Best Buy's $200 GPU Paywall Helped Scalpers, Not Gamers

Empty GPU shelves
Empty GPU shelves (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The news that Best Buy decided to effectively put Nvidia's GeForce RTX 30-series graphics cards behind a paywall on Friday caused much controversy with PC DIYers, gamers, and enthusiasts. It might have instigated the policy to reward individual gamers who enrolled in its membership program. However, the move seems to have had some unintended consequences, evidenced by scalper social media boasts about snagging dozens of GPUs. One bragged that "I bought almost $20,000 in GPUs today," all thanks to the Best Buy membership paywall, noted PCMag.

Totaltech is a $199 annual membership subscription that Best Buy promotes quite heavily, probably due to the well-known profitability of such add-on retail services. Positive aspects of the subscription are things like extended product warranty, extended return periods, free two-day shipping, and an elevated level of service or after-sales help.

Previously, one particular highlighted benefit of Totaltech, "access to exclusive Totaltech member prices," has meant exclusive purchase access to hot tech like the PlayStation 5. Unfortunately, this same policy swept over Nvidia's GeForce RTX 30-series produce line, which holds some of the best GPUs on the market. Thus, being a Best Buy Totaltech member became a prerequisite for buying into the green team's latest desirable 3D acceleration products.

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There appears to have been some conditions built into the GeForce GPUs paywall to prevent scalping, but they weren't thought through properly. For example, one scalper noted that "you can only buy one of each SKU" (SKU means a stock-keeping unit, so refers to a particular model). Yet, this same individual bought "almost $20,000 in GPUs" by going through Best Buy's stock, grabbing one of each model, and ordering it a minute or two after the previous order. Scalpers quickly sidestepped Best Buy's implemented obstacles. This failing is severe, with Best Buy's position in the U.S. market as the exclusive Nvidia Founders Edition GPU reseller – a fact which the scalpers gleefully highlighted to one another.

Many social media users, who were interested in buying low and selling high into this desperately distorted market, exploited the scalping loophole. Scalpers will see the $199 subscription fee as a modest cost of doing business. Still, this kind of additional payment will be enough to put off many individuals who want a modern GPU, or two, for their own, a friend or family member.

We hope that Best Buy will remedy the apparent loopholes that the scalpers exploited with such relish, investing thousands of dollars in helping to maintain the higher than MSRP pricing trend. But unfortunately, the restriction of one particular SKU per customer must be strengthened in short order for Best Buy to try and salvage some credibility with PC gamers and enthusiasts.

Mark Tyson
Freelance News Writer

Mark Tyson is a Freelance News Writer at Tom's Hardware US. He enjoys covering the full breadth of PC tech; from business and semiconductor design to products approaching the edge of reason.

  • Co BIY
    The only real solution is increased production and availability.

    Scarce resources are valuable, that value will be reflected in the behavior of those seeking those resources.

    For many of us the solution is substitution - In my case substituting more spending on my biking hobby than on my computer hobby.
  • RareAir23
    Well, when this site put up the article earlier this week about Best Buy placing GeForce RTX 30 series behind the TotalTech paywall I'm gonna be honest: I saw this specific article coming down the pipeline the minute the second I read through the article about the GPU's going behind the TotalTech paywall (which they'll highly likely stay for the foreseeable future). Now, as I continue let me try to tell both sides of the story here starting with...Best Buy Corporate (who made this call) at least in their minds: they meant well in their own collective, corporate mind. Best Buy Corporate's mental thinking wavelength over this was this, "Let's put all nVIDIA RTX 30 GPU's behind TotalTech. Scalpers won't pay the extra $200 to get in on it. They just won't!" Per the usual, scalpers proved Best Buy Corporate wrong...hard!

    I knew (and I imagine many of you did too) this wasn't going to stop them. This is because to them an extra $200 just to get in on the product is a drop in the bucket to the scalpers, especially if they are professionals who have been doing this long before the pandemic and have massive financial capitol saved up behind everything they do. They'll pay the extra $200 to get into TotalTech because all they will do after they buy the cards and place them on eBay or the Amazon/Newegg 3rd party vendor networks is they just pass the extra $200 down to every card they sell when they put their price up. We talk about it some in politics: we say about some politicians they are out of touch with the common man and the common problems of the world with some of the things they do. Best Buy Corporate showed a similar thing here: mentally they are out of touch with their customer base and the retail environment going on around them. There's my thought and until next time I am out!
  • VforV
    What a mega fail we have here! It's both hilarious and sad at the same time...
  • spongiemaster
    Any reason this site has not mentioned that Best Buy did another drop the next day that wasn't behind the pay wall?
    And you know what? I bet not putting those cards behind the paywall didn't stop the scalpers either.

    When the 3000 series launched, Best Buy had them on their website, and bots cleaned them out, and everyone else as well. The angry mob bitched that the cards were gone almost instantly and that there were no anti-script bot systems in place. So, Best Buy implements one on their website that adds a delay in the buying process and doesn't allow anyone to blow through the buying process almost instantly and get multiple cards consecutively with one account. It works to some extent, as I was able to buy a 3070 on launch day. Best Buy has also done staggered stock releases where they do multiple releases a few minutes apart which helped me get a 3090 on the day the 3060 launched. The angry mob still brought the pitch forks anyway. Then Best Buy tries in store only releases. But the same angry mob strikes again because other people were willing to camp out for longer than they were to get a card. Best Buy then does a single drop behind a paywall service, which still makes the cards far cheaper than the market price, followed the next day by a regular online drop and look who's here to riot again? It really doesn't matter what any of these companies do, all they are going to do is get trashed. As far as I can tell, Best Buy has tried more things than any other company and given shoppers more chances to land a card at a lower price than anyone else. If you haven't gotten a current gen card by now and you've really wanted one since launch, it's on you at this point.
  • NightHawkRMX
    A gamer that wants 1 or 2 GPUs is not going to spend hundreds for this program. A scalper that will be buying as many GPUs as possible will probably spend the money on it.

    No brainer this would happen.
  • RodroX
    in my country we don't have such problems. We have others .... lol

    We do not have a lot of GPUs either, but the few on stock are soo overpriced that no one can't buy them, and scalpers know no gamer will pay more than that, cause theres no enough money on our wallets lol
  • domih
    Greed at the vendor level, greed at the buyer level (crypto-miner). No wonder the "regular" people become cynical.

    Best Buy, NewEgg, Amazon, etc are then surprised to see a lack of customer loyalty :-(

    While eBay has its own issues, you can find Pa & Ma vendors there. You just need to do your homework finding them.
  • waltc3
    Somebody is welcome to buy $20,000 worth of ridiculously priced GPUs if he wants...he just shouldn't count on me paying ridiculous prices to buy one of them...;) To pricing that is 2x-3x MSRP, people should simply say No. And stick to it. If these guys couldn't find suckers, they wouldn't even think of buying lots of horrifically overpriced GPUs that they could not sell--if people wouldn't buy them. But as the saying goes, "A sucker is born every minute." I think that is too bad. The current GPU market stinks, really stinks. Nobody should encourage it by getting scalped.
  • Johnpombrio
    6 months after getting my Alder Lake ASUS mobo and Intel CPU, I FINALLY was able to buy 32 GB of Corsair DDR5 memory on Amazon Prime at only $10 above MSRP from Corsair. What happens to the scalpers who have $500 price tags on their memory sticks? If they were able to buy them at MSRP, I guess they will have to eventually drop their prices below MSRP to compete against RAM coming directly from the manufacturer. If they have a lot of it, they are going to be seriously out of pocket. I wonder how much money people have lost trying to scalp stuff? Like lotteries, cryptocurrency, and stock pickers, we usually only hear about the mega winners. I am sure there are tons of folks who have lost substantial amounts of money trying to scalp only to be stuck with the product once the initial rush goes away.
  • GenericUser
    We hope that Best Buy will remedy the apparent loopholes that the scalpers exploited with such relish

    They won't, because whether a card goes to a gamer, a miner, or a scalper, a sale is a sale, and ones persons money is just as good as the next persons.