Bobcat In A Box is an automated program (or a “bot”) that sends you lots of little packages, bought from eBay and other sites across the internet with free shipping. You can give the bot instructions as to what sort of packages you want, for example to only buy beads or postcards or anime items, or you can have it buy completely random packages and let the bot surprise you!
How do I cancel?
Send an email to email@example.com in order to cancel.
How long will it take for the first packages to arrive?
Every package purchased by the bot has free shipping, and free shipping is rarely overnight or priority. Additionally, as most of the items are shipped from Asia they must go through customs. Shipping time varies, but expect the first package to arrive within four to eight weeks of signing up for the bot.
Are additional keywords OR or AND?
With keywords the bot uses an OR operator not an AND. If you submit a comma separated list of keywords (for example: red, gadget, craft, star wars) the bot will search for each keyword separately. That is, a selected package will only need to match one of the keywords not all of the keywords (red OR gadget OR craft OR star wars). The more keywords the better.
What kind of items does the bot buy?
There is a wide and expanding universe of odds and ends that are offered online for under a dollar, with free shipping. From North America, there are many merchants selling old postcards, stationary, fun memo pads, baseball cards, ties, books and memorabilia. From Asia, there are craft items, manga, anime, beads, industrial parts, stickers, jewelry, cellphone accessories and pretty much everything else you can imagine (plus lots you cannot). From Europe there are rings, bracelets, charms and bits of ribbon. It is hard to generalize, as the items are quite different and there is huge variety. Check out the stats and video pages for more information on the items bought by the bot.
Can I sign up if I am outside the US?
Yes, the bot can ship to nearly every country on the planet. It is not limited to the US and there are many subscribers in Europe, South America, Asia and Australia. Some items of course will not ship outside North America. But the bot will only buy items that can be shipped to you, so you will get just as many packages as American subscribers.
If I make a video with the items that the bot ships me… will you promote it?
Yes! This is a creative experiment and it is always interesting to see what the bot sends and what people use them for. If you have made a video with some of the items just send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll include it on our video section. If you have any other creative uses for the items or include them in a project… I would love to hear about them and happily share your exploits on this website.
How do the merchants make money on low cost items with free shipping?
The short answer is that I don’t know. For many of the items, merchants are certainly selling at a loss. But there are lots of sellers, on eBay and other online platforms, who keep offering items for next to nothing with free shipping….so the bot will keep buying them! As most of the items are shipped from Asia, many of the merchants pay several dollars for “free shipping”. A good number of the items bought by the bot will have “Shipping: $5” or something similar printed on the custom form! Even though the cost to ship is several times the winning bid, merchants fulfill the order and ship the items the bot buys. Perhaps they have a discounted shipping deal that makes it worthwhile. It is something of a mystery as to why they offer the items for such low prices on eBay, as it is easy to set a reserve price or start the auction at a higher bid. Perhaps the merchants ship these small items to boost their feedback scores or hope that they will be bundled with other purchases.
How does the bot make money?
The bot is able to make money, even with payment processing costs and overhead. This is because for some reason there are packages available with free shipping that you can order for practically nothing online.
What does not go towards packages pay to feed the team running the bot and growing the project.
Can you open source the bot?
I would love to make the bot open source. However as Bobcat In A Box is very much in the tradition of Mechanical Turk, that would simply be impossible.