Day one delivery is crucial to online retailers. It drives pre-orders and secures sales that may otherwise have gone to High Street rivals.
However, this is dependent on shipping and delivery times.
To ensure a game arrives on release day – besting the convenience of picking it up in-store – sites must depend on Royal Mail, couriers or other third-party services.
Many sites send out games early to account for potential delays: a seemingly sensible solution, but one that can result in consumers receiving the title ahead of the publisher’s street date.
This is long-running issue came to a head this month when ShopTo refused to stock any future Activision products over a dispute around Call of Duty: Ghosts.
Site owner Igor Cipoletta told MCV the publisher’s shipping policy, which limits when retailers can send out copies of the game, damages ShopTo’s ability to guarantee day one delivery to customers.
Some sites use this as justification for early shipping. Naturally publishers grumble, but the most vocal protestors is often other retailers, who feel unfairly disadvantaged by the few that purposefully ignore shipping rules.
But should all online retailers be allowed to ship early if it ensures customers get their goods on day one?
“If a good friend agreed not to tell my mum
about a surprise party and they took it upon
themselves to tell her four days early,
I would not be happy.”
Craig Constantinides - business development boss, Go 2 Games
“Absolutely not,” said Gameseek MD Stephen Staley. “If you allow that sort of activity, instead of sales being about price and quality of service, it’ll all be about back-room shady deals and that’s not good for the customer in the long run.
“Keep the playing field level and the customer will benefit because retailers will have to up their game instead of just relying on ‘buying’ their next sale.”
Go 2 Games’ business development boss Craig Constantinides added: “An agreement is in place for a reason. Perhaps it’s because of the online retailers that break new release rules in order to maximise profit and brand awareness that we all now suffer unreasonable demands from customers.
“If a good friend agreed not to tell my mum about a surprise party and they took it upon themselves to tell her four days early, I would not be happy.”
Publishers might be more lenient if early shipping was the only way to guarantee purchases reaches their destination in time, but most delivery services – including Royal Mail – already offer faster deliveries to those willing to invest.
“We dispatch all pre-orders using next day guaranteed delivery to ensure that our customers receive them on release day,” said Games Trade’s co-director Nadir Husain.
“This is obviously a more costly option, but customers that pre-order should be rewarded for enthusiasm and brand loyalty.”
Despite this service being available, retailers often question the Royal Mail’s efficiency and use this as the reason for early shipping. But some stores still say this is an unjustified excuse.
“Royal Mail’s service has not changed in over six years so I don’t see their service being an issue,” says Xbite MD Nick Whitehead.
Husain added: “Royal Mail has a delivery time of one to three days, which does cut it fine unless using a guaranteed service.
“But for the majority of the year this is not too much of an issue. It’s only in Q4, when the majority of big titles are released, that having to ship the day before could lead to late deliveries.”
The solution that most sites favour is for publishers to send their stock of the newest releases earlier than usual, allowing for more time to prepare to ship the games in a timely fashion.
“Most High Street retailers receive their stock several days before release date so they can process the deliveries, price up their received goods and work on the display to only be sold on release date,” said Hitari founder Kamal Hitari.
“I have therefore never understood why most new releases are delivered to us online stores only one to two days before release. With the risk of misrouted or delayed deliveries which make it a very expensive day both financially and operationally. This is even though we sign a formal legally binding publisher’s street date agreement when we are asked to do so.
“We should receive the stock early, get them all ready for shipping a day before release date and be allowed to post them early to customers outside the UK so they too can receive their games on release date.
“It is ultimately the publishers’ responsibility to think of ways of securing their software so it does not get activated before the specified release date.”
“It is ultimately the publishers’ responsibility
to think of ways of securing their software
so it does not get activated before the
specified release date.”
Kamal Hitari - founder, Hitari
Publishers do possess the technology to prevent their games from being played before release. After all, Steam games can be preloaded ahead of launch, but users are unable to access them until Valve activates the title. It is not impossible to recreate this with boxed products.
“It is infuriating sending new releases out only to have them not arrive by release date because the courier has messed up the process,” Staley explained.
“The customer doesn’t care why it hasn’t arrived; they will care that all their friends are playing the game and they can’t.
“Why not have the best of both worlds? Let us send it out early, but make it so the game cannot activate or be played until the release date. Don’t put a time code on the game, because they can be manipulated. Just have the game ask for a code to first activate it. This code is published on the manufacturer’s website on the day of launch.”
While there is always backlash against any new online activation scheme these days, such a system is not unfeasible. Customers that buy games online prove they have access to the internet, and retailers could even help distribute the codes via email.
Ultimately, this is but another talking point in an ongoing discussion.
The issue of street dates, early shipping, delivery times has surrounded online retail since its inception, often heating up around major releases such as Call of Duty.
While a solution has yet to be found that satisfies both retail and publishers, it is customers’ satisfaction that firms believe is of utmost importance. And that boils down to whether or not their pre-ordered game arrives on day one.