Black Friday? Maybe we should call it Bot Friday, as they’re a huge problem for ecommerce, and now they’re coming for the day after Thanksgiving.
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday quickly approaching, retailers are gearing up, stocking inventory, hiring seasonal staff and even upping their cybersecurity. In this day and age, shoppers must be extremely careful when making purchases online, as bots are more sophisticated and damaging than ever before.
This problem is so widespread that just a few weeks ago, Nike announced a crackdown on sneaker bots in an attempt to curtail the rapidly growing resale market. This market is driven largely by fake accounts and bots that scoop up inventory at the expense of genuine customers.
In fact, a new study from Cheq that analyzed 233 million site visits found retailers should expect over 45 million fake shoppers to flood their sites on Black Friday. The implications of such a drastic influx in bot traffic ranges from over $3 billion in cart abandonment to nearly $370 million in ad dollars wasted on bot clicks. And that doesn’t even factor in the toll on customer experience as shoppers struggle to compete with bots for hot-ticket items.
Why Bots and Fake Users Are Coming After Retail
In today’s fake web, bots, automation tools, fake users and fraudsters seem to be taking over the internet. We’ve seen social media’s integrity put into question as reports of bot activity almost upended the Musk-Twitter deal.
Major companies like PayPal have been on the receiving end of schemes to open millions of fake accounts, and Meta has been combatting Russian and Chinese botnets targeting the U.S. midterms. Even higher education is under assault, given recent bot-driven student enrollment schemes reported in California. Of course, ecommerce is far from exempt.
So, ahead of Black Friday, here are four ways bots and fake users are abusing retail websites.
With Resale Market Growth, Shopper Bots the Perfect Weapon
The resale market is currently a multi-billion-dollar industry and shows no signs of slowing. In order to keep up with this fast-paced industry, some participants are turning to shopper bots.
This happens frequently with popular sneaker drops. Savvy resellers enlist shopper bots to instantly eat up inventory and then sell the sneakers on secondhand websites at a hugely marked-up price. They then cash in on those willing to pay a pretty penny in exchange for the status symbol that’s the envy of fellow sneakerheads.
Bots Used to Stifle Competition in All-Out Ecommerce Wars
The use of bots and fake users is not limited to individual resellers. With more than 26 million ecommerce sites, the web is highly competitive. In order to attract customers, some retailers will promote loss leaders to capture consumer attention, popular items sold at an unusually cheap price. This strategy gets the consumer to engage with the brand, form a relationship and potentially make future purchases from the site. Retailers are making a bet that the investment will pay out in lifetime value.
Some retailers enlist bots to swipe loss leader items from their competitor’s virtual shelves through cart stuffing. These malicious automation tools simply keep the items in a shopping cart so the inventory is not shown as available, forcing shoppers to look elsewhere for the coveted item.
Ecommerce Advertising Budgets Under Assault
Every retailer wants to show up at the top of consumer searches. In fact, they often put a considerable amount of time, effort and budget behind pushing their advertisements to the top of the SERPs.
However, all of those efforts can be quickly undermined if their competition chooses to repeatedly click on those ads and effectively drain their budget. This will ultimately push them further down results pages and make them more difficult for consumers to find. Previous studies have found that ecommerce sites lose at least $2.34 billion to invalid ad clicks annually.
Pricing, Product Scraping New Ways to Collect Intel
Retailers often seek intel on competitive pricing in order to remain on par with industry standards. While this can be done through tedious analysis and studying market research, it can also be done much more quickly by purchasing a scraper bot. These bots quickly scan competitors’ websites and provide the retailer with insights about inventory, product types and pricing. Scrapers of course don’t contribute to legitimate site traffic and harm businesses by sending users to the competition.
Why Does This Matter? Well Duh!
The presence of any level of invalid traffic can lead to loss in customer trust, wasted budget and frustrating shopping experiences. However, most concerning is the impact these malicious users have on the company’s source of truth.
Today, it seems virtually every business claims to be data-driven. But if that data is polluted by harmful traffic and non-human users, it stops being reliable. Metrics become skewed and data becomes impossible to accurately analyze. This can cause businesses to make uninformed decisions about which marketing initiatives to invest in, how to set yearly projections and how to guide the direction of the company.
Prepare To Combat Holiday Season Bots
First, some initial manual work needs to be done. This includes sifting through current customer databases, identifying fake contacts and removing them so they don’t end up inflating bills or polluting future campaigns.
It’s also wise to look at any current campaigns and search for red flags like random spikes in traffic or clicks from suspicious sources. You should also look at any promotional pages that are up and running; are any of them driving a lot of traffic, but not increasing sales? If so, it could be time to dig a bit deeper into those pages to determine if bot traffic could be the cause.
Still, much of this work requires a lot of hands-on attention that drains an organization’s time and resources. By investing in the right cybersecurity programs, especially ahead of the holidays, you can protect loyal customers as well as your company’s image.
Kerry Coppinger is Senior Manager of Brand Marketing at CHEQ