Walmart PS5 Stock Update After Bots Blocked From Trying to 'Steal' Consoles

Walmart stopped millions of "grinch bots" from buying PlayStation 5 consoles as stock went live last month, an executive has said.

Jerry Geisler, chief information security officer of Walmart Global Tech, said the retail giant used detection tools to block a swarm of automated attempts from purchasing the next-generation gaming machine before legitimate customers.

"One bot preventative action we implemented just hours before the PlayStation 5 event on Nov. 25 blocked more than 20 million bot attempts in the first 30 minutes (which is a fraction of what our systems deal with continually)," Geisler said in a blog.

Unlike prior generations, the rush to buy a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series S/X has largely taken place online due to safety reasons surrounding the ongoing COVID pandemic, as stores did not want consumers to flock to their branches in massive numbers.

But doing so left the process wide open to "scalpers," resellers who take advantage of automated "bot" scripts that scour the internet for stock, placing numerous orders before any real human has the chance to even click on the picture of the item.

With demand high and supply limited, the resellers have been listing PS5s and Xbox consoles on websites like eBay for massively inflated prices.

Mixed with low stock availability, sporadic releases by retailers and website crashes due to floods of internet traffic, many consumers have been unable to get a console before Christmas, and experts forecast the situation may continue into 2021.

According to Geisler, increased online shopping and the demand for the consoles has created "patterns of traffic on our site and our apps we've previously never seen." He coined the phrase "grinch bots" to describe those trying to hijack the orders.

"Additional traffic has come from 'grinch bots,' who like the original Grinch, are trying to steal these would-be presents. That's traffic that we simply don't want," he said, adding that Walmart's bot detection tools appeared to be working as intended.

"Once a site becomes aware of a bot's presence, it can utilize a number of strategies in an attempt to block the bot. Bot scripts are constantly evolving and being re-written, so we've built, deployed and are continuously updating our own bot detection tools allowing us to successfully block the vast majority of bots we see," he said.

While most customers will be thankful of the efforts, console scalpers have seemingly made a fortune by amassing large qualities of the sought-after stock.

Data engineer Michael Driscoll said in an analysis report published on December 2 that resellers have made millions of dollars on eBay alone. He said the findings were based on a script he made that scraped eBay's sold listings for PS5 and Xboxes.

The report said scalpers have so far made over $9 million in profits from Xbox consoles, some selling for more than 50 percent over the normal retail price. The PS5, which comes in a digital or disc version, was inflated by even more as demand surged.

"The disc version is going for 300% MSRP [manufacturer's suggested retail price] and the digital for 200% MSRP!" Driscoll wrote in his analysis this month. "Over 32,000 PS5s have been sold on eBay, resulting in scalpers netting $19 million in profits."

Geisler said Walmart is also taking steps to audit orders so it can cancel any confirmed to have been secured by bots. And there was some more good news for those still on the hunt for either of the consoles, with more expected to hit online shelves.

"We have more next-gen consoles coming online soon, and we're continuing to work hard to get them into the hands of as many customers as possible," Geisler said. There doesn't appear to be any at the time of writing, and its listed as out of stock.

Unfortunately for now, the website does not say when the consoles will be restocked, but some PlayStation 5's appear to have sporadically dropped on Wednesday. It's best to keep checking the Walmart website for updates during the holiday season.

Sony PlayStation 5
The new Sony PlayStation 5 gaming console is seen for sale on the first day of its launch, at an electronics shop in Kawasaki, Kanagawa prefecture on November 12, 2020. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty