Pre-Ordering Microsoft's Xbox Series X Is An Exercise In Frustration And Phil Spencer Wants To Fix It

Phil Spencer Xbox Series X
Have you tried buying a next-generation game console? If so, you might have a hole in your wall, from where you punched it out of frustration. The Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and both PlayStation 5 consoles have been almost impossible to buy, thanks to a combination of factors—high demand, not enough supply, bots, etc. If it comes as any consolation, Xbox boss Phil Spencer feels your frustration and wants to change the pre-order process for the better. The question is, how can Microsoft (and Sony) go about doing that?

Let me share my own experience, before diving in to that. Having missed out on the initial pre-order run, I've tried a few times to order one of the next-gen consoles. But as you probably know, they are sold out everywhere. Most of the time, anyway. Every so often, they come back in stock for a short amount of time, and quickly sell out again.

Trying to buy one from Walmart has been especially maddening. The site slows to a crawl, and getting to the checkout screen is hit or miss (mostly miss). Even if you get there, as I have a few times, the order does not process because the console sells out while the site trips over itself. Walmart just does not have a good handle on the traffic spikes.

Best Buy has been a bit better, though the problem of stock selling out quickly remains. This applies to all of the next-gen consoles, not just the Xbox Series X/S. Spencer talked a bit about this during an interview with The Verge, saying there have been discussions within Microsoft on making the process go much smoother.

"I think our retail relationships are important. We do think about solving or at least helping with the issue that you talk about. We’ve had real discussions internally about, should I be able to reserve my slot? I’ll put some money down, I know my machine’s getting built January 20th, and I’ll get it on February 1st. We have customers that would do that today," Spencer said.

Interestingly, Spencer also talked about how retailers handle pre-order allocations. As Spencer explains it, Microsoft instructs retailers on what percentage of inventory to make available for the initial pre-order sales frenzy. Otherwise, "the retailers would sell them all, not because they're evil, but if you've got demand, why wouldn't you take the money?"

"We want people to feel like there’s some consoles to go buy, and it’s not just the day where everybody gets to go pick up their console. I don’t know if that’s the right decision in today’s world. That’s very old world thinking, people are going to go line up outside of a store, kind of last decade thinking. I think we should challenge ourselves on that. Is that really the supply chain through the consumer that we’re talking about, that is a reality? We talked to our retail partners about this as well," Spencer added.

He is not wrong—the demand certainly is there. And while Microsoft is not sharing shipment numbers, the company did recently announce that this was the biggest launch in Xbox history, with more new consoles sold than any prior generation.

That is really what it boils down to, in that demand is exceeding supply. The obvious fix is to build more units, but for different reasons, Microsoft and Sony are not keeping up with the pace. So barring that, a different pre-order system could help ease the pain. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, changes in the future.