Sneaker bots, skip hacks, add-to-cart programs, call them what you want, they're arguably the most agonizing issue in sneaker culture today.
But understanding the specifics of coding isn't prerequisite to comprehending a few things. First, the situation isn't improving, and as programs become more consumer friendly by the day, disappointment on release day becomes status quo.
Second, brands like Nike and adidas shouldn't be solely shouldering the onus, as retailers have an equal responsibility, and certain stores are stepping up to the plate.
While big companies are having difficulty conceiving a large-scale method to fairly sell hyped products, retail stores are having slightly more success when it comes to serving their clients with fair release strategies and making sneakerheads happy.
We spoke to some of our friends in the sneaker industry to understand what is happening on the front lines.
What is your stance on sneaker bots, as well as consumer-friendly services that sell bots?
Erik Fagerlind (Sneakersnstuff): First of all, the term sneaker bot is weird. People use this term, but it's a bit of a misnomer. In order for any release to actually be fair, everyone has to be using the same speed of internet. Moreover everybody must be the same physical distance away from the servers, as that also effects the amount of time it takes to be first in line.
The speed of your computer, iPhone and so on are also factors that offset the release being objectively fair. Not to mention everyone has to take the time off from work, school, sleep, and family life in order to be present the very second the shoes are released.
Bots today are like computer viruses, and retailers are like Norton Antivirus or similar - always one step behind. Not everybody has the ability to spend large amounts of money on development in order to keep up.
If you're asking me if I think it's morally sound that people are able to buy in bulk, only to sell to others and make money outside of the system: then no. I don't think that's right.
But I think it's important to remember that bots only exist because there is a void in the market for that kind of service. People want to get access to the shoes that we, you and the brands build hype around.
Austin Scotti (Kith): At Kith, we believe in an even playing field for consumers. We work diligently to make sure we are creating new and unexpected ways to release product that can stop bots or other unfair advantages. We always want to provide the customer with a positive experience. Even if they are not able to purchase the product, we want to ensure that everyone has a fair chance.
Marc Leuschner (Overkill): I personally don’t use services like this. For regular customers, bots are probably a helpful tool to purchase sought-after releases. Nevertheless, I always vouch for fairness and I think many uninformed people end up at a disadvantage.
In addition, regarding increasing market prices, no one should charge extra amounts of money to use a service like this.
What steps is your shop taking to give everyone a fair chance at buying hyped sneakers?
EF: We do several things. We allocate pairs to be sold in-store, to make sure our local supporters all get a chance to buy. In case we don't have enough pairs to go around, we arrange a raffle. Online is different, it depends on the size of the release. We have always worked on detecting bots and bot-like behavior. Blocking networks and fighting against things that could be described as DDoS attacks.
Sometimes, as a result of this constant battle, we even block "innocent" customers by accident. It could be someone sharing their IP address with many others, and therefore triggering our system. It could also be people trying to get access via two or three browsers on their computer, their phone and their iPad all at the same time, which also makes it hard for our systems to see the difference between one person trying to beat the odds with multiple browsers, and someone using a bot.
On top of that, we always maintain one pair per customer for hot releases. But even online, we have to do raffles to try to make it fair. But bots or no bots, if 90,000 unique visitors land on our site within the period of 15 minutes - for a shoe that is only available in 200-500 pairs - no one will walk away with the feeling that everything was fair.
AS: We've always been inventive with how we manage our in-store releases to keep customers on their toes, so over the past year or so we've been translating this approach to our digital releases. We work hand-in-hand with various web platform consultants to limit any possible chance at foul play. Whether that includes a trivia question at checkout, or maybe some other form of captcha, we seek to ensure the genuine customers that actually want the product have the best chance at getting it.
Recently, we introduced a new mobile app called Frenzy to release the most recent adidas YEEZY Boost 750. The Frenzy team reached out to us to share our personal insights on some of the biggest issues facing not only consumers, but also retailers, when it comes to high-profile releases. This app has been our most dynamic way of fighting off bots yet, and as we continue to use it we will see more and more success.
ML: The very best way is generally to hold an "in-store first/full campout" release. There will never be a perfect solution for everyone, no matter how you set rules, because somebody will always feel mistreated.
Since the very early campouts, we remember that we had to earn sneakers, no matter how long you have to wait or what the weather is like, and anyone who spent their time and effort was rewarded. That is how we approach things at our store, even if there are people who try to cheat the system, but we do our best to watch out.
How do you think big brands like Nike and adidas can even the playing field?
EF: I think it is part of a bigger discussion. With e-commerce growing by the day - projected to stand for 40% of all retail in 2025 - I think brands have to figure out a way to handle that migration from physical retail to online. At the end of the day, the company that provides the best consumer experience will prevail. That, in combination with internet and social media, will enable every consumer to be an expert, making the market for hype so much bigger than years ago.
In the short term, I think brands will continue to do a great job remembering which retailer provides a good experience and which doesn't, taking into consideration the e-commerce experience as well as looking at physical stores. E-commerce is obviously not something that will go away. We have only seen the beginning, and the true e-commerce revolution is yet to come.
I think brands are aware of this and are constantly working on getting better. But you have to be humble about the fact that no matter how global and big the brands are - their infrastructure was regional at the outset, and that is drastically changing.
According to studies made by the European postal service, international e-commerce is growing seven times faster than domestic e-commerce. Just look at who is offering bots - they are not limiting themselves to the city or country they are located in, rather they see the world market.
AS: Both Nike and adidas have made major strides in this department, but obviously there is some more work to be done. Competition breathes innovation, and this competition exists between brands and consumers. The consumer thinks of a new way to beat the system, which then alerts the brand of a new structure they must build to protect themselves, and this process just continues to repeat itself. This is why we now have apps like Nike's SNKRS and adidas's Confirmed.
ML: Properly managing distribution is key! A a retailer, we build opinions and set trends for our customers, and we have the main impact on this scene, so I feel like retailers should have the access to products that we need. I’m really critical towards the attitudes of certain brands, when they supply high numbers through their own channel in order to achieve higher profit, and thereby lower the stock of smaller dealers.
The focus should always be on local business, and brands need to distribute appropriate amounts, which is unfortunately not often the case. Any in-store release offers higher chances to secure a product than online drops. So in my opinion, the brands need to empower the dealers and create a more balanced proportion in relation to online platforms.
For example, certain products can benefit from being introduced or advertised by representatives like us. It’s negligent to assume that their own e-commerce can compete on the same level.
What do you think is the most fair method of selling sneakers currently being used?
EF: At this point, I think the only fair way is to raffle. It is more or less the only way where you take away factors like bots or other unfair capabilities, as well as time, hardware and so on. But we could get much better on that front as well.
I also considered creating our own bot to offer to every Sneakernstuff customer. It would be the most efficient bot out there for our website, and if we gave it to all our customers it would level the field, but it would not solve the problem, and it would not absolve the feeling of unfairness and frustration that some customers experience.
AS: I'm not sure what the most fair method is currently to be honest, because I don't know if there is necessarily one single solution for this problem. We at Kith have found success by flipping the script for releases. The element of surprise and unfamiliarity prevents people from being able to set up a surefire way to break through. We are on ground level, so we have the ability to pivot our strategy on a moment's notice, which has proved to be helpful.
ML: We stick to the rule of in-store first, but for YEEZY releases we unwillingly held a raffle, too. Regularly, we hold a regular release in-store. We are working on a new idea to let frequent and loyal customers benefit, in the form of better access and special bonuses, but we are still deciding on the final execution.
Do you think things are going to get better or worse when it comes to sneaker bots?
EF: I think there are plenty of brands and retailers all trying to figure this out. And I think we will see big shifts within the next three to six months.
AS: Sneaker bots and other similar methods are here to stay. It's on the brands and retailers to be creative enough to rectify the situation and provide a positive experience for customers. With that said, I do believe things are getting better, and hope that consumers do see the strides being made to create equal opportunity for everyone.
ML: I see the situation getting worse before it gets better. As most sneakerheads are still not aware of how to use bots, they end up being beaten by people using nerdy internet cheats. Bots are only useful for a minor target group, who mainly purchase to resell.