The Real Cost of a PS5: How Scalpers Own the Market

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Why are PlayStation 5s so hard to get right now? How are online scalpers contributing to the PS5 problem?

The PS5 was released in November 2020. However, a large portion of the gaming community has yet to get their hands on one. This is due to a number of factors: COVID, the microchip shortage, and most frustratingly, scalpers.

Here’s how PS5 scalpers are contributing to the console shortage.

Overview of the Situation

Every time a new console is released, customers scramble to preorder it. If they don’t, they know they’ll likely have to wait for months after the holiday season for the consoles to be restocked again. That might have been the case with the PS5 if it hadn’t been released during a pandemic.

There were many factors that added up to make the perfect storm for the PlayStation 5—the two biggest being that the pandemic caused Sony employees to work from home and the global microchip shortage limited the number of PS5s being produced. Thanks to these two issues, Sony has a limited number of consoles. This problem was aggravated by the fact that PS5s were in very high demand. Perhaps it’s because customers were stuck at home with nothing to do, but PlayStation 5 preorders quickly outnumbered PlayStation 4 preorders, sending the demand for the consoles through the roof.

And, if we learned anything from the sneaker bot situation (computer programs designed to purchase high-demand, collectible sneakers as soon as—or before—they’re released online), if a product is in high demand, scalpers will take advantage of it. And the PS5 is no exception. 

What Is Scalping?

Before we jump into a conversation about PS5 scalping, we should probably explain exactly what scalping is. A scalper is someone who buys large quantities of in-demand items, such as collectibles, event tickets, or in this case, PS5s. Their goal is to profit off of supply and demand—they’re betting on the fact that these items will sell quickly and will be hard to find so they can swoop in and sell them at a higher price than they’re worth.

You’d think that this type of con-artistry would be illegal, but in most cases, it’s not. Some states have specific event ticket scalping regulations, but for the most part, scalping is considered a consequence of the free-market system. As long as the products are being legally sold and purchased, there’s nothing stopping scalpers from selling an item at double or more than the price they paid. 

Why Is Scalping a Problem?

It’s not new and it’s not illegal, so you may be wondering why this is even a problem. Improvements in technology have made it easier for scalpers and online sales have brought out more scammers looking to cash in on the high prices.

Jacked-Up Resale Prices

PS5 scalpers are using bots to purchase loads of consoles as soon as they become available online. Some PS5 scalpers have even been seen with carloads of consoles, infuriating those who have been trying to get their hands on one for years.

The scalpers are then selling them for double or more than the retail cost (that’s over $800, and in some cases, they sell for over $1,000). Consoles are already expensive as it is—the retail cost of a PlayStation 5 ranges from $399 to $499—so the price hikes from scalpers make the consoles even less accessible. 

Scalpers Lead to Scammers

If you’ve decided to just bite the bullet and buy a PS5 from a scalper online, wouldn’t you buy the $550 one over the $880 one? That’s what a lot of people are choosing to do, and they’re suffering for it. PS5 scammers are taking advantage of the scalping situation in deplorable ways. Some are sending out boxes with other items in them (such as bricks), some are tricking buyers into buying photos of PS5s by hiding the details in the fine print, some are selling empty PS5 boxes on the street, and some are downright stealing the money and running. 

Since scams have been a huge issue, largely thanks to PS5 scalpers, it’s safest to wait until you can purchase one directly from a retailer—even if it may take much longer.

Is Sony Being Affected by PS5 Scalpers?

You might think that scalpers actually help rather than hurt companies, right? Scalpers purchase all of a company’s products right away—isn’t that great for sales? Yes…and no.

Sure, PS5 consoles are selling immediately, but that doesn’t mean they’re being played. In fact, one source estimates that just about one in three consoles have sold a game, while another estimates that about 25% of consoles sold are not in use. What does this mean? It means that despite selling all of their PlayStation 5 consoles immediately, Sony is not receiving a continued return on these devices (they receive a percentage of every game sold for their consoles).

This isn’t just an issue for Sony, it’s an issue for game developers as well. If fewer games are being purchased, then the studio makes less money, then it has less money for future game development. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to have hit that point yet, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be an issue in the future.

Can PS5 Scalpers Be Stopped?

Both retailers and Sony are trying their best to deter and outsmart scalpers and PS5 scalper bots. Many retailers have imposed a “one console per customer” rule, but others are getting more creative on top of that. One anti-scalper method being used in Japan is stickers—some retailers are writing the purchaser’s name on a sticker and putting it on the box to remove anonymity from the purchasing process. Some online retailers are using captcha to weed out bots, some won’t release their restock dates, and some are even writing on the new consoles to deter sales. 

Of course, these methods may only put a dent in PS5 scalper efforts—but any progress is better than no progress, right?

So, How Can You Buy a PS5?

As mentioned earlier, the only real safe way to avoid PS5 scalpers and scammers is to purchase one directly from a retailer. But that’s easier said than done. So here are some methods for purchasing a PS5:

  • Register for a chance to buy a PS5 directly from PlayStation
  • Sign up for newsletters (some companies such as GameStop will have in-person only PS5 restocks that they advertise through email).
  • Check reputable restock alert websites (do not rely on social media—especially Twitter—as they are full of scams).
  • Bookmark and frequently check the top-selling retailers such as Best Buy, GameStop, Target, Amazon, Walmart, etc.

If everybody stops buying from PS5 scalpers, then their products will no longer be in-demand. So you can do your part by avoiding second-hand sales—although they may be tempting—and patiently awaiting your chance to buy a PS5 at retail price.

The Real Cost of a PS5: How Scalpers Own the Market

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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