Business Today: iClicker market thrown into turmoil by COVID-19

Students who have taken large intro-level S.T.E.M. courses such as CS 31, Engineering 006, and Intro to Astronomy are well familiar with the “iClicker,” a device used to instantly answer multiple choice questions during class. It is a simple gizmo that uses close-range infrared technology to convey one of five chosen answers to the professor. They are required for students in these and more classes, since other answering technologies such as hand raising are prohibitively expensive and cumbersome.

Many students who register for such classes choose to drag their weary legs all the way down the hill to the Campus & Community Bookstore, where they begrudgingly cough up an excessive $20 to purchase a brand new iClicker. Students who are wiser, less naive, and generally enjoy life more, however, choose to get their iClicker from a different supplier. To get their fix, these discerning individuals rely upon a massive underground cottage industry that has sprung up around this desirable commodity.

“I wasn’t about to pay for a brand new iClicker in a fancy box that looks like it was designed by Apple in Cupertino,” said Joy Lopez ’23. “A second-hand iClicker is good enough for me.”

The emergence of this black market was circumstantially inevitable. As essential as the iClicker is to lower-level classes, it is not often used in smaller upper-level classes that are more discussion-based. Upperclassmen who are no longer in need of their trusted iClicker are eager to rid themselves of it, and underclassmen who are too lazy (and too smart) to walk to the Ville to buy a new one are glad to take it off their hands. This mutually beneficial relationship has all but guaranteed that the black market will remain active and vibrant into the foreseeable future.

“I made bank upselling iClickers to freshmen for $25,” said a senior, a veteran of the iClicker investment market who has chosen to remain anonymous.“Most of them were too confused to know better. The margins were small, but it was an honest living.”

But a worldwide pandemic was not in the foreseeable future. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc upon the entire global economy, destroying once-Goliath industries such as the hospitality industry, the restaurant industry, the aviation industry, and many more once thought to be stable strongholds. Among these hard-hit industries is the iClicker market, which has experienced its worst fiscal period since the advent of Kahoot threw the market into turmoil a few years ago.

The transition to Zoom learning sealed the fate of the iClicker market. The device’s technology is not well suited to remote learning: the effective range of the iClicker is 30 feet (a bit shorter than the 15,256,000 feet separating Swarthmore and California), and a clicker must have direct line-of-sight contact with the receiver in order to transmit an answer. Zoom poll questions in the chat have completely replaced the iClicker, rendering it obsolete.

Upperclassmen who were planning on selling their iClickers to underclassmen in order to recoup their initial investment have been hit the hardest by this shift in the market that burst the iClicker bubble. 

“I used my entire life’s savings to buy a warehouse full of iClickers at a discount bulk rate,” said Pat O’Connell ’21. “Considering the rate at which the CS department is growing, it just made sense. I was gonna sell to everyone in CS 31 for the next four years and triple my investment. Now iClickers are useless, and I’ve lost everything.”

Left with excess inventory and no demand for his product, O’Connell has been forced to store his stash of iClickers in the storage locker in Parrish basement in which he keeps all the fidget spinners he bought in bulk in 2017. 

Beyond even fiscal concerns about the iClicker market, students have reacted with profound sentimental sadness to the downturn that the iClicker market has taken. 

“My iClicker has been passed down from generation to generation since 2011. It has a lot of sentimental value,” said a senior. “It’s an heirloom piece, it’s got history imbued in it. I am united with all the previous owners of this iClicker who held back tears while pressing a random button, knowing they’re gonna have to pass/fail the class and drop Engin … it brings us together. I was gonna pass down my iClicker to a freshman this year, but I guess that won’t happen.”

The collapse of the iClicker market has sent shockwaves throughout the entire campus economy, affecting even non-S.T.E.M. majors.

“I’ve never even taken a S.T.E.M. class in my life, I just invest in iClicker stocks,” said a sophomore. “

This speculative bubble in the iClicker investment market collapsed early on in the pandemic last year, sending shockwaves throughout the economy. One such industry that has been particularly affected by the crash is the iClicker CDO market, which had been booming until that fateful month of March 2020.

“I used to sell insurance on iClicker trade investments. I knew some of the deals were faulty, but I didn’t think the entire market would crash,” said Stephanie Wolff ’22. “So now all the deals fell through and everyone needs payout on their investments.”

Wolff explained that the investments themselves weren’t even that safe to begin with, and argues that the pandemic has merely exposed the risky market for what it is.

“Everyone thought that buying an iClicker at market rate and reselling it was a safe investment. Even I thought that,” explained Wolff. “I guess people didn’t realize the sunk cost of investing in iClicker purchases, and now that it’s collapsed it’s catching up to them.”

With vaccinations now widespread, and an end to the pandemic hopefully on the horizon, experts are predicting that the market will rebound by the Fall 2021 semester when a new cohort of freshmen will be looking to purchase iClickers. The price of iClicker futures is already on the rise following recent market analysis. Considering this hopeful forecast, some market mavericks are now even buying up iClickers. Though this seems questionable considering that there is still zero demand from second-hand purchasers, these plucky resellers figure that prices are at rock-bottom now, and they’ll be able to recoup their investment by the Fall.

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