Like legitimate supply chains, dark web drug markets depend on substance imports from China, and the coronavirus pandemic led to closure of Chinese chemical supply firms and factories.
Importantly, drug dealers depend of legitimate trade routes to sustain their illicit commercial activities. The fact that EU borders remained open did not make things better for most of the darknet and legitimate supply chains as shipping capacities took a nose dive.
Nonetheless, although the coronavirus-related restrictions seemed to freeze operations across the global drug supply chains, the situation in the dark web economy was different. Mexican drug cartels suffered from the pandemic’s economic ramifications as user buying power tanked – meanwhile, the darknet drug markets did not really suffer a serious dent in drug sales.
A May 2020 news release by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reported a steady in drug prices across the European continent, with darknet drug markets continuing to rake in large profits.
Quite obviously, street-level drug dealing was seriously hampered by COVID-related movement restrictions that were enforced by governments through lockdowns. The overall effect of such police was a mass shift of customers to online platforms – including dark web marketplaces, social media sites and encrypted communication apps that promote cashless payment systems.
Initial Drug Shipment Disruption
The height of the coronavirus-related global lockdown presented a number of economic effects that razed through various countries.
In highlight, the first notable disruption was witnessed within the circles of international supply chain systems as mail-sorting establishments were swamped with way more work than they could handle.
Understaffed post offices had to grapple with a bazillion extra mail packages after the online logistics economy boomed. Many people had shifted from buying stuff off the brick-and-mortar system to ecommerce platforms.
Quite obviously, the darknet drug markets were affected by this phenomenon considering that online drug dealers are known to depend on the postal system to enforce drug deliveries to their customers.
The Sixgill Report noted that the dark web drug markets responded to the pandemic in reflection to the economic effects suffered by legitimate online sectors.
The occurrence of restless consumers that are anxious of the uncertain times, shipment delays and other disruptions were seen across the dark web drug economy an aspect that initially influenced the supply of drugs and their pricing.
Towards the end of the third month of 2020, even notable e-commerce giants like Amazon were reeling from effects of the pandemic – Amazon Prime’s delivery system suffered noticeable delays, while British stores seemed to perform quite poorly on home deliveries.
Pursuit to delays in the legitimate e-commerce sector, a ripple effect was observed across the dark web drug markets in weeks as darknet vendors were anxious, and cautioned their customers of expected postal delays.
The overall effect was seen through a surge in negative reviews as deliveries that used to take relatively short times being reported to take a week.
By May, individual dark web vendors were struggling to salvage their customer bases that seemed to be disintegrating. Apart from the already-mentioned supply disruptions, a shift in working practices seemed to be among the problems that were reflected by the barrage of negative reviews across the board.
Point to note, the common warnings sent out by vendors about the expected delays in deliveries were meant to protect their own reputation. As observed by Ziv Mador of Trustwave’s SpiderLabs that has researched the darknet amid the global COVID-19 crisis, dark web vendors value their reputation as this reflects heavily on profitability in the long term.
An Interesting Twist
In April, the tables turned as dark web drug markets seemed to be getting ahead of their legitimate retail counterparts – darknet deliveries became more efficient as things seemed to normalize in the hidden web.
In retrospection, severe delays in deliveries were noted in isolated regions of the world, and this reality did not change much even after April’s dark web reprieve.
A host of dark web used extended their escrow terms to provide leeway for late deliveries, as some vendors went as far as refunding customers when deliveries failed to materialize, an observation underscores the self-regulatory mechanisms that have been cultivated across dark web platforms.
Recently, as noted by dark web analysts, delays have subsided significantly as customers expect more efficient services from their vendors.
An analysis conducted by VICE News reported the existence of “thousands of feedback reviews” throughout the coronavirus-related government lockdowns, and the start of April – which was about two weeks after the UK government-sanctioned lockdown – saw the occurrence of a high number of the phrases “NDD” (next-day delivery) and “2DD” (two-day delivery) in reflection of a return to normalcy as far as darknet drug deliveries were concerned.
Further, in the UK, observers have inferred the darknet drug market improvements to changes that have been made in the Royal Mail to improve the postal system’s capacity to handle the surge in online purchases – including a major staff recruitment drive geared to advance mail delivery speeds.
Overall, the darknet drug markets seem to be thriving despite the life-changing economic ramifications that have accompanies the coronavirus pandemic – sales are running through the rough as vendors are registering record speeds in drug shipment to customers across the darknet sites.
In fact, a number of experts, specifically the anonymous Tor researcher Dark.Fail, have described the recent darknet events as an indication the dark web drug markets have entered a “golden age”.
Online drug sales have increased owing to the fact that vendors and customers have moved from the typical street scenario to take advantage of the crypto-enabled darknet sites. This reality exists even in the face of increasing cases of DDoS attacks that have targeted a long list of dark web markets, including the largest darknet platform Empire Market.
In addition, it can be inferred that the current dark web drug market excellence is the product of COVID-19-related panic buying patterns that were observed across both legitimate and illicit markets.