feels like an eternity, the screen loads, but you are still displaying the basket, but like a scene from a horror film, you glance down at the bloody red text in utter disbelief, ‘OUT OF STOCK’.
You are now at DEFCON 2. How can this be happening?
This store repeats itself over and over, store after store. But you are not alone. You question how many bottles are available. You hear that of the 8,000 bottles released by the distillery, at least 3,000 are available to the UK.
So what has happened? What can you do next time? Who is to blame?
To understand this situation, we need to take a look at two other retail segments where this has happened before. Sneakers (Trainers to the British) and the Playstation 5. In various locations, specifically the USA, sneakers are highly sought after, quite often, manufacturers will release limited edition or special edition versions in very limited number, but each time they are released, they would sell out instantly, with many people reporting that items in their basket were ‘mugged’. More recently with the release of the Playstation 5, the same thing occurred. While the PS5 was more widely available and in much larger quantities, the same instant sellout and basket mugging occurred.
We aren’t going to go much further than this with these two example, suffice to say, the reason for this and for what is being witnessed in whisky, is the same.
BOTs and Collectability or desirability.
The BOTs started with sneakers but the same technology is being utilized in other segments and it is now the turn for whisky to be the target.
What is a BOT? from Wikipedia
“An Internet bot, web robot, robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are simple and repetitive, much faster than a person could.”
In the instance of this subject, the BOT has been programmed to scan known whisky stores to identify specific whisky products and to purchase them.
BOTS can still get around CAPTCHA and other human interface checks, they have become very sophisticated.
So we have identified that cause, before we continue, BOTS are a large portion of the problem, but so are humans, the other issue here is that whisky has grown in popularity, so much so, that demand is now outstripping availability. But some online services haven’t kept up with the growth of the demand and fail under the volume of web traffic.
But who are behind the BOTs. This isn’t as clear, but we have a very good idea. Flippers, collectors and enthusiasts with the capital to invest in their passion.
You can buy or even rent a BOT to carry out a specific whisky purchase for you. If you have the capital, you can buy as much whisky as you like and do what you please with it.
Its no surprise, that in recent weeks, the online auctions have been listing many instances of the prized bottles that you have been trying to buy. But you have to ask yourself, how can these flippers manage to buy the bottles when you can’t? and quite often these whiskies are limited to one per person or per order. The sheer lack of ability for you to buy one versus the quantity appearing in auctions is a clear clue that the flipper has the upper hand, BOT utilization is their tool. Still don’t believe us? Do your own research, we would provide links here, however, we don’t want point the finger and be liable for an incorrect statement. There are whisky investment firms which state that they use BOTS.
What can be done about it? This is a much harder challenge than securing a desired bottle. It requires co-operation from the industry itself.
The distilleries, the distributors and the retailers have to agree something is happening and act on it.
Take Bimber for example, they have just released their much anticipated Port edition. But the same story as portrayed above have been seen to pass. People reported seeing stock, checking out, being mugged or the site crashing. Bimber are very highly sought after. Even they announced afterward that they reported seeing more than double the traffic then the previous release. This makes sense, the use of BOTs have been used with increased frequency and their developers have had, with time and experience, managed to fine tune the code and therefore the effectiveness. The next desirable whisky release will see even more failed purchase attempt by you or I, as the BOTs get better.
So you see Bimber never really stood a chance and it is not necessarily their fault. But they can learn from it. Maybe the next release they can make changes, maybe give Klub member exclusivity? Or maybe take on board one of our suggestions.
So what can be done about Flippers and the utilization of BOTs.
One suggestion is exactly what Currys PC Word did with the PS5 sale.
With a pre-registration list, you send everyone on the list an individual code to give a fixed amount or percentage off the retail price. On launch day, you list the product at a much higher price, I believe the PS5 was listed at £1000 with a code to reduce it back to MRP. This could work with Whisky, take the example of the Port Bimber. It retailed for £95, but if lets say, Klub members were to be give a unque code, the whisky could be listed for £500 and reduced to £95 with the correct code that matches their account. Obviously the backend store would need to have the facility to support this function, but this technology on webstores already exists.
While some flippers would be on the list and would take advantage of the reduction, if the timing of the list was left to the last minute, the BOT developers would not be able to make changes in time and as a result, potentially result in purchasing whisky at a much more expensive price.
While this idea doesn’t resolve the problem of you or I being able to grab a bottle, it does cause some serious headaches for those using the BOTS if they actually succeed (Purchase price spend caps may be used).
Member only sales.
Pre-sales or reservations.
Inflated postage cost with postage discount code
Drip feed bottle releases.
But since our year of COVID is hopefully drawing to a close, we will once again be able to make footfall of physical stores and purchase the sought after bottle in person and less bottles to be made available online.
Lets hope things change for the better soon.