For decades, video game fans have queued up on launch day to get their hands on new consoles. Camping outside shops for days in advance was a rite of passage.
But the hype has always caused chaos. When Nintendo’s SNES (or Super Famicom) was released in Japan in 1990, consumers clamouring for the console caused so much commotion that the government stepped in to insist that video game manufacturers schedule future releases at weekends, to minimise social disruption.
Not much changed for subsequent new releases over the next 30 years. In 2021, queuing is still a big part of buying the latest consoles (specifically the PlayStation 5 and X Box Series X), but with the pandemic closing most high street retailers for much of 2020, the queues have now shifted online – along with the associated challenges.
The inevitable shift to queuing online
Going back just a few years, queuing in a virtual waiting room to enter an online store was a new concept to many.
However, with consumers restricted to buying high-demand items online, queuing systems have become essential to retailers striving to manage such events, with the surge in traffic having a crushing effect on IT infrastructures.
PS5: Sell out, restock, repeat
Taking the recent PS5 launch as an example, unprecedented demand online has produced new challenges for retailers. Many consumers faced the dreaded “website down, come back later” message upon attempting to make their purchase.
eCommerce businesses have also been besieged by scalper bots. These bots are snapping up thousands of consoles at their RRP of £350 to £450 to be resold for as much as £1,000 elsewhere, much to the frustration of gaming fans:
You know what makes me feel sick? PS5 scalpers. I feel so bad for parents that have a child that wants a PS5 for Christmas. pic.twitter.com/TmTKrgymlx
— Gatsby (@GreatGatsbySSB) November 27, 2020
“It’s not just natural demand that is crashing retailers’ sites today,” says Thomas Platt, Head of eCommerce at TrafficDefender and bot mitigation specialist Netacea. “It’s automated traffic from bots that are buying consoles before genuine customers can do so.”
Aside from hampering sales of the consoles, huge and sudden demand from both customers and scalpers can also adversely affect fulfilment of these orders. For example, GAME delivery partner Yodel struggled to get the sheer volume of PS5 consoles to customers in a timely fashion, causing an influx of support requests and reputational damage.
Several months after the initial launch, hype around PS5 stock has remained at fever pitch. There are highly popular Twitter accounts and blogs dedicated to announcing details of the next big “drop” or stock release. As a result, restocks by major retailers are creating just as much demand as on launch day, with tens of thousands of customers flooding websites and stock rapidly disappearing.
However, online queues have enabled many retailers to remain operational and manage these extreme spikes in web traffic.
Why do we need virtual waiting rooms?
Just as a physical store has a capacity limit, the same is true for websites.
In order to prevent an influx of users overloading servers and crashing their websites, many retailers now implement an online queue, or virtual waiting room, to stagger entry to their websites once their capacity limit is reached.
This protects the website from falling over, maintains speed and functionality without needing to dramatically scale up infrastructure, and gives a fair “first in, first out” experience to customers.
The benefits of queuing online for a PS5
While it might not seem like it initially, being put into a queue to buy a PS5 online is actually a positive for customers.
In exchange for waiting, customers are given assurance that their patience will be rewarded and their turn to browse and buy will come in due course. Just like queuing outside a shop, queuing online feels fair and allows customers to pay the RRP instead of being ripped off by untrustworthy scalpers.
Implementing a well-conceived queuing strategy is also a great opportunity for retailers to enhance their own trust with customers, whilst controlling the messaging and brand displayed during the wait.
The intelligent virtual waiting room experience
TrafficDefender™, the virtual waiting room powered by Netacea™, offers advanced and scalable online queuing to eCommerce businesses and their customers.
Using machine learning and dedicated data scientists, Netacea is a leader in mitigating sophisticated bot attacks. Netacea brings the same secure, enterprise-grade technology into TrafficDefender, delivering unique intelligence into the virtual waiting room experience.