Let’s never launch new consoles during a pandemic again, okay?

Eric Abent - Nov 13, 2020, 2:25pm CST
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Let’s never launch new consoles during a pandemic again, okay?

If you’re one of the many people who tried to get an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 earlier this week, you probably have some strong words for Microsoft, Sony, and every major retailer in your region right now. There’s no two ways about it: these launches have been disasters from the perspective of the consumer, and at this point, it seems likely that PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S are going to have stock issues for some time to come.

Obviously, we’d expect new consoles to be popular, fast-selling items regardless of when they launch, but the pandemic we’re currently in the middle of is not making things any easier. Launching new consoles in the middle of a pandemic is now very clearly a recipe for frustration, so maybe we should avoid doing this in the future, yes?

I’m going to try to avoid throwing too many stones here because Microsoft, Sony, retailers, and customers are all victims of circumstance, but it has to be said that the launch of both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 have been something of a disorganized mess dating back to when both of these consoles went up for pre-order.

If you didn’t snag a console through pre-ordering it back when they first opened up, then you were basically left to fight for a launch day console, which is something that the pandemic really complicates. Shortly before release, Sony made the announcement that there would be no in-store launch day PlayStation 5 sales because it didn’t want people lining up in front of or otherwise flooding stores and contributing to the spread of COVID-19 over a game console.

A smart move because of the pandemic, that’s for sure, but with all launch day PlayStation 5 sales moving online (along with many Xbox Series X sales, for that matter), that made it a lot harder for real people to actually get their hands on a console. That’s especially true when you consider that few retailers advertised times they would open up console sales, leaving most people to simply refresh listings for consoles constantly in the hope they’d get lucky.

Even when a retailer did publicize times – which was basically just Walmart in the case of the PlayStation 5 – that didn’t really make things better for regular consumers. Though Walmart offered several different batches of PlayStation 5 stock at regular intervals yesterday, you had to be supremely lucky to get one. At those advertised times, Walmart’s website was unsurprisingly overwhelmed, either slowing to a crawl or crashing entirely.

Then you have the fact that most of these retailers don’t have any safeguards against bots or those who are buying up stock just to resell them on eBay at a profit. Some retailers, like GameStop and Costco, opted to only offer consoles as part of a more expensive bundle. Though some will cry price gouging at seeing the price of those bundles, that wasn’t actually the case – instead, these bundles were offered as a way to dissuade resellers from buying, because they’d have to figure out what to do with the extra games and accessories that came with the console (with many stores not allowing returns on individual items from the bundle in question).

Bundles definitely sold out slower than standalone consoles, so they probably did their job of turning away eBay scalpers, but it’s not like that’s an ideal solution for regular customers either. Not everyone is going to want all of the components of any given bundle, nor will everyone have the $700 or $800 on hand to cover the cost of one of them.

In short, if you were trying to buy an Xbox Series X or a PlayStation 5 online this week, whether or not you got one was really a matter of luck. Few humans will win in a race against bots, and unstable websites only make matters worse. Not being able to find a PlayStation in-store, while a good thing because of the pandemic as a whole, means that regular consumers were at a big disadvantage when it comes to actually obtaining a console.

As far as I’m aware, all PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X sales have been first-come, first-served as well. Retailers like Walmart and Target are selling future stock, sure, but neither Microsoft nor Sony are allowing you to get on some kind of waiting list. Offering that would probably remove a lot of stress for consumers who just want to secure a console for delivery at some point in the future.

After witnessing the last few days, it would be amazing to see Sony and Microsoft implement something similar to the way Apple sells iPhones. If you head over to Apple.com in search of an iPhone, you’re always able to buy one, with shipping estimates based on the stock Apple has available. At this point, I’m guessing that most people would be more than okay with paying Microsoft and Sony their money now as long as it meant they could get a console at some point, even if their shipping date would be a month or two away.

Don’t get me wrong, the fact that Sony and Microsoft were able to make the logistics work and launch consoles during a pandemic is impressive, and Sony in particular should be commended for disallowing in-store sales of the PlayStation 5 to prevent the spread of COVID. As impressive as it may be, though, the only clear winners from this week are the scalpers who used bots to secure a bunch of stock they can resell on eBay.

At the moment, eBay is showing 4,880 results for Xbox Series X and 9,040 results for PlayStation 5. Surely not all of those listings are for the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, but many of them are. In the case of the Xbox Series X, we’re seeing listings that range from $700 to over $1,000, while the PlayStation 5 is even more egregiously-priced, with listings topping $1,400 or even $1,500 in some cases.

These aren’t just scalpers who are shooting for the moon either – if you look at the sold listings, you’ll see plenty of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles that have sold at prices well over the $500 Microsoft and Sony are asking. As people bang their heads against the wall attempting to get an Xbox Series X or a PS5 online, they’re becoming increasingly more desperate and are paying vastly inflated prices to get one.

I’m not here to be some kind of apologist for people who can’t exercise patience and decide to spend more than double the MRSP to have a console now instead of waiting a few months, but the fact that those consoles are selling shows how dire the stock situation is. As I stated earlier, this is always a problem when a new console releases, but the pandemic seems to have exacerbated everything ugly about a console launch. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that this has been one dance I never want to do again.


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