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Editorial

Does Your Brand Have a Bot Problem? How to Know (and How to Fix It).

January 9, 2024
Audrey Fairbrother
Sr. Content Marketing Manager

The term “bot” gets thrown around a lot these days. Bots are blamed for crashing sites, too-fast sellouts, and other problems that plague fans after in-demand products or tickets. But what are bots, really? How do you know if they're targeting your brand? And why should you care?

Bot mitigation is important, but it isn’t easy


To beat the bots, you must understand the bots (and what tools are actually effective against them). Let’s take a closer look at the problem, how to spot it, and some things you can do to keep bot attacks away from your launches. Plus, we gathered some super secret bot insights from EQL's CTO and in-house bot expert, Patrick Donelan. Beep boop!

What are bots and how do they work?

The simplest explanation possible is that bots are software programs that automate tasks on the internet. They can perform various actions like web scraping, data entry, and posting to social media platforms. 

Bots work by interacting with websites and applications through APIs or by simulating human behavior using scripts and algorithms. Most bots are specifically designed to complete simple tasks over and over again, sometimes by mimicking a human user’s actions.

Although the term has some negative connotations, bots aren’t necessarily bad by definition — they just perform the task they were built to do. There are in fact 'good bots' that we rely on for all sorts of helpful things without even realizing it. For example, chatbots can streamline customer service and assist buyers with getting the information they need, imitating human conversation and eliminating the need for excess resources. And search engines couldn’t function without web crawlers, a type of bot that scans data across internet web pages to find relevant content.

The bots that have earned a bad reputation are the ones designed to make fake accounts to make online purchases more quickly and efficiently than any human being ever could. They’ve been programmed to add to cart and check out, then repeat.

These types of malicious bots power the resale market, where in-demand products are sold for way more than the original price. Resellers can run massive networks of bots at once, jumping ahead of queues and wiping out a brand’s entire inventory in moments via repetitive tasks, leaving genuine fans feeling defeated and forcing brands into damage control mode.

Scary, right? So how do you know if you have a bot problem?

reseller bots often use ebay

Bots are difficult to detect because bot behavior often replicates human behavior. They’re designed to appear the same as an actual person and to perform the same actions, only faster. They can be spotted with certain tells, like keystrokes, patterns of mouse movement, and methods of page navigation that don’t look like real human activity, but it takes some expertise and technical savvy to spot these patterns.

So we asked Patrick Donelan, EQL's CTO and bot whisperer, to tell us some of the more obvious signs that your brand or launch might have a bot problem.

According to Patrick, the first signs usually include a crashing site and/or unhappy fans.

"One of the first and more obvious signs you have a bot problem is that you'll start to see your website crashing. Most websites can handle a pretty significant amount of traffic, but when bots bring thousands or even millions of visits per second, web servers can't handle the heat. The other more obvious sign is that your fans will begin to complain. In fact, your fans will probably notice you have a bot problem before you do. Bots follow the hype, so fans will begin to see your products popping up on resale sites, and if they start seeing one person selling multiple units, that means somebody has managed to abuse the system."

Next, and perhaps surprisingly, Patrick says you may notice the bot managers themselves bragging about their wins on different online communities.

"Another big sign is that the botters will start flexing on social media about their wins. A lot of brands don't understand that most botters and cook groups are in fact commercial enterprises, and they need to do their own 'marketing.’ So many of them take to social media to flex how well their bots perform to get others to purchase them. You can't really be a successful commercial cook group if you're operating completely in private."

After these more obvious ways to spot bots, things get a little trickier for the untrained eye. According to Patrick, malicious bot activity is getting more and more sophisticated all the time, with cook groups and botters sharing the latest information on how to hack sites and launches. 

"As soon as one behavior gets flagged by a bot blocker, the bot operator can adapt. Bot programmers are savvy and experienced, and as soon as they see a bot get banned, they’ll figure out why, and then update the software application to behave differently and avoid being detected next time."

This makes the work of detecting and blocking bots a tricky moving target that few bot management solutions can keep up with. And this is why, if you're noticing any signs that botters are targeting your site or high-heat launches, it's time to bring in a solution to help.

What technology works for bot mitigation?

How to block bots

Once you get a bot monitoring and reporting process in place, you’ll likely be surprised by how much of your retail activity is actually bad bot traffic masquerading as real fans. So how do you stop it? 

There are many bot mitigation solutions available that claim to block them out, but unfortunately, few match the level of sophistication that bot programmers are capable of. There are some great tools you can have consistently working on your site to block bots during typical traffic cycles. But what about high-heat moments where your traffic is expected to really spike? Enter EQL.

How does EQL help me block bots?

EQL specializes in the type of e-commerce that bots target most: high-heat, limited-edition launches in which demand exceeds inventory (making the product ripe for generating massive profit on the resale market). 

What’s unique about EQL is the vantage point we have across thousands of high-heat launches from different brands and retailers, allowing us to spot and block all kinds of bot tricks. Our live learning algorithms process bot strategies across all retailer launches on the EQL platform, so we can win the complex cat-and-mouse games that bots like to play. With this massive amount of data, EQL can spot even the most intricate differences between real user accounts and automated ones. 

Another difference is that EQL doesn’t visibly block bots, because doing so would send a signal that whatever they’re trying isn’t working. Instead, EQL accepts bot entries and then filters them out during the process of winner selection. Bots don’t win, and their programmers can’t learn from the experience. It’s a lose-lose for bad actors. 

To date, EQL has analyzed close to 200 million signals for 4,000 high-heat launches and blocked thousands of bad actors from scoring products. 

Why should brands care about any of this?

On one hand, bots don’t make a difference to the retailer in the short term — the product is still getting sold. But, they make all the difference to the fans. Bots make it difficult (if not impossible) to purchase the product or ticket they want. It’s not fun to engage in the launch, and it’ll more than likely end in disappointment and frustration, damaging a brand in the long term.

Fans will do a lot for a brand they love, but over time, that discouragement grows. Many will get to a point where they won’t even try anymore, instead just waiting to snag the product off of an auction website at a markup. That means the brand’s reputation takes a hit while resellers make more profit — driving the growth of the bot economy.

When fans talk about your brand, you want them to say positive things, like how stoked they are for your product and how great your customer service is. Unfortunately, when malicious bot traffic is ruining every attempt to purchase from your brand, that's more likely to be the main focus of your followers. They'll take to social media with their complaints, further turning others off and discouraging engagement with your brand.

Conclusion

You might not be aware of it, but if the products you sell are surrounded by passionate fans, there's a strong chance someone somewhere is going to try to exploit. They’re difficult to detect, and the challenge is constantly growing — but the right tools exist to stop bots and put the power back in the hands of real fans.

Brands can send the message to their followers that they truly care about fans by investing in a bot protection solution that will ensure their product gets into the right hands.

Learn more about EQL and schedule a demo today to see how we can keep your next launch from getting overrun by bot activity.

https://www.eql.com/media/preventing-bots?utm-source=lnk-share
Audrey Fairbrother
Sr. Content Marketing Manager

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