Switch Shortage and Resale Debate


Photograph courtesy of arstechnica.net

Let’s do an essentials check. Toilet paper? Check. Loads of canned goods and nonperishables? Check. N95 Mask? Check. Nintendo Switch? Good luck finding one. When did a console become an essential item? If I had to guess, it would be around the time the new Animal Crossing was announced. You may have lost your beach vacation, but Nintendo still has your back. Or at least they did. 

Prior to the coronavirus causing a massive tech shortage, Nintendo’s fifth generation console was quickly becoming one of the fastest selling consoles in the world. A recent Forbes article reports that around 52 million Switch units were sold by January 2020, causing availability of the console to be sparse. This scarcity has been further amplified by a consumer practice that has been hitting certain products. As demand for the console has grown, customers have been buying out entire store stocks and attempting to resell them on venues like Facebook Marketplace and Amazon. These resales are generally priced with an outrageous markup. Even online stocks have been facing a shortage as these shady consumers employ automated bots designed to buy any consoles listed on a storefront. 

These shady practices are now generating a conversation around the legality and ethics of resale purchasing through automated bots. The practice of bot buying has received some legal attention in the past. In 2016, President Obama signed the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act into law which outlawed the practice of online ticket scalping for concert and theater productions. Whether or not this will affect future laws on the subject is up for debate. In the meantime, some companies have instituted their own safeguards against these by outs. Safeguards including CAPTCHA and changing item listings have so far been effective, but there is another way to end these buyouts. 

If you see a switch priced for more than $350, do not buy it. Ignore the offer completely. The more we feed the scalpers, the more incentive they have to engage in this scummy action. Nintendo is working on a massive restock of Switch consoles, so just hold out for a few more months. There are few things as satisfying as watching a scalper get saddled with monetary loss.