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Microsoft’s Xbox Series X/S Pre-Order Fiasco

Pre-orders for Microsoft latest Xbox consoles, the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. The problem with today’s pre-orders was not the failure of a single vendor. Instead, it was ALL of them that people attempted to pre-order from, at least in the U.S.

Microsoft had set a pre-order time of 8 a.m. Pacific Time. This is a good idea in itself, because everybody knows when they will begin. Furthermore, it is not in the middle of the night. I have ordered countless iPhones at 2 a.m. due to the pre-order time starting at midnight pacific time. But that is not the case for the Xbox Series X.

Within the post Microsoft indicated the retailers that would be having pre-orders. The retailers listed in the post include:

  • Microsoft Store
  • Amazon
  • Best Buy
  • GameStop
  • Walmart
  • Target
  • Sam’s Club
  • Newegg
  • Other participating retailers

Out of this list, I had prepared to order from five different retailers. These were Microsoft, GameStop, Target, Amazon, and Best Buy. In order to prepare I had all of the sites up, I was logged into each of the sites to save myself some time during the checkout process. Amazon and Best Buy did not put up their pre-orders right away, so those were out of contention, or so I thought when pre-orders started.

When 10 a.m. rolled around, I started to refresh Target and Gamestop, as well as trying Microsoft’s site. Not a single one was without some sort of trouble.

Target’s site allowed me to add the Xbox Series X to the cart, and attempt to checkout, but their back-end completely crapped the bed and kept saying “oops an error occurred”. I kept trying to checkout, to no avail. I even got to the final checkout page to enter in my credit card CVV code, and it kept failing. When it failed, it would send me back to my cart, which often said that I had nothing in it, but that was no the case. Once I was able to get back into the cart, I would checkout, but it would fail. I even tried Apple Pay on the iPhone, but that kept failing as well. I had even gotten to the Apple Pay sheet on the phone and that failed, so I ended up having to go back to my cart.

Just before 10 a.m., Microsoft put up the “Preorder” links on their Xbox Series X order page. When you tried to click on it, you would get a “page cannot be found” error. Shortly after 10:10 Microsoft’s site allowed me to add an Xbox Series X to my cart. The problem then became the actual check out process. The page kept going back to “not found”. I then looked at my cart, and and attempted to checkout, which would fail intermittently. After 53 minutes of trying, and 15 minutes of trying to get through the Microsoft checkout process I finally got to the end. It indicated that it could not set my payment method, although one was already on my account.

At 10:56 I happen to refresh the Amazon page, which had previously been the famous Amazon “not found” page, which shows various dogs. It actually had a “pre-order” button on the page. I immediately clicked on “Pre-Orer”, went through my cart and ordered an Xbox Series X. It was the fastest checkout, as you might expect. Pre-order -> Review -> Confirm. The entire process took 15 seconds. I honestly think I may have been one of the last ones to get a pre-order in on Amazon, because as soon as I went back to the page it stated “Currently Unavailable”.

GameStop had one of the more interesting takes, they added you to a queue and if you entered the queue you would have to wait to get onto the site. So, you could sit and wait fore your turn. Of course, I opted to do this. Approximately 35 minutes after waiting, I was able to view the items on the site. As you might expect, they were completely sold out.

I was browsing Twitter and noticed someone else said the Best Buy had their pre-orders up again. I kept trying to add an Xbox Series X to my cart, but kept getting a “Due to High Demand this item was not added to your cart. Wait a few minutes and try again.” message. I kept trying to hit “add to cart” and kept getting the same message.

I was able to procure two Xbox One Series X orders. One for myself and one for my brother. Today’s experience is very reminiscent of the early iPhone ordering days when Apple’s site would take a massive dump when trying to order a phone.

If it were only Microsoft who were taking pre-orders, it might be somewhat understandable. It is not feasible to scale your operations for a single occurrence of insanely heavy traffic. However, Microsoft owns the infrastructure to be able to handle this, so their site being so slow is surprising. I do not think the issue was the Xbox site itself, but their back-end services that accounted for the slowness.

Of course Amazon’s experience, if the page was actually available, was the best experience and the fastest checkout. This is not surprising given that Amazon handles millions of orders each year, including some of the most popular times. Amazon can deal with scale.

I completely understand having people buy from various retailers, because you do not want to overwhelm your own system. But I think all of the retailers, except Amazon, underestimated the demand that they would need to handle. Today’s e-commerce is not like the olden days where you would need to have physical servers. Today everything is virtual and machines can be spun up and down as needed.

I do think that the retailers remembered to scale their front ends, because I never had an issue loading a page, the issues were all with the backend systems. I hope for the next big pre-order event that the companies think about more than just the front end and shore up the back-end systems as well.

For Target, the cart mechanism as well as the actual checkout. I think the two might have been related, since it could not access the cart, it could not finalize the checkout.

Best Buy was similar in that it could not actually add items to the cart, so you could not checkout. Once an item was in the cart, it seemed okay.

For Microsoft it was similar situation where the backend systems for pulling account information seemed to be the bottleneck.

Today’s Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S pre-orders were not the only pre-orders to experience a fiasco. The Playstation 5 and Nvidia RTX 3080 have also had the same type of experience for those who tried to pre-order those items. This type of experience does not engender positives vibes for both the retailer and the manufacturer. Other retailers can learn from the today’s, and the other recent pre-orders, so the same experiences do not happen in the future.