Hey, gaming retailers – stop letting us down when we trust you with our pre-orders

Why is there no accountability for retailers that continually fail to deliver as promised?

It’s 9.46pm. Amazon’s tracking system reckons my Xbox Series X – the very console I ordered the moment pre-sales went live on Amazon UK back in September – will be with me by 10pm. I’m not entirely sure how that’s possible given it hasn’t even been dispatched yet, but I’m told the lord loves a trier and I’m an eternal optimist. 10pm comes and goes and yup, you’ve guessed it… no Xbox Series X.

To be honest with you, I should’ve known better. It’s not like I haven’t been let down like this before. My Xbox One Halo 5: Guardians edition turned up three days late. Google Stadia was delayed, and then when it finally did arrive, I couldn’t fucking use it because the invitation codes were delayed even more. My Dishonored 2 Collector’s Edition didn’t turn up at all. It’s no surprise that Xbox Series X’s launch day came and went for many people without the launch console they’d ordered – and, in some instances, been charged for.

Gaming retail is a weird ecosystem of retail partnerships and exclusivity which means you can’t vote with your wallet if an outlet consistently lets you down. And being let down? It’s happening more and more. It’s not okay that people trust a retailer, place their orders, only to be told there’s a problem when it’s too late to do anything about it.

Xbox 20/20
Xbox Series X. Credit: Microsoft

Let’s be honest with ourselves, pre-ordering a next-gen system in 2020 has been a farce. The PlayStation 5 was available to order several hours before hopeful customers thought they would – I got my order in the night before pre-sales were due to kick off – whereas orders for the Xbox Series X went live late here in the UK, resulting in two stressful hours of constant refreshing, desperately trying to find a retailer willing to take my money off me. Within minutes – not days, not hours; minutes – all pre-order stock had been snapped up, leaving thousands of players empty-handed and unhappy.

But just because you pre-ordered doesn’t mean you’ve actually secured a system, though. Within days, retailers – chiefly stateside, but European customers weren’t immune – were emailing to tell them that “due to high demand” – no shit, Sherlock – some customers “may not receive this item on the day it is released”. UK retailer ShopTo emailed out at the beginning of October to notify shoppers that their “allocation details” from Sony – and latterly from Microsoft – weren’t quite as healthy as they’d been expecting, and so it couldn’t “fulfil [some] pre-orders on day one/release date”.

The closer we got to November 10, the more things started to go wrong. Social media is still awash with unhappy people who’ve been billed for a console they still don’t have, with many receiving – or expecting to receive – their order several days late, if at all. I can say with certainty that Amazon didn’t email in advance to notify customers of the delay, because I was one such customer. Is it any wonder that we’re fearing the worse when we go through it all over again when the PS5 rolls out in Europe next week?

“Game cancelled my PS5 for absolutely no reason and I’m very confused,” NME’s gaming news writer, Daniel Hollis, told me. He was told his order had “been rejected by [GAME’s] security system”, but “unfortunately we’re not always given a reason as to why an order is rejected”. There’s nothing he can do. It’s sold out the world over, so he can’t simply curse his bad luck and switch to another retailer. Game over.

“I had the money waiting and they didn’t even tell me they cancelled it till I chased it,” he added. “No option to retry either, so they just cancelled my order! Extremely frustrating!”

PlayStation 5
PlayStation 5 console and DualSense controller. Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Interestingly, I’ve had that very same canned response from GAME, too. For me, it was my coveted Dishonored 2 Collector’s Edition – I really wanted that replica mask – but I got an email a day before it was due to ship to say my order had been cancelled. No reason why. No way to put it right. There was money in the account . Tough luck, Vik. No mask for you. And even if it wasn’t limited edition, I couldn’t go elsewhere – the Collector’s Edition was exclusive to GAME. And herein lies the problem.

Now, just to rub salt into the wound, customers who either had their orders not turn up or missed out on getting a pre-order in the first place are now receiving notifications that they can grab a Series X from third-party sellers. Trouble is, scalpers have significantly jacked up the cost, with some listings demanding over twice the recommended retail price. £799.99. £1,199. £999… and those are just the ones I’ve found at a quick glance.

It’s not good enough. Retailers should be held accountable for continual failures in delivering goods that have been pre-ordered in good faith, and third-party scalpers capitalising on someone else’s misery should be summarily removed. They should be transparent when things go wrong, explain how they expect to fix it, and outline how they’ll make sure the issue doesn’t happen again. Pre-sales should be restricted to guaranteed – or very low – stock, to avoid retrospectively cancelling sales players thought they’d been lucky enough to secure. I’d rather miss out on something entirely than think I’ve got it, not place a pre-order anywhere else, and then be told there’s not enough stock to satisfy demand.

Amazon UK did eventually reach out about the shipping delay. After acknowledging “operational delays” it admitted it was unable to deliver on time and applied a £10 promotional credit to my account, my Xbox Series X turned up the following day. What a sorry state it is that, somehow, I’m one of the lucky ones.

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