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Fingerlings sold out? Blame it on the bots

Fingerlings, those colourful chirping monkeys (and sloths and unicorns) that wrap around your finger, have become one of the most desired toys on holiday shopping lists.

Unfortunately, the $25 creatures are sold out online almost everywhere. Toys R Us? Gone. Walmart? None left in stock. Mastermind? Nope.

But check eBay or Amazon, and sellers are offering them for double, triple and quadruple their original price. There is even one being advertised for $5,000.

Hot holiday toys have always been hard to find. The long list of heartbreakers includes Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, which caused parents to mob stores in the 1980s, Tickle Me Elmo in 1996, and a toy version of the “Star Wars” droid BB-8, which quickly sold out in 2015.

But the proliferation of online shopping makes it even tougher to purchase coveted items because of software that snaps them up as soon as they are offered for sale.

“If it’s popular, it’s going to be taken by bots and resold,” said Omri Iluz, the co-founder and chief executive of the cybersecurity firm PerimeterX, in a phone interview.

The bots work by constantly pinging retail websites, searching for sales and analyzing URLs.

The moment an item is in stock, the software runs through the checkout process at a speed that is “completely inhuman,” said Iluz, whose company protects large retailers and other organizations from bot attacks.


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