This past week at Berlin’s Solebox, the store implemented a new policy concerning the release of the Parra x Nike Air Max 1 trainer. Buyers were forced to to wear the newly copped sneakers as they exited the store. Subsequent videos posted online showed some tiptoeing out of the store and trying to clean them before placing them back in the box.
The videos were thought to be largely of re-sellers – people who buy sneakers just to be able to hawk them online at exorbitant prices. Today, the hype surrounding sneakers has grown so massive and resale prices have grown so tremendously that a level of discontent has arisen among sneaker heads.
To fight this, Solebox had their method, while in other cases Yeezy’s (a favourite of re-sellers) were sold without a receipt or box – two marks of authenticity for re-sellers – and adidas implemented a policy where they could ban people thought to be re-sellers (it didn’t work though.) A lot of shops like End. Clothing are also making customers enter raffles just to be able to buy a pair of kicks. Re-seller or not winning a pair from some of these releases has been likened to winning the sneaker lottery by some sneaker heads.
But it’s still been hard for stores to fight re-sellers – particularly when they’re using modern technology. The most powerful tool re-sellers have found are the same technology that has been in the news for influencing global elections – bots.
These sneaker bots work at such a fast rate that trainers tend to sell out within seconds of hitting the market. The sneakers soon after reappear online on various streetwear apps and resale platforms at much higher prices. As a result, many sneaker heads are refusing to be extorted and instead pass on getting the latest colourway or design.
Initiatives like Solebox’s have been welcome to the sneaker community because they are tired of overshot prices and quick sell outs. The problem is when a colourway is so sought after, it can be near impossible to find one for a casual collector. The New York Times recently ran a piece about a sneaker head chasing the Balenciaga Triple S in the beige and green colorway. It took him nine months of setting up online notifications, calling stores across the country, asking Pusha-T if he could have his used ones, buying counterfeits, and finding every other method to finally cop a pair. When he finally found them in his size (which wasn’t a particularly unusual one) he realized he didn’t really care about them anymore.
Ultimately, stores and brands are split. They like selling out in seconds to create hype. But the frustration of customers is telling. Regardless, the fight may be futile. The sophistication of sneaker bots is at a level humans will never match. And a cold war has started between bots and brands trying to fight off sneaker bots.
ABC Australia recently reported on a sneaker bot programmer using a program based in Lebanon to buy up sneakers.
“The program is a thousand times faster than you as a human,” Alex Kabbara, Vice President of AIY Expert Solutions, a company that makes bots for things like copping Yeezys. “And you have 100 of these operating. So they’re 100,000 times faster than you are on your own.”
The technicality of such programs just goes to show how lucrative the sneaker market is today. But the possibility of burnout is never too far away. One thing bots are not is human. And humans still dictate the market.
Speaking to a former adidas employee in Nuremberg last week, we were told how he has a collection of Yeezys for sale that aren’t getting any attention.
When asked which model and colourway he had up for sale, “All of them,” he replied. “Yeezys are dead.”
And that’s the thing about markets. As soon as developers think they’ve figured them out, they evolve again. With sneakers, that means certain brands will lose their aura and new ones will take their place. Stores and brands will fight to respond and keep things level. But in the meantime, it might be a while until you can casually cop that hyped new colourway.