A new crop of shopping tools aims to help consumers beat the supply chain crunch

“I’ve never been a gambler, but I can absolutely say there’s a thrill to getting something that you know seconds later will be gone,” he said. “It’s almost indescribable. It’s the opposite of FOMO [the fear of missing out]. There’s a huge dose of serotonin the second you get that ‘order completed’ screen.”

Where people once fought over luxuries like concert tickets and Supreme drops, now they’re fighting for household essentials and medical supplies. The grayed-out “purchase” button on websites everywhere is emblematic of a consumer era when virtually everything is at our fingertips, but also perpetually just out of reach.

In response, a small but dedicated community of programmers, journalists and social media content creators has sprung up to announce whenever a retailer such as Amazon or Walmart have restocked, or “dropped,” more product. Over the course of the pandemic, these stock hunters have devised ever more sophisticated methods for learning about impending drops earlier and earlier — and for notifying what has become a loyal following numbering in the hundreds of thousands for some accounts.

Demand for their services is so high, some have transformed stock-hunting into a full-time job, earning a bit of cash every time a user clicks an alert or pays for a subscription feature. Every in-stock notification acts as a dinner bell ringing across the internet, prompting a mad scramble as shoppers try to shave precious seconds off their efforts to secure a Covid test, a game console or a popular children’s toy. For many, it’s even become its own form of entertainment.

“Just getting the gaming console is kind of a game in itself,” said Marc Holgate, founder of the tracking app HotStock.io.

As long as supplies remain tight, the incentive for shoppers to turn to these tools will continue to grow. And the more people flock to these tools, the harder it may become for other shoppers to avoid using them for fear of missing out on an important shopping advantage.

The rise of professional stock hunters

What many widely followed stock hunters have in common is that they began as ordinary consumers themselves, looking for a coveted item.

Matt Swider, a New York-based technology…