Benjamin Boman

eCommerce Spam Bots and Bot Based Checkouts: Why and How To Stop Them with Bill West

Today we are talking to Bill West, CEO of Ellipsis Technologies. Previously I came across Bill’s company and their spam bot protection app when I was reviewing all the spam protection options which I have used myself. I was lucky enough to be able to chat to Bill by phone to learn more about what exactly the spam bots are up to and ask for some general advice for eCommerce stores.

Tell us more about how you came up with the idea for the product?

Sure, a while back, a good friend who has a very large ecommerce company noticed that when he misplaced his reading glasses he wasn’t able to buy something from his own company. The problem was that he wasn’t able to read the CAPTCHA test that he had deployed on his site. At the time, we both just griped a bit about the CAPTCHA but not as a business opportunity, mostly just for conversation. But, this discussion did make us wonder whether others were having the same issue and if CAPTCHA was costing him and other eCommerce merchants valuable conversions.

When we looked at the data we found that roughly 3–4% of potential buyers leave a site as soon as CAPTCHA is presented and around 30% of people were failing on their first attempt with a group departing at each attempt. Understanding the incredible amount of money invested in driving potential buyers to an eCommerce store, we thought that this is a really hidden and possibly unnecessary way to lose business.

For my friend’s site we looked around the market to review the alternatives that were available including puzzles and games and the wildly entertaining reCAPTCHA where you find the photos with stop signs or similar. Our conclusion was that prospective buyers would find them just equally annoying or difficult to solve.

So we set out to build an alternative where no response from a site visitor was required. Our methodology collects timing and movement behavioural events (keystroke and mouse movement timing) from site visitors as they browse a website and then with our proprietary machine learning algorithms we are able to filter out those visitors that didn’t exhibit human behavioural characteristics. So the biggest difference in our solution to the Turing Tests that require a response is that they are all trying to identify bots by assuming that if you pass the test you must be human. Our solution on the other hand identifies humans and all visitors not behaving like a human are considered suspicious.

This unique solution is available to Shopify merchants as Shop Protector and is now protecting thousands of Shopify merchants.

Why is it important to protect websites from form spam and sneaker bots?

Spam is more than just an annoyance of emails flooding your contact forms or making comments. There is a cost.

Say a small merchant gets about 10 real product reviews or comments a day, and then suddenly 200–300 in a short space of time from a spam bot, they will now have to take a paid employee away from more valuable tasks to deal with it. And often it can take hours.

If they didn’t assign someone to manually check these, then they risk missing the authentic and real reviews that are important to driving traffic and conversions for products. For a potential customer to sort through dozens of spam postings is an exhausting ask and has the potential to drive away an interested buyer.

The second issue that you mention has to do with bot-based purchases, sometimes called sneaker bots. A few decades ago, checkout bots entered the eCommerce world. An example would be when a valuable pair of sneakers is introduced in the market for the first time. There are readily available bots for as little as $600.00 that will search the web for the latest sneaker and be able to clean out the inventory in a few minutes or less.

For quite a few years many stores were not bothered by bots that came and made purchases on rare, limited edition or collectible products since they sold out in just a few minutes. But over time the merchants began to see a decline in overall site traffic as humans shopped elsewhere. The merchants also understood that humans tend to add more than this one item to their cart, so a solution was needed. So we developed a solution for Shopify merchants called Shop Protector Plus which basically applies our same technology to detecting checkout patterns to filter out product purchasing bots. We’ve also added a number of configurable options to our product that have mostly been driven by large Shopify users who provided tremendous guidance to us.

Should eCommerce sellers be worried about spam email messages or comments?

Spam email messages and comments are often used as a way to launch phishing attacks or spread propaganda. Sometimes they are for link building.

Spambots will visit millions of sites, look for a point of entry and try to send something through if it is vulnerable. So blocking these bots is highly recommended and one of the reasons that we developed Shopify Protector.

How can stores better protect themselves against spambots?

So there are a number of bot attacks that you need to protect your store against, a few of the most dangerous include:

  • Spam form submissions
  • Phishing attempts
  • Bot based checkouts

We have developed Shopify Protector and Shop Protector Plus to protect against all of these, which you can find out more about here.

What is the best way to connect with you?

The best way to reach me is to email me at Or you can find out more Shopify Protector here.