Hold off pre-ordering that new PlayStation or Xbox

Pre-ordering may seem like a good way to get that shiny toy early, but there's some fishhooks for consumers.

The two versions of the PlayStation 5

Yes, it’s all very exciting that two new game consoles are being released. And yes, there’s a lot of social cachet that comes with owning the new PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X the day it comes out. But you might want to fight the FOMO and hold off on laying down cash for a pre-order.

In theory, pre-ordering is a good way to make sure you get your shiny new toy as soon as it comes out – you pay in advance and then the item often ships the day before launch. But what happens when there are a lot more orders than there is stock? For Sony’s new PlayStation 5, a potential chip shortage could mean a situation just like this, though Sony is confident won’t be the case.

A screenshot of JB HiFi's PlayStation pre-order page.
A screenshot of JB HiFi's PlayStation pre-order page on 17 Sept 2020.

While you can pre-order the new Xbox on 22 September, pre-orders for Sony’s new PlayStation 5 are available from today and on the Mighty Ape website they sold out quickly, implying a limited quantity and no worries about overselling. Meanwhile, JB HiFi was still taking orders with an interesting caveat: “Due to high demand your pre-order does not guarantee availability on the day of release (or a specific date).”

[Update]: following publication of this article JB HiFi has since added a note that pre-orders for their first shipment have sold out and "new orders will be fulfilled in second shipment" but still do not give a specific date.

What does pre-ordering mean in practice?

Pre-ordering is like paying to join a queue, so when the product becomes available you (virtually) step-up and get yours. Sometimes you pay the full amount, sometimes a deposit. However, consumer law isn’t entirely on your side when it comes to getting your order on time.

JB HiFi could start selling the new PlayStation 5 in-store, while you wait for the one you pre-ordered. There’s also no specified range for what a reasonable wait time is after you’ve paid for the order.

Under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) and JB HiFi’s terms of sale, you can cancel the order if the retailer “is not able to deliver your order within a reasonable time of the estimated delivery time advertised on the website”.

But JB hasn’t given a date, and it claims it can reject your cancellation if the delay is because “suppliers are unable to supply goods”. We disagree and say that this goes against the CGA (Section 5A), and that a reasonable wait shouldn’t be longer than two weeks in this circumstance.

But while you’re arguing with the company, you’ll be stuck with an unfulfilled pre-order as your friends are buying the console from another retailer.

JB HiFi can also cancel your order “at any time before delivery and for whatever reason”.

JB HiFi isn’t the only company with a clause like this, and it has resulted in many disappointed consumers who thought their pre-order was a guarantee and instead ended up empty-handed when the deal was cancelled. For example, one Doctor Who fan I spoke to was left with a refund instead of a collectible Blu-ray when his pre-order was cancelled two days after the release day.

It’s not just availability.

New game consoles, and new tech in general, can be a bit dodgy. For example, the first generation of Xbox 360s were plagued with the “red ring of death”, which turned the console into a very expensive brick. Waiting a few weeks or months can mean that the device you get is more stable and has been through a round of “public testing” to work out the bugs.

Also, by that stage, there may be more enticing deals and bundles available. Right now, the pre-orders for the PlayStation are just for the console, with no games or extras. Holding off could net you some worthwhile freebies.

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