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12/16/2020

Walmart battles bots to protect gaming consoles

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Selfish grinches are out to automatically buy up the latest PlayStation and Xbox consoles, but Walmart is fighting back with advanced technology.

During the 2020 holiday season, Walmart has seen levels and patterns of online and mobile traffic it has never before experienced. Contributing factors include increased online shopping due to COVID-19 and the seven-year release cycles of next-generation gaming consoles. 

However, Walmart is also receiving increased digital traffic from bots – programs written to quickly complete transactions when items are released online. Bots are often used by resellers, because they can complete many transactions before a human has the chance to complete one. 

In response, Walmart is deploying a variety of solutions and strategies to intercept bot traffic and prevent automated purchases of newly released gaming consoles. Bot scripts are constantly evolving and being re-written, so Walmart has built, deployed, and is continuously updating its bot detection tools, which the retailer says has allowed it to successfully block the vast majority of bots it sees.

In a corporate blog post, Walmart chief information security officer Jerry Geisler said one preventative action it implemented hours before the PlayStation 5 release on Nov. 25 blocked more than 20 million bot attempts within the first 30 minutes alone. Walmart also audits and quickly cancels any orders confirmed to be purchased by bots that may have slipped through. 

“As a result, the vast majority of our next-gen consoles have been purchased by legitimate customers, which is exactly what we want,” said Geisler. “We have more next-gen consoles coming online soon, and we’re continuing to work hard to get them into the hands of as many customers as possible. We hope others across the retail industry will join us by asking lawmakers to do more to prevent these unwanted bots on retail sites, so customers have equal access to the products they want.”