After months of breathless speculation, you can finally pre-order the PS5 and the Xbox Series X. Or, at least, you would be able to, if you could make heads or tails of the pre-order process.
For those who haven’t followed the whole debacle, the PS5 pre-order process went so poorly that Sony had to publicly apologize for it. Microsoft promised that similar difficulties would not beset the Xbox Series X — but then, of course, they did.
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Essentially, if you tried to pre-order a next-gen console, there’s an excellent chance that you didn’t get one. And even if you did, you may find yourself with an order that’s delayed, at best, or canceled, at worst. If you want a PS5 or Xbox Series X, it feels increasingly like you’d have a better experience just waltzing into a store in mid-November and trying your luck.
Let’s break down what went wrong with both pre-order processes — and dispense some advice for those who didn’t manage to score a new system. While we can’t guarantee anything, there’s still plenty of time between now and November to turn your luck around.
The PS5 pre-order process got off to a rocky start when Sony elected not to share any information about it during the PS5 September showcase. Right after we got a price and release date for the PS5, the livestream ended, and fans assumed that was that — until Sony hopped on Twitter and casually mentioned that pre-orders would begin at “select retailers” the next day.
“The next day” meant “a few hours later,” as some retailers began selling the devices right away. Some retailers were sold out of pre-orders before September 16 was over; some waited until midnight on September 17; some didn’t start until later that morning, or in the afternoon. Consoles went in and out of stock for hours on end. Some websites wouldn’t load; others crashed when people attempted to check out.
In short: It was a mess, and there wasn’t much that buyers could do except click and pray.
Our head of testing, Matthew Murray, was one of the unhappy customers. While Tom’s Guide usually receives review consoles from Microsoft and Sony, we also buy our own units, since we need consoles for office use, as well as home testing. It may comfort you to know that our luck has been no better than yours.
“Let’s just say it was chaotic,” Murray told me via Slack. “It was just like everything sold out right away, not like the websites wouldn't even work.”
Even if you managed to procure a PS5, your woes may not be over. Even after going through the checkout process, many customers learned that their orders weren’t processed properly, and they wouldn’t be getting PS5s at all. Others received e-mails that their orders went through, but there was no guarantee of a November 12 shipping date. There was no guaranteed date at all, in fact — it’s entirely possible that these customers will be waiting until January.
Sony put up a frank apology tweet on September 19, promising that more PS5 stock would become available between now and the end of the year. While that’s probably true, it doesn’t give us any indication of how PS5 pre-orders might proceed from here.
After a frustrating day of stymied pre-orders, Murray — like many other customers — threw his hands up and reassured himself that the Xbox pre-orders would be a smoother process.
Xbox Series X pre-orders
On its surface, it seemed like Microsoft had a plan in place for Xbox Series X pre-orders. Shortly after the company announced the Xbox Series X’s price and release date, it let buyers know that pre-orders would begin on September 22. After that, it filled in the blanks about participating retailers, time of day and so forth. While there would still be a rush, at least both users and websites knew what to expect, and when.
Even so, many — if not most — potential pre-order customers left empty-handed.
“All of the websites were overloaded in one way or another, and all gave us bizarre error messages and problems,” said Murray. “On Target, the ‘pre-order’ button just didn't work. Best Buy would claim the item was available, but not add it to your cart. The Microsoft Store took ages to let me add [the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S] to my cart, and when it eventually did, it wouldn't accept my payment information.”
Both Walmart and Sam’s Club (which are owned by the same company) let Murray add the systems to his cart, then immediately deleted them. GameStop crashed. Amazon gave him a litany of error screens for the Xbox Series X; it didn’t seem to have the Xbox Series S available at all.
Between crashed websites, empty shopping carts and missing products, Xbox customers had plenty of problems to worry about. But, as with the PS5 pre-orders, the issues didn’t stop there. Many customers put orders through, but have yet to receive confirmation e-mails. By this time tomorrow, we expect cancellation e-mails to make the rounds, as well as “we cannot guarantee delivery on November 10” e-mails.
The situation wasn’t much better in person, where certain GameStops could confirm fewer than 10 pre-orders.
In short, the Xbox Series X pre-order process had an orderly plan, and a chaotic execution. Whether this is better or worse than Sony’s “chaotic plan, chaotic execution” depends entirely on your perspective — and whether you wanted a PS5 or an Xbox Series X.
How to get a PS5 or Xbox Series X now
While there’s some catharsis in bemoaning a broken pre-order system, it’s not a very practical activity. Instead, let’s take some time to figure out next steps for those of you who weren’t lucky enough to score a console during the first round of pre-orders.
Murray gave me this advice:
“I'm going to keep trying to get the systems I'm looking for,” he said. “Be patient, keep trying and try to follow when preorders are likely to start again. I think eventually there will be enough to go around, but whether everyone will get them by launch day, I don't know.”
“Be patient and keep trying” may sound like a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it often works. Sony and Microsoft both plan to release additional stock between now and mid-November, and retail websites will work a lot more smoothly when they’re not slammed with a pre-order rush.
I’ve personally found that mid-morning and mid-afternoon are good times to check stock: 10 AM and 2 PM ET, respectively, but there’s no secret to it. Retailers restock whenever they can, and sometimes it’s just a matter of clicking on the right website at the right time. Be sure to check our PS5 pre-order guide and Xbox Series X pre-order guide for the latest on availability.
Failing that, console manufacturers don’t generally sell through their entire stocks during pre-orders, as they need to put products on store shelves, too. While you may just be trading one type of chaos for another, you could always try your luck at retail stores — but I wouldn’t do so on November 10 or 12. Give it a week or so, and wait until the second wave of consoles starts trickling in. By that time, the initial rush has died down, and you can often find a single console hiding on a store shelf in a small outlet somewhere.
I wouldn’t recommend turning to eBay. For one thing, you’ll pay at least twice what a system is worth; for another, you’ll be rewarding scalpers, who make the buying experience worse for everyone. Furthermore, there’s absolutely no guarantee that you’ll receive a brand-new, functioning console instead of, say, an old car battery, or nothing at all.
My final recommendation is a little different: Don’t pre-order a console, or scramble to get one on launch day. This may seem a little counterintuitive, but it’s been my personal practice for the last three console generations, and it hasn’t steered me wrong yet. The vast majority of PS5 and Xbox Series X launch games will be available on the PS4 or Xbox One. That means you’ll have plenty to play between now and January. And come late January (maybe even earlier), consoles will be a dime a dozen and whatever retailer you frequent, free from cumbersome, expensive bundles or obnoxious website malfunctions.
Being patient is your best strategy, particularly since many current-gen games you buy this year will get free next-gen upgrades whenever you find a new console. Your friends may have shiny new consoles before you, but you’ll have your sanity intact, which is arguably worth a lot more.