How I finally beat the scalpers and landed a PS5 (Update)
Persistence and a glitch in the Walmart app allowed me to defeat bots to the checkout standBy Cal Jeffrey 43 comments
Editor's take: When it comes to gaming consoles, I do not consider myself an early adopter. I would prefer to save my money and wait for the first price drop because I'm cheap that way. That said, I have bought every generation of PlayStation (including the mid-generation PS4 Pro) either at launch or right after. It happens that I am blessed with a generous wife and a birthday that falls in January.
Update (April 23): Walmart delivered my PlayStation 5 without complications. In fact, it came earlier than expected. It was scheduled to arrive a few days ago, but I actually received it on March 11. I would have posted this update then, but I got sidetracked in my excitement at the lack of actual good PS5 games there are to play.
It's not all bad, though. Playing my PS4 library on the PS5 is a joy. Load times are incredible. Imagine playing Skyrim and only having to wait a few seconds between transitions. Very nice. No Man's Sky (PS5 version) looks spectacular, and the game starts almost as soon as the title screen fades out instead of flying you through space for over a minute while the assets load. Fallout 4 is---well---Fallout 4.
In the past, getting a console for Christmas or my birthday was rarely a problem. Stores usually had plenty of stock on launch day, and if not, there was always Black Friday. Getting one on my birthday, January 20, was even easier. By that time, the mad holiday rush was over, and stores had plenty of units to sell both online and at brick-and-mortar establishments.
The launch of the PlayStation 5 has been a whole different affair though. For the better part of the last year, electronics manufacturers have been struggling to get parts due to the pandemic. As you're all likely familiar, next-generation consoles have been in short supply and as if that were not enough, retailers have also been reserving their allotments for online sales. This situation created an environment rife with scalpers using software to cheat online purchasing systems to sell next-gen consoles and GPUs for twice their retail prices on sites like eBay or StockX.
When my wife told me she would buy me a PS5 for my birthday back in January, I was game, but I certainly was not going to let her pay anything over retail. So began my quest to beat the scalpers and their armies of bots, and I was ultimately triumphant.
The first thing I did was download a mobile app that sends out alerts when stores receive new shipments. There are a ton of them out there, but the one I used was HotStock. The only drawback to these apps is that paid users get notifications first. So by the time I got notified, the stock was usually gone. However, that did not render the app altogether useless. Occasionally, it would push notifications well in advance, and that's what you need---to be prepared.
Over the course of about six weeks, I acted on several of these advance notifications. I tried purchasing from Newegg, but no dice. PlayStation 5 stock was gone literally seconds after the purchasing page went live. I tried Best Buy, Target, Amazon, and GameStop with similar results. It was not all that surprising. Why should retailers do anything to curb scalpers when they are virtually guaranteed to sell out in seconds? They don't care to whom the units are going---that is, except for Walmart.
Early on, Walmart was trying to weed out the scalpers to give regular customers a chance. In December, the retailer revealed that it had blocked more than 20 million illegitimate PS5 purchases in 30 minutes on launch day through a system of software filters and purchase audits. When I initially heard this claim, I was a bit skeptical, so when HotStock said PS5s would be in-stock at Walmart at 2:00 pm on March 4, I was intrigued to see if its bot mitigations worked.
The first thing I did was create a Walmart account. I made sure that I went into my profile and filled out my shipping address and my credit card information so that if I did get one in my cart, I could check out immediately. I had learned from a previous experience that just because you get one in your cart does not guarantee you will get it through checkout.
The next thing I did was add an extra controller to my cart. I always like to have a spare controller on hand, so I got it ready since it was in stock. I also believe it might have helped me later, but more on that in a minute.
Once I had everything set up, I navigated to the PlayStation 5 product listing. There was no "Buy" or "Add to Cart" button yet. It was unclear whether the page would refresh automatically or not, so I trigger tested the Command + R shortcut on my MacBook Pro to be sure it was functioning and to limber up my fingers a little.
As the clock hit 1:59 pm, I started spamming refresh. I noted that the page took a few seconds to load each time, so I adjusted my timing so the reload would occur precisely at 2:00. Somewhat to my surprise, it worked. Right on schedule, an "Add to Cart" button appeared. Somewhat unsurprisingly, I was greeted with the all-to-familiar: "Sorry. This item could not be added to your cart because we recently ran out of stock."
How disappointing. I had at least thought I might get one into my cart. I mean, I was totally ready.
Just as I shut down the browser, HotStock's alarm went off again. I looked at my phone. The notice read, "Walmart will have PS5's in-stock at 2:10 pm." I reopened my browser and got ready again.
As I waited for the appointed time, I read through some comments on Walmart's PS5 page. A couple of people mentioned that they had better luck snagging a PS5 using the Walmart mobile app instead of the desktop. So I downloaded it, signed into my account, and got it to the PS5 purchase page. I noticed that the app still showed an item in my cart (the controller), so I knew I was good to go.
Unsure of whether the app would automatically refresh, I tried swiping down. It was awkward and clunky, and I could not seem to get a consistent enough rhythm to get it to load precisely when I wanted. So instead of spamming the refresh on my phone, I just waited until seconds before 2:10. It took me two tries to get the buy button to load and again---out of stock.
A few minutes later, HotStock chimed again---It was happening again at 2:20 pm. At that point, I began to understand what Walmart was doing. It was essentially putting up its entire stock of PS5s, going through the orders, canceling those going to the same address or other suspicious bot-like activity, and then putting those back into inventory for another round of sales.
This stock refresh went on every 10 minutes for two hours. Fortunately, I landed my PS5 after only an hour and a half (only---HA), but it still was not so easy. Even though I was getting multiple chances, I could not get the item into my cart. I kept trying with both the desktop and the Walmart app, and after one failed attempt, I noticed that the purchase button was still displayed on the app screen even though the browser page said it was out of stock.
I thought maybe if I waited until the next round went live and then hit that purchase button on the app, I could shave a few milliseconds off my time. Sure enough, as soon as the clock hit the sale time, I tapped the Add button and got it into my cart. I frantically rushed to complete the purchase but was told it could not complete my order---out-of-stock---of course!
Now, this is where having the extra controller in my basket may have worked to my benefit. While the desktop showed my cart having only the controller in it, the app still showed two items. I tapped the button to check, and there were the PS5 and the spare controller (above), but the PS5 entry said, "Out of stock." Ah-ha! So maybe I was on to a multistep process.
I left the app on my cart page while I spammed refresh on my Mac. I planned to hit checkout as soon as I saw the buy button on the browser appear. It totally worked! I got to and through the purchase processing screens and received a confirmation email that my order had been placed and was scheduled for delivery... albeit not until mid-April, but I wasn't about to complain.
In a nutshell, if you are patient and persistent enough, wait until Walmart has stock. Use a combination of your desktop browser and the Walmart app on your phone to get the PlayStation 5 (or Xbox Series X, for that matter), into your cart and through checkout. I'm going to stop short of saying that if you follow the same process, you're guaranteed to snag one, but I am willing to say that it can definitely improve your chances. Hopefully, having the foreknowledge of what I went through will make it go a bit smoother for you.
Masthead credit: Girts Ragelis