Image source:

Sneaker Bots 101: What Are They, and How Do They Work?

October 16, 2023
Audrey Fairbrother
Sr. Content Marketing Manager

For sneaker brands, retailers, and sneakerheads the term "sneaker bots" has become increasingly synonymous with frustration and competition. These pieces of software have reshaped the landscape of limited-edition shoe releases, creating a lucrative resale market while making it an arduous task for genuine enthusiasts to snag their most coveted kicks.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll venture into all things sneaker bots, investigating their many intricacies while addressing the ethical and legal concerns surrounding their use.

Most importantly for brands, we'll share some tips on how to protect your next launch from becoming a bot-feeding frenzy. 

Understanding sneaker bots

Ah, sneaker bots. Formidable adversaries for sneaker enthusiasts. Also known as "shoe bots", these robust software applications are specifically crafted to automate the purchase of limited-edition sneakers from online retailers. By employing automated scripts and proxies, these bots add desired items to their carts and complete the checkout process within a matter of seconds, providing bot users a distinct advantage over us human shoppers. 

The more advanced bots can actually mimic human behavior, but at an accelerated pace and on a larger scale, cleverly circumventing any barriers designed to thwart them.

The inner workings of sneaker bots

We’re about to get a little technical here, so strap in: Leveraging proxies to mask their IP addresses and browser automation to simulate human action, sneaker bots operate covertly, sidestepping most website security measures. Depending on the type, bots can target specific websites, monitor product pages, and expedite the checkout process by adding items to online shopping carts, all while bypassing captchas (Yep. While your fans are still stuck trying to click on all the squares that show school buses, bots are running away with the inventory).

In a bid to stay ahead of any strategies brands might be implementing to stop them, bot users often turn to "cook groups" for information and support. No, they’re not sharing recipes— cook groups share best practices and other information to help botters be successful in their efforts. 

An Inside look at the sneaker bot economy

The cook groups mentioned above are just one piece of a thriving ecosystem surrounding bots, including sneaker bots. Many botters take to online communities like Discord to buy, sell, rent, or trade bots for specific use cases. There are even botters you can pay to run bots for you as a sort of “botting as a service”. 

Over time, these ecosystems have turned into full-blown economies where bots can go for thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Different types of sneaker bots

Sneaker bots have diversified to cater to various aspects of the sneaker-buying process. Here’s a more in-depth look at the most common types:

Scraping bots

Scraping bots collect valuable data on sneaker releases, prices, and stock levels from various websites across the interwebs, and then feed that content through natural language processing (NLP) to extract any relevant information from web pages, providing resellers with valuable insights on what’s going to be an in-demand launch so they can make informed purchasing decisions. For example, this YouTuber shows how he pulls inventory information from the page URL. This bot could then be used to notify the bot operator when there’s a restock of sneakers.

Scraping bots are tricky! They employ proxies to avoid IP address blocking and captcha challenges, ensuring uninterrupted data collection. They also try to navigate sites "like a human" to avoid detection. With real-time updates on sneaker availability, these bots give resellers a competitive edge in the market.

Some websites are easier to scrape than others, which is why typical off-the-shelf e-commerce solutions aren’t always the best choice for high-heat or in-demand product launches. 

Account creation bots

Automating the process of generating multiple user accounts on shopping platforms, account creation bots play a vital role in helping resellers increase their chances of purchasing limited edition sneakers on hot drops. These bots use automation techniques to fill in registration forms with user details quickly and are capable of generating realistic usernames and email addresses, enhancing the authenticity of the accounts they create.

Like scraping bots, these bots also have the capability to bypass security measures such as captchas and email verification, ensuring a seamless account creation process. They use both credential stuffing and credential cracking, doing multiple login attempts with stolen usernames and passwords to gain access to other shoppers' accounts.

Many retailers don’t realize how smart these bots are at reverse engineering the system. Imagine this scenario: A retailer announces that they will be doing an upcoming high-heat launch, but that launch will only be open to people who have an account with that retailer. Oftentimes, this information leaks to bot communities, who have the time and ability to create multiple accounts to participate. When the time comes, all these bots get in with their legitimate accounts, whereas, real fans might not see that they even need an account until it’s too late and the launch is already running. 

Raffle bots

Raffle bots are primarily designed to allow botters the ability to automatically participate in online contests, lotteries, or raffles, and their approach is slow and sneaky. The primary goal of a raffle bot is to fly under the radar to impersonate as many fake identities as possible, and garner as many chances to win as possible. These bots can complete entry forms, submit user details, and even engage with the contest's interface to increase the likelihood of winning.

FCFS bots

FCFS (first-come, first-serve) bots, quite the opposite of raffle bots, are fast and brute force. The lineman of bots, if you will. With these bots, each drop is a race against other sneaker bots, meaning subtlety goes out the window and the bots go all-out trying to smash the site with as many purchase attempts as they can. 

Cashing out bots

By automating the process of selling their acquired sneakers on resale sites, these bots help resellers save time and effort. These bots can create compelling product descriptions and attractive listings that appeal to genuine fans who missed out on getting their hands on a pair during the initial launch.  

Cashing-out bots also have the ability to adjust prices based on market demand, ensuring competitive pricing and maximizing revenue. Additionally, they can monitor competitor prices and provide pricing recommendations to stay ahead of the competition. 

Sneaker bots impact on commerce

Sneaker bots have a substantial impact on commerce, disrupting the fairness of the purchasing process and favoring resellers. The secondary market for limited edition sneakers thrives, while businesses suffer reputation damage when customers encounter sold-out products. Inventory shortages due to sneaker bots also lead to a significant loss of revenue for retailers. After all, brands can start to build loyalty by selling 100 sneakers to 100 fans, vs 100 sneakers to 1 bot. 

The effect on customers and fans 

Genuine sneaker enthusiasts face heightened competition and inflated prices due to sneaker bots. Acquiring limited-edition sneakers has become exceedingly challenging, leaving enthusiasts disappointed and frustrated. 

High demand and limited availability exacerbate the problem, requiring customers to invest significant time and effort to stay informed. Basically, sneaker bots have created a challenging landscape for legitimate fans, hindering their enjoyment of the sneaker culture.

The influence on brands

Online businesses encounter substantial challenges resulting from sneaker bot activities. These sophisticated tools disrupt website traffic and increase server loads, impacting overall performance. Brands take a hit when bots dominate their launches, leading to a lower brand affinity and distrust from fans. They also miss out on the ability to create secondary moments with those fans who participated in their launch. Not to mention the operational pain: combatting sneaker bots requires ongoing monitoring and adaptation, as bots continually evolve. 

Are sneaker bots legal?

The legality of sneaker bots varies depending on jurisdiction and platform terms of service. While some platforms explicitly prohibit bot usage, others may permit it within certain boundaries. Violating platform rules can result in account suspension or legal ramifications, necessitating continuous awareness of evolving laws and regulations regarding bot usage.

The issue is that it’s often hard to identify the persons behind the bots, and therefore, they can often escape any legal trouble. 

Protecting your sneaker launch against bots with EQL

If you want to protect your next in-demand launch from bots, turning to EQL’s end-to-end launch solution has you completely covered. 

First, EQL’s platform withstands the heat of an in-demand launch with limitless infrastructure that can handle any traffic spike bots might throw at it. We’ve seen hundreds of visits a minute, with no downtime.

Next, EQL analyzes hundreds of signals from each entrant of your launch to ensure they are genuine fans. We’d tell you more here but that’s kind of our secret sauce, you’ll need to get in touch with us to learn more. What we can say, is in this comprehensive process, bots get filtered out (without even knowing it), meaning only real fans get a chance to grab the kicks they want, saving your brand a ton of reputational headaches. Since our inception in 2021, we’ve blocked over one million bad actors from getting their hands on in-demand sneakers. 

EQL is currently being used by the world’s most innovative sneaker brands including Nike, Asics, Salomon, Foot Locker, and many more to create a fairer launch experience for their fans. 

Final thoughts…

In conclusion, sneaker bots have redefined the sneaker industry, enabling their users to automate purchases and increase their chances of securing limited-edition releases, while genuine fans miss out.

But, EQL can help. If you’re ready to protect your next launch, get in touch here, we’d be happy to chat.
Audrey Fairbrother
Sr. Content Marketing Manager

Get all our insights on commerce x culture delivered straight to your inbox with The Restock:

We got your information. We'll send next steps straight to your inbox.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
A newsletter for the cultural fans and brands who power culture through commerce
Subscribe to The Restock
We got your information. We'll send next steps straight to your inbox.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Get more from your launches
✓  Chaos-proof technology helps you manage demand
✓  EQLizer gets products to fans, creating even more fans
✓  Revenue maximizers connect launches to your future growth
✓  Fan-first experience turns product passion into brand loyalty

Interested in getting a demo of how EQL works? Fill in your details below and we'll be in touch to organise a time that suits you.