Coders have developed programs to claim open delivery slots faster than people can grab them.
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If you’ve ever tried to buy tickets for a high-demand concert or sports event, you probably know this headache: You patiently wait for the right moment to click an online button, only to find that all 15,000 (or whatever) tickets have already sold out. “Bots!” you scream to no one in particular—and you may be right. According to the cybersecurity company Imperva, for “many” ticketing sites, “the proportion of tickets purchased by automated bots ranges between 40 to 95 percent.”

During the current coronavirus lockdown, buying tickets to large events is the least of our concerns, but apparently our friends the bots aren’t out of work. Instead, they’re after today’s hot ticket: online grocery delivery slots.

The tech site Motherboard says they have found a “slew” of developers who have created bots that are able to automatically find open delivery slots online, giving more tech-savvy shoppers a leg up in nabbing this coveted grocery option. One data scientist Motherboard spoke to released a bot last week that not only can find slots at Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh, but will also put your order through automatically.

Woman uses grocery delivery app
Credit: SDI Productions/Getty Images

“You just have to run the bot once, and as soon as there is a delivery slot available, it secures it for you, and completes the entire process through checkout,” the developer, Pooja Ahuja, was quoted as saying. Despite sounding devious, she said she created the program with the best of intentions: “I designed the bot for those who find it extremely inconvenient in these times to step out, or find it not safe for themselves to be outside. It is my contribution to help flatten the curve, I really hope this'll help reduce the number of people going out.”

Other “bots” are less advanced: Another one simply refreshes the checkout page for you in the background until it recognizes that a slot has opened—at which point it’s the user’s job to jump in and grab it. And users don’t have to be hardcore hackers to use this kind of code. Earlier this month, the very mainstream CNBC provided step-by-step instructions on how to add one of these bots to a browser.

So if you’re struggling with finding online grocery delivery slots—and don’t feel morally conflicted about using technology to get an advantage—than maybe bots are the answer for you. Or at the very least, you have a new scapegoat to take out your frustrations on. “Bots!”