More than a year after they first rolled off the production line, it’s still almost impossible to find Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X in the wild. Those two consoles renewed the decades-long war between the two video game publishing giants, but due to a litany of ongoing issues with the global supply chain and the lingering effects of the interminable pandemic, the machinery of consumption has remained locked in a tight, stuffy chokehold.
Personally, I’ve been trying to secure a PS5 since they first were made available for preorder last September. All of my attempts have ended in disorienting failure. Restocks at companies like Target, Walmart and GameStop disappear within seconds, and at the height of the holidays, it seems likely that the shortages will persist deep into 2022.
All of this tumult has emboldened a legion of scalpers, gougers and resellers. They’ve harnessed a suite of algorithms designed to purchase scores of PS5s and Xboxes at once, and they’re dutifully relisting them on the public bazaar at a snidely elevated price tag. (The PS5 retails for $499. On StockX, the world’s preeminent clearinghouse for flipped goods, it goes for around $750.) As long as the consoles are scarce, the vultures will continue to circle.
I was eager to get inside the head of one of the people profiteering from the austerity, so I called up 18-year-old Matthew, a collegiate hockey player from outside of Toronto, who’s been flipping PS5s and Xboxes as a side hustle since 2020. He gladly took me behind the scenes of a seedy world filled with bots, scams and international freighting operations.
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I started flipping sneakers two years ago, but once it became clear that Xboxes and PS5s were going to be hard to get, a bunch of us in the community realized that there was going to be a lucrative market for them.
There’s a lot of overlap between those two worlds. Shoes and video-game consoles both drop all at once on a website and reward patrons on a first-come, first-serve basis. In fact, you could make the argument that consoles are easier to resell than sneakers, because a PS5 doesn’t come in a specific size.
Anyway, after the consoles first came out, we started going out to the store and buying up those machines in bulk. A year ago, though, people started to design and sell these scripted bots that automate the checkout process entirely, which really helped us scale up. Once you have the technology down, consoles become really easy to scoop.
I play hockey during the day, but in the mornings and evenings, I’m all in on the console hustle. It’s a simple process: Developers peddle these bots to people like me, and I use them to buy PS5s much faster and more efficiently than a human can. I’m basically running a lightning-quick checkout service; my customers give me their shipping information and pay me a fee, and I’ll be able to make a purchase order for them and send the goods directly to their address.
The bots are designed in such a way that I’m able to escape any scrutiny from whatever store I’m buying from. They run through a ton of different proxies, which makes it look like I’m accessing the website from thousands of different places around the world. If the store could see that I’m making all of those orders from my own address, they’re much more likely to shut me down.
We’re always staying one step ahead of the stores. They’ve added a ton of bot protection, but it doesn’t matter, the scripts work 90 percent of the time. Some stores are more savvy than others, though. Best Buy is generally pretty stingy. If I have 10 PS5s coming to my address from Best Buy, five will probably be spontaneously cancelled.
But overall, the bots have been a good investment. I’m still making money, even though I’m paying for the software. In fact, the only real annoyance in this hustle is the time investment required. A lot of stores are shock-dropping PS5s at random points on the calendar. If you’re not home, you won’t be able to get your bot up and running. It’s pretty annoying.
Thankfully, companies like Walmart will announce when there’s a restock on the horizon, and we also have access to plenty of inside information. There are a bunch of members-only groups online that give you a ton of intel on incoming supplies of sneakers, consoles or anything else you’re flipping. Those cost about $50 a month to join, but it’s worth it. You can cop hundreds and hundreds of PS5s and Xboxes if you know what you’re doing. There’s really no limit. My best score ever was 390 total consoles purchased in one night. But again, a lot of that product doesn’t ship to me. A ton goes to the people who I run for, which is a win-win. I can’t take in 300 consoles to my house at once anyway.
That said, I do sell plenty of PS5s on my own. There’s a bunch of different ways to find buyers. The easiest is to contact bulk-buyers in your local marketplace. They’ll take as many as you have, and pay a decent price — the same cost you might see on StockX. The other way is to go through Facebook Marketplace, which is considerably slower and more chaotic. There are a ton of people undercutting your price, and there’s been a lot of muggings and scams in that ecosystem. Nobody wants to deal with that. The third primary method is perhaps the easiest: You send the consoles to these U.S.-based warehouses, who then ship them internationally to countries that don’t have access to commercial PS5s whatsoever. Those underserved markets are willing to pay a premium through a third-party source. It takes a while to get your money if you go that route, but it gets the job done.
I’m pretty open about this hustle. If I get 30 consoles at my house, I’ll post a photo of them and show them off. I don’t really care, and nobody really says anything to me. The way I see it, if I wasn’t working this angle, somebody else would be. That’s also one of the nice things about working with buyers who are sucking up as many PS5s as they can before freighting them off to India. They don’t really ask questions.
Plus, why would I feel bad about that? They don’t have consoles over there, so they have to get them one way or another.