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What Is 'Console Scalping' (And How to Avoid It)

Since the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X launched in November 2020, consoles have flown off the virtual shelves at such a pace that it has felt – at times – difficult to get one.

In normal circumstances, we know that can be a bit disheartening. But with reports suggesting that some console stock is being snapped up by ‘scalpers’ – who are buying up a certain number of pre-orders using a range of tactics and selling those devices on at a highly inflated price – we understand that there’s real frustration.

But why exactly has it been hard to get hold of devices? How do scalpers work? How much of a problem is it? And what are the best ways to beat the scalpers?

Why aren’t there many new games consoles in the UK at the moment?

One of the stories making headlines is that there simply aren’t that many next generation consoles available for sale in the UK.

As it stands, there is some truth to that. A combination of a shortage of key parts for consoles, disruption to manufacturing and shipping caused by COVID-19 last year and even some Brexit related issues at the border has slowed down the supply of consoles.

However in the three months since the consoles launched, two of those months have seen the new consoles emerge as the best selling games hardware on the market.

What we’re seeing isn’t necessarily a shortage of devices, but massively increased demand. With more people playing than ever before following lockdown last year and this year’s stay at home order keeping people indoors, there are just more people than ever buying consoles.

This, combined with the production issues, is the main reason for the current shortages. But it will likely be resolved in the coming months.

How much of a problem are scalpers?

While the majority of the stock shortages are caused by simple supply and demand, there also are instances of resellers using a range of tactics to snap up consoles.

There are organised networks using a range of technology and tactics to snap up some of the console stock on the market, flogging it at elevated price to profit from it.

It’s something the video game industry is frustrated by. Scalped consoles stop players from enjoying the new generation of games, prevent developers – including many across the UK – from selling their games as widely and lead to a lot of frustration for everyone to deal with.

However, there are a few things that are worth noting:

  • Retailers are getting better at stopping scalpers. They’re upgrading their security processes to screen them out more effectively and are using a variety of tactics to identify potentially scalped pre-orders – removing those purchases and putting them back on sale.
  • When stock levels do improve, the scalpers will have nowhere to go. Unlike ticket scalping, where you may only have one shot to see your favourite act or production before it goes, console scalping will become much less effective when supply catches up with demand.
  • Overall, scalping isn’t as successful as the perpetrators claim it is. In the UK, there are currently a couple of thousand consoles listed on resale sites. But in the final quarter of last year, approximately 8m new consoles were shipped worldwide – demonstrating that there is a considerable difference between how effective scalpers say they are and reality.

Why shouldn’t you buy from a scalper?

There are a few big reasons why you shouldn’t buy from a scalper.

1. You don’t know who you’re buying from. There is no guarantee that the person you’re buying from is who they say they are, let alone that they have a device to hand. It means you’re risking a lot of money without a trusted source.

2. Your consumer rights are not protected if you don’t purchase from a retailer. Your rights to repair, to refunds and to returns are lost if you buy from a scalper, which means that you’ll be left without support if something does go wrong.

3. You’re overpaying for your devices. However much you might want to buy them now, you will almost certainly save hundreds of pounds – and a lot of worry – by holding off for a little bit longer to get a console.

Ultimately, it’s safer and cheaper to wait to buy from an official retailer than take the risk of buying from a scalper.

Any final tips for beating the scalpers?

Here are our top tips for how you can give yourself the best chance of beating the scalpers:

  • Stay patient. We know how frustrating it is at the moment but the longer you wait, the more stock becomes available.
  • Keep an eye on social media from all the major retailers to know when stock drops take place. Stock moves quickly, but console sellers will let you know when they have devices available for sale.
  • Don’t buy from the scalpers at all. Refusing to buy from scalpers will prevent them from profiting from any shortages, discouraging others from engaging in such behaviour.

We know it sometimes feels like you can’t wait to get your next-generation console. But if you can hold out a little bit longer, we’re confident you’ll be able to get one, that it’ll be at the right price and won’t be at risk from scalpers.

Avatar for Andrew Robertson
Andrew Robertson
Andy Robertson is the editor of AskAboutGames and has written for national press and broadcast about video games and families for over 15 years. He has just published the Taming Gaming book with its Family Video Game Database.