If the most popular gadget this holiday season is a, the second is the humble product tracker. Far more understated than the flashy tech gadgets they follow, these apps and websites, numbering more than a dozen, scour retail websites to notify shoppers when high-demand items are back in stock at a retailer.
The range includes new well-known websites, such as Now In Stock, StockInformer, zooLert, Octoshop, FastAlerts and camelcamelcamel, as well as an army of Twitter bots.
At their head is HotStock, a UK-based app that locates popular products like game consoles and graphics cards. HotStock downloads in the United States doubled from October to November this year, according to App Annie, a provider of mobile data and analytics.
These applications, which rely heavily on automated technology, compete closely with human product trackers who receive advice from warehouse workers, website trackers, or the companies themselves, and whose top performers have accumulated a million subscribers.
“We are in uncharted territory,” said Matt Swider, a tech reporter whose full-time job these days is to follow game consoles on his ultra-popular Twitter Account. “Even the retailers haven’t got a good system in place to tell people, ‘Hey, we’ve got this in stock.'”
Dash for a hiding place
Product trackers rise to prominence in the midst of a perfect storm: A holiday season with heaps of ‘must-have’ electronics and toys is bogged down by shipping delays as consumers are willing to spend at record levels. Shipping delays and supply chain grunts are expected to last until 2022.
“Anyone who has something on a container ship is in a big world right now,” Rick Watson, ecommerce consultant, told CBS MoneyWatch. “If you have a toy that’s on a ship and it gets here two months too late, you might as well burn it. Your kids are going to be upset, you won’t get full price for that product.”
While this holiday season is far from the first time that a hot toy or electronic game hasn’t been available, it’s unusual how irregularly these items can be stored, Watson said. In previous years, items tended to be sold everywhere at around the same time. This year, companies are trying different strategies to get holiday season produce through traffic jams, Watson said.
Some decide to wait for the blockage in the main ports. Others divert freighters to smaller ports elsewhere, or ship expensive cargoes on planes. This means that consumers have to constantly check the websites of individual retailers to try and stay one step ahead of items.
In November, online shoppers saw 3 billion out-of-stock notices, according to Adobe’s Digital Economy Index, up 50% from October.
This is where applications like HotStock come in. They automate the process of finding the most popular websites to find the most popular items – Xboxes, Sony Playstations, and graphics cards are the main items currently being tracked. Once an item is in stock, the app sends a notification to a user’s phone or pop-up in their browser.
But for all of their popularity and high ratings in app stores, these trackers have limitations. For every review saying “I couldn’t have gotten a PS5 without this,” there’s another complaint on Reddit that an alert was left blank. Bots rely on retailer websites, which don’t fully reflect the availability of an item.
“The pricing can be wrong; stock levels may be wrong; there may be delays; these systems can fail, ”said Rick Watson, e-commerce consultant.
As many buyers have figured out, it’s one thing that a PS5 is available somewhere online, and something entirely different that that item is paid for and mailed to your home before the holidays.
“I definitely took too long to take advantage of some of the offers. You don’t actually get a reserved product… you just learn that it’s available, ”said Devon Fata, CEO of Pixoul, a digital product consulting firm. . Fata used ZooLerts, a web-based tracker, to obtain hard-to-find Lego sets as Christmas gifts for his nephews, he told CBS MoneyWatch in an email.
As Jonathan Allen, a gamer turned product tracker who tweets news on consoles like SupplyNinja, explained, “The problem that occurs most often is that consumers cannot add the product to their shopping cart. the bot can only tell you when a replenishment has already started. ”
In contrast, the community of Twitter-based console trackers, of which Allen is a part, can alert their followers in advance of a planned replenishment. Different retailers have different models: Target, for example, likes to stock up early in the morning, writes Allen in his bulletin, which also contains tips on which online payment methods to use for the fastest payment. Citing figures from retailers, Allen said he has helped 40,000 people get a PlayStation or Xbox this year.
Too many alerts
It can be disheartening for a buyer to be bombarded with dozens of product alerts, all of which are empty. In many cases, these in-stock alerts will be technical issues, said Matt Swider, the technical reporter.
“You get a lot of false alarms because the ‘add to cart’ button will light up as a problem. You get notifications, and [the console is] exhausted, but he was not available initially, ”he said.
In other cases, a single customer return is enough to list a product as “back in stock” and trigger a review, according to HotStock. This triggers a binge eating where a shopper – sometimes– clings to the article, while hundreds of others clench their teeth in frustration.
Swider rarely uses bots for his tracking, he said, because the number of results would be overwhelming – and he prefers to alert people who have an opportunity to purchase a product.
Instead, Swider receives guidance from a network of warehouse and retail workers who let them know when items are arriving. He said he confirmed each drop with two different sources before tweeting them to his millions of subscribers. He also regularly runs tutorials on YouTube to advise subscribers on how to secure a console once it’s in stock and advises them to avoid scams.
Swider’s own journey to product tracking was accidental, he says. About a year ago, he encountered a technical glitch while purchasing a PS5 online – and by the time that was fixed, the console was depleted. He tried again the next day, tweeting about his experiences. After amassing over a million Twitter followers, Swider quit his post as editor of Tech Radar last month to launch The shortcut, a technological newsletter where he gives advice on restocking and other technological discounts.
So how do you get a console?
Swider, Allen and Watson offered several tips for buyers wanting.
First: if you choose to use one tracker, use more than one. “Never put all of your eggs in one basket,” Allen said. “Make sure you follow two or three replenishment accounts.”
Also find out about manufacturers and retailers, who are increasingly sending out their own alert services. Members of Walmart Plus, the retailer’s membership service, get first chance to buy a PS5, Swider said; users can also sign up to receive back in stock alerts on PlayStation.com.
Consider following dedicated gamers or tech journalists who, unlike bots, will be able to answer questions and often try to warn followers of scams. And scams are plentiful, said Swider, who said he receives hundreds of messages a day from consumers tempted by PS5 offers on Facebook Marketplace or Twitter. Such an offer, especially for a price close to the retail price, is bogus, he warned.
“Nobody is trying to give you a console for $ 550 when it’s $ 500 [retail] and it’s complete, “he said.” People text me all the time and I have to be brief. It’s a scam. “