Every year about this time we can expect the predictable news stories about scalpers with armies of bots gobbling up hot holiday gifts and flogging them on eBay for insane prices.
These headlines from 2017 and 2019 could have easily been written today - just swap out what's trending in new releases, lather, rinse, and repeat.
The big ticket (pun intended) for scalpers this week is presale movie tickets for Spider-Man No Way Home
If you missed the must have Lego Star Wars kit of the season when it sold out in seconds, don't worry you can find it for 3x retail price on eBay. As Admiral Ackbar would say - it's a trap!
And of course there are still plenty of X-Box Mini Fridges to be found - assuming you are willing to pay 8x retail price for one.
The problem has gotten so bad that some lawmakers are re-introducing legislation aimed at banning "Grinch bots" from ecommerce sites.
Besides legislation, what can be done to fight the scourge of online scalpers? For one thing, online marketplaces can and should be more proactive in strictly enforcing their existing policies to curb this practice.
eBay has a price gouging policy in place that would certainly seem applicable.
Increasing the price of items to a level that is much higher than is considered fair or reasonable is not allowed on eBay.
We're actively addressing reports that some sellers are charging unfair or unreasonable prices for certain items on eBay, which risks taking advantage of buyers in this time of uncertainty. To ensure the safety of our community, we're blocking or removing many of these items from our marketplace.
We're committed to ensuring our marketplace remains a safe place for buyers and sellers, so listings that exhibit unfair pricing behavior are not allowed.
eBay also has a presale policy that states
- Presale listings must guarantee that the item will be shipped within 30 days of purchase
- The date the item will be available to ship must be clearly stated in the listing
- Listings must clearly indicate in the title and description that the item is being offered for presale
- Handling time details should include the time it will take the seller to acquire the item, in addition to the time it will take the seller to deliver the package to the shipping carrier
However, very often scalpers are allowed to list items for presale that violate these policies and eBay does very little about it, even when it is repeatedly brought to their attention and reported through the proper channels.
Last but not least, eBay forbids retail arbitrage "drop shipping" where sellers list items on eBay they do not have in their possession and then once the item sells, they place the order on another retail website (like Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc.) to ship to their eBay buyer.
However, listing an item on eBay and then purchasing the item from another retailer or marketplace that ships directly to your customer is not allowed on eBay.
Activity that doesn’t follow eBay policy could result in a range of actions including but not limited to: administratively ending or canceling listings, hiding or demoting all listings from search results, lowering seller rating, buying or selling restrictions, loss of buyer or seller protections, and account suspension.
If eBay were to proactively and strictly enforce those policies, it would immediately curtail much of the scalper activity on the platform. Unfortunately eBay doesn't appear to be particularly motivated to act - they make fees on all of those sales and have little incentive to enforce their own policies, despite the terrible buyer experience created by the scalpers.
That just leaves one more way to beat the bad guys and that's you, the buyer.
Ultimately the scalpers keep doing what they do because there is profit in it and regardless of what politicians or huge corporations do or don't do, we all have the power to "just say no" and refuse to pay their insanely inflated prices.