Inside the controversial underworld of sneaker 'bots,' where coded scripts resell for thousands of dollars and Twitter monitors can make or break a release

  • In the sneaker resale world, a "bot" refers to a software application that expedites the online checkout process and helps resellers nab pairs in limited edition drops.
  • Bots, like sneakers, can go for thousands of dollars on the resale market. They are also the cause of much debate among the sneaker community.
  • Restock Flippers is an exclusive, membership-based group that helps users nab bots when they drop at retail. The group has done over $200,000 in sales of membership fees since October, according to a screenshot of the group's Stripe account, which was viewed by Business Insider.
  • "I think that bots are a necessarily evil," said Iwan Jeffery, the 21-year-old creator of Splashforce, one of the top sneaker bots on the market.
  • Here's a look inside the controversial and lucrative world of bots.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Bots are one of the more controversial parts of the sneaker resale world.

While some resellers swear by the software applications that expedite the online checkout process, others see the technological advantage as a serious threat to the industry and to independent businesses.

When sneakers or other hyped items are released in limited quantities, there is often a race of interested buyers scrambling to input their information on the website fast enough to check out before the product sells out. Bots make this process essentially instantaneous, much to the ire of bot-less buyers who attempt to purchase manually.

"I think that bots are a necessarily evil," said Iwan Jeffery, the 21-year-old creator of Splashforce, one of the top sneaker bots on the market. To Jeffery, the high resale value and low stock of certain sneakers increases their desirability. Bots, he said, are a natural byproduct of this hyped market. At the same time, retailers have continued to amp up their anti-bot software, prompting bot makers like Jeffery to release new upgrades every couple of months.

"It's a cat and mouse game at the end of the day," he said.

Bots can resell for thousands of dollars

In the last few years, "botting" has become more mainstream in the sneaker community. At the same time, "going manual," or checking out the old fashioned way, has become synonymous with losing out on a drop. In March of 2020, Business Insider interviewed a 15-year-old sneaker reseller who owns four different bots that help him nab shoes for his resale business, which brought in over $10,000 in profit in his first year of business as a high-school freshman. 

Bots, like sneakers, can go for thousands of dollars on the resale market because of their limited stock. As a result, certain groups devoted to the nabbing and reselling of bot software have sprung up adjacent to the bot-making community. These bot-nabbing groups use software extensions – which are basically other bots — to get their hands on these coveted sneaker bots. 

"Different groups have different methods," said Brenden Pruong, the 16-year-old owner of Restock Flippers, which functions as an exclusive, membership-based group designed to help users nab bots when they drop at retail. Though Pruong acquired Restock Flippers in June, the group has done over $200,000 in sales of membership fees since October, according to a screenshot of the group's Stripe account, which was viewed by Business Insider.

Most bot sellers announce restocks and new drops on Twitter. So for Pruong's group of 600 members, success depends on the group's Twitter monitor, an extension that instantaneously picks up tweets from various bots' Twitter accounts when they announce a new drop or restock.

In this case, timing — even down to the half-second — is everything.

"Some group picked up the Tweet two seconds after us," said Pruong about a recent bot restock. "And by then it was already sold out."

The paradox of botting

Despite designing a product meant to help people nab sneakers, many bot developers try to avoid having other bots nab their stock at releases. With Splashforce, Jeffery uses a queue system so that customers wait online instead of all buying at once. Other bot sellers deflect bots by selling their products in raffles or prompting buyers to answer trivia questions before checking out.

The irony of the situation is not lost on the sneaker community. 

"That's an argument about bots," said Pruong. "It's kind of hypocritical because they're a bot that buys sneakers, but they don't want people using bots to buy their bot. It's an argument."

The bot debate doesn't weigh too heavily on Jeffery, who said his own software has earned him about $700,000 in customer sales in the last year. And while he understands the frustrations of manual users, he still believes bots are necessary for resellers to win in the $2 billion industry.

"Because these shoes sell for more than they cost, there will always be bots because that's just how economics and business works," Jeffery said. "It's just the nature of the game at the end of the day."

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