In 2005, Best Buy had a mess involving the XBox 360 launch, involving both bait-and-switch as well as cancelling web orders. Not learning from their mistakes, they allowed PS3 web pre-orders on Saturday, November 4th. Chaos ensued.
The official launch date for the PlayStation 3 is November 17, 2006. Sony only has 400,000 units slated to reach the US on that date. While this might seem like a lot of units, keep in mind that over 5 million gamers own XBox 360s - and that many gamers have deliberately not purchased the 360, instead waiting for the PS3 release. Also, many HD TV owners are actively interested in the PS3 for its Blu-ray DVD capabilities, never mind that it plays games too. While a "traditional" Blu-ray DVD player currently runs $850 or more, you can get a PS3 with that capability built in for only $499.
Because of the incredibly high demand for PlayStation 3 units, only a few stores are doing pre-orders. Most expect long multi-day lines to form for their few stocked units. The websites which have done pre-orders for the Wii and PS3 have typically sold out in under 10 minutes once the link went live.
Into this atmosphere came Best Buy. Best Buy was already in the dog house for its behavior in 2005, regarding the XBox 360 launch. They cancelled web orders. At least one store advertised selling the units standalone - then once people were in line, told them they would have to buy a bundle costing over double the price.
Best Buy promised that things would be much more well run this year, with the PS3 release. Late in the evening on Saturday, November 4th, their weekly ad updated to begin their promotions of the PS3 and Wii - and a link became available to pre-order the PS3. Thousands of joyful fans signed up, thrilled to be able to put in reservations for this great game system. The system took credit card and debit card information, sent confirmation messages and stored the order properly in their system.
I was one of those who put in my order. Concerned about any issues, I then called the Best Buy customer center to confirm my order. After waiting on hold for 1/2 hr, I reached a representative who said that yes, the pre-order had begun. She confirmed that my order had been received properly. She explained that it would be shipped to me on the launch day, i.e. that I would not receive it ON launch day.
You would think that my PS3 order would now be confirmed. However, others who placed their PS3 orders at the same time and called in got vastly conflicting messages from the reps they spoke with. Some reps stated categorically that this was a database glitch and that all orders would be cancelled eventually - meaning that users' credit cards would be blocked from making any other payments with the $699 until Best Buy decided to do this. Some reps confirmed that the pre-order had happened properly. If five different people called in to get a status, they often received 5 different answers.
As it stands, on Sunday evening, there is still no definitive word from Best Buy on how they will handle all of these pre-orders. The credit cards have still had the money blocked; debit cards have had the money removed from the bank account. The order page went to a "coming soon" status after 2 hours of pre-order traffic and remains in that state.
We will now see if Best Buy will honor those pre-orders. They could create loyal repeat customers from those many visitors who went with Best Buy for their purchase. On the other hand, they could cancel all of the orders, hoping that the visitors will then truck down to their local Best Buy store to wait in the cold overnight to get the same unit in person. By all accounts, they have more than enough PS3s in stock to cover these orders and still have units for each store.
From the reactions I've seen, however, if these orders get cancelled simply because BestBuy wants to sell the units "to someone else", it will result in all of these visitors deliberately choosing to wait in a line OTHER than BestBuy's come launch day.
If you're looking for a PS3 for this holiday season, by all means keep an eye on the sales websites for pre-orders. However, be aware that at least one company so far - Frys.com - has accepted orders and then cancelled them afterwards claiming it wasn't ready yet. You're only guaranteed a system when you actually have it in your possession.
Tuesday Nov 7 Update
Well, I just got my cancellation note, as did everybody else who did the pre-order. We all got $10 BestBuy certificates. So now apparently Best Buy figures that all these people that they cancelled on will buy items at their store. The full amount is still on hold on my credit card meaning I can't use that money for any other purpose. People who used bank cards still have the money missing from their bank accounts.