These days, there seem to be a lot of signs that capitalism is ruining the world in ways both big and small. Most of the big ways are so large and complex that it’s difficult to tie systemic failures and the designs of capitalism together unless you’ve spent time learning the ins and outs of the systems connecting them. The idea is nothing new, of course, since activists of various affiliations have been pointing it out for decades now and we’ve seen a recent surge of attention to this fact as capitalist society continues to rot from the inside out in a way that makes it more and and more difficult to ignore unless you are emotionally or financially invested in pretending that this sinking ship of an economic theory is actually good for people. Still, that’s a little difficult to appreciate and far beyond my scope as a writer to discuss at length (due to a lack of expertise in economic theory, not skill at witing), so I’m going to narrow my scope to a common frustration that I’m sure we can all relate to: scalpers.
What first started with tickets to sporting events and concerts has grown into an entire secondary marketplace where any product with a limited supply can be snapped up in seconds and then, in a matter of minutes, be found for sale again on various digital marketplaces. Perhaps the most absurd example I’ve encountered is the one that initially inspired this blog post. Last week, a set of dice (typically used for various Tabletop Roleplaying Games) was put on sale by Arby’s. They were fairly simple dice, with their only notable feature being the presence of the Arby’s Hat Logo at the center of each of them, but they were sold out in a matter of minutes. Gone so quickly the webpage took a while to accurately show that they were out of stock and then, a few minutes later, showed them with a maximum purchase limit of ten sets. They were gone so quickly that I, after hearing about them from a friend in a group chat and deciding to buy them just for a laugh since they were only twelve dollars, couldn’t buy a set a mere 10 minutes after they went on sale. The website was so swamped with purchases that they couldn’t even tell me they were out of stock when the sale failed. Instead, they just gave me credit card errors.
Anyone who has had a similar experience can tell you exactly what happened. Scalpers showed up and, with their bots or scripts or whatever methodoly they’ve devised for this website, bought everything available. I had my suspicions confirmed when I went to check resale sites and found brand new listings, not even a few minutes old, for the Arby’s dice sets, each one priced for four hundred fifty or more dollars. As I dug into this, still surprised that scalpers had chosen cheap Arby’s dice as something to be bought and resold at an outrageous markup, I discovered that the previous sale had been very popular, over a year ago, and that people have been posting on forums and various social media sites about how they’re willing to pay quite a bit more than the sale price for a set of these dice. Most offers I saw peaked at fifty to one hundred dollars, so I’m still not sure what the scalpers are thinking in this case, but they must know something I don’t since one set that I was following already sold for the asking price of four hundred fourty-five dollars [it has since been marked as for sale again, so I’m not sure what happened here].
Less recently, but still fairly recently, the same thing happened to the Collector’s Editions of the new Legend of Zelda game. I watched the trailer and announcement live and was refreshing every website to see the listings the instant they went up and then, futilely, to see when the “purchase” button was available for me to click. I watched for hours and repeatedly checked in for days after the announcement and never saw the option to buy a single collector’s edition. The instant they were available, they were already sold out. Which is also what happened with the Nintendo Switch and every gaming Console since. The instant preorders were open, people had maybe a couple minutes at most to place a preorder before stock vanished. We even saw it during the pandemic, during the run on grocery stores when a whole bunch of items sold out immediately. Toilet paper, latex gloves, various cleaning products, and hand sanitizer. Any place you looked online for a solid two weeks, all of those were sold out. They were still available in stores that required you to come pick up your goods, but anywhere that would ship in-store items to an online buyer was out of everything at one point or another in the early days.
Probably the most frustrating part of the whole affair is the knowledge that online retailers could take steps to prevent or mitigate this issue and, generally speaking, just choose not to. After all, what do they care? They got paid. Plus, some of them (as John Oliver reported in one of his segments last year), are actively working against consumers in order to better line their own pockets (though I will admit that the issue of live performance tickets is particularly egregious for a lot of reasons). It’s pretty despicable out there. And frustrating for everyone who just wants to enjoy one of the nice things about modern living and buy something without needing to wait in line in front of a store for twelve or more hours. Though, I will admit, I did have a lot of fun doing that back in 2017 when I was trying to get my hands on a Switch. I will say that if there was a guarantee that waiting outside a Best Buy again would work, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, there’s rarely any guarentee that a product will be in stock on release day, due to the increasing popularity of preordering things and the change from in-store stock to stock being kept in local warehouses for online purchasers to get shipped directly to them or to a store where they can pick it up.
It’s a small thing, in the grand scheme of modern living, but it’s also something impactful that is easy to grasp and appreciate no matter your background. This is a problem that could be easily solved by a small, limited amount of legislation to bring legal protections into the digital age (though hardly the top of the priority list, I’ll admit, and definitely not even in my personal top twenty) or by any company giving even a tiny bit of a shit. Too bad that will never happen as companies in this economic system we’re trapped in are all in the business of making money and just so happen to occasionally provide products and services as a result.