clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Why the PS5 paywall isn’t worthwhile at Amazon, Walmart, or Best Buy

New, 25 comments

Subscribing isn’t a magic bullet, but here’s our best advice

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

It’s still difficult to find a PS5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch OLED, or practically any desktop graphics card made in the last three years. So difficult that many people resort to paying scalpers far more than it should cost to get one. This trend has stuck around since the early days of the pandemic, and it might not change any time soon.

This year, the likes of Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart signaled that they, too, would like to become console and GPU scalpers, in a sense. Each began hosting some restock events you couldn’t access unless you had a paid subscription to Amazon Prime, Walmart Plus, or Best Buy’s new “Totaltech.” But don’t fall for the notion that these services will go the extra mile for you. In fact, they don’t guarantee the basic tools you need to succeed.

While Scalpers have what you want and will give it to you if you pay, that’s not how it works with these subscriptions. Yes, instead of going up against countless others in a restock battle royale, you might be competing with a smaller set of paying customers, theoretically boosting your chances of success. But it’s still a total gamble. It’s essentially a cover charge to get into the same page where you might be able to click a buy button, or you might not. And the more people who pay the cover charge, the worse your chances get.

It didn’t take long for people to realize none of these memberships guarantee the most important element of snapping up a new console: getting alerted about when these restocks are actually happening. One shared theme with the likes of Amazon Prime, Best Buy Totaltech, and Walmart Plus is their overall lack of communication with subscribers. They rarely provide any heads-up about these restock opportunities.

The Founders Edition RTX 3080 Ti has a retail price of 1,199.99, but the lowest price at StockX is currently $1,778.

Without some serious strides in how these retailers communicate with subscribers, you’ll likely still be outpaced in getting a console or GPU by people who have made a hobby out of following Twitter profiles like Wario64, who’s known for being among the first to post news of restocks; joining the relevant Discord servers that obsessively track restocks; and being quick to the draw with the refresh button on your browser (and knowing when to stop tapping refresh to avoid getting flagged as a spammer, too). Sadly, all of this is among the best advice out there for finding success yourself. It’s no surprise that careers have been made from this unusual supply and demand climate.

It’s part of my role here at The Verge, alongside my colleagues, to figure out if it’s actually possible to get these hard-to-find items when a retailer claims to have them in stock and running through the chaotic process of trying to buy one ourselves (don’t worry, we throw them back in the water for everyone else).

While I don’t recommend any of these memberships if all that you want to do is score a console, they’re useful for things like free shipping or scoring some discounts. So I can see why some might subscribe to them with the bonus of a scant possibility of finding a new PS5, Switch OLED, Xbox Series X, or a new Nvidia GPU. With Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart being the places where these restocks most frequently occur, we’ve included info below about each subscription, what it’s like to try to score on these sites, and how we think the checkout process could improve.


Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Amazon Prime

Amazon has its Prime subscription that costs $119.99 per year or $12.99 per month (if you’re fine paying more in total each year to be on a month-to-month plan). It nets you complementary fast shipping, access to Prime Video streaming, and a variety of other perks, including being the key that gets you in the door for some exclusive restocking events. Notably, you can get all of these perks — and access to its Prime Day shopping event — even with a free trial to Prime.

Actually getting into one of Amazon’s Prime-exclusive console restocks is almost entirely the result of seeing the right tweet at the right time. Amazon’s restocks tend to sell out much faster than they do at Walmart or Best Buy. In minutes, or sometimes less, things usually go out of stock, but it’s also usually unclear whether it’s actually stock or a site stability issue instead. I’ve had luck buying a PS5 by constantly refreshing pages that seem inactive or broken. Even when items went to my cart, it was a trial-and-error process that ended in failure more than success. So, it’s not the most elegant process.

To my knowledge, Amazon hasn’t attempted a queueing system for console restocks, which would be the most fair way to go. Instead, it’s a free-for-all that’s far too easy to miss out on.

While it’s not usually limited to Prime members, Amazon also sends out text messages to those who register for updates on its Treasure Truck, which previously has offered the PS5 and Nintendo Switch OLED for Prime customers only. Though, in both cases, these text messages didn’t arrive until after each had already sold out. So, not much help there.

When I asked Amazon if it intended to improve how it communicates with Prime subscribers who aren’t on the restock beat, an Amazon spokesperson dodged my inquiries, talking instead about the other benefits of a Prime subscription.

Walmart Raises Forecast As Earnings Beat Estimates Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Walmart Plus

Walmart Plus is $98 per year or $12.95 per month if you’d rather pay more to go month-to-month. It offers free shipping with no order minimum, discounts on prescriptions and fuel, the ability to scan and checkout from the Walmart app on your phone (you’ll still need to finalize the order at a self-checkout kiosk), and more. It’s also offering exclusive restock opportunities for subscribers, in addition to giving them four hours of early access to shop its Black Friday deals. One caveat is that, unlike Prime, you need to be a paying member to take advantage of these perks. Being on its 15-day trial won’t suffice.

Word of Walmart restocks usually spreads on Twitter a few hours before they actually go live, though the company rarely sends the news out via official channels. Recently, about half of those restock events seem to have been exclusive to Walmart Plus subscribers, with the others being openly available to anyone with a free Walmart account.

It’s tough to know what it’s going to be like jumping into any given Walmart restock. I’ve had luck refreshing the page the moment it goes live, adding a PS5 to a cart, and buying it. Most other times, though, its site hangs and crashes in frustrating ways. Its “add to cart” buttons usually aren’t quick enough to show as “out of stock,” often leading me to believe I still have a chance even when I actually don’t. Walmart’s restocks usually come in waves, with new stock replenishing every 10 minutes for a few rounds, so it’s good to stick around for a while, refreshing frequently.

More recently, Walmart has experimented with a new queueing system that lets you shop around while you wait for a timer to run down. While it’s more orderly in theory, it didn’t make the process of getting a console any easier. My wait for an Xbox Series X hung at “one minute remaining” for about 30 minutes until it notified me that it was out of stock.

I asked Walmart if it could share more detailed plans for future restocking events for its Walmart Plus subscribers and how it aims to improve communication, but the retailer declined to comment for this story.

Best Buy 2nd Quarter Sales Rise Almost 20 Percent Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Best Buy Totaltech

Best Buy’s Totaltech costs $200 per year and grants you complimentary Geek Squad tech support, exclusive discounts, up to two years of warranty support on most products (so long as you remain a member), free, fast shipping, an extended return and exchange window, and more. It has already hosted several exclusive opportunities for Totaltech members to buy a PS5, the Nintendo Switch OLED, and the Xbox Series X, though the retailer offers as many, if not more, opportunities that don’t require a subscription — just a free My Best Buy account.

Where Best Buy sticks out from Amazon and Walmart actually has nothing to do with its Totaltech membership. Over the past year, it has hosted ticketed, in-store restocking events each month that grant early birds a ticket, guaranteeing them the ability to buy one of these products once doors open. This is a particularly big deal to some PC gamers who are after Nvidia’s Founder’s Edition graphics cards, which are exclusively sold at Best Buy in the US and easier to fit into PCs than those made by many aftermarket brands. Of course, whether you’re after a GPU or a PS5, supply is still very limited. That said, your chances seem better here than what Totaltech or any competing subscriptions can offer — and it’s free of charge.

Whether you’re a Totaltech member or not, Best Buy has the most stable online queuing system of any site that I’ve tried to use during restocks. I’ve successfully added consoles and GPUs to my cart, before releasing them back in the wild.

Carly Charlson, director of public relations at Best Buy, shared with The Verge that the company knows there are “more customers shopping for them than what’s available” and that its teams “are working on the best ways to alert them when they’re available.”

For many (but not all) of its in-store restocks, Best Buy will post about them a day in advance to give you some heads-up. That’s not the case with online restocks. Those usually go live without advanced notice, requiring you to be paying close attention to Twitter or Discord if you want the best chances of succeeding.

Best Buy told The Verge that it alerted Totaltech members via email about a recent PS5 and Nintendo Switch OLED restock a day in advance, then followed up with a push notification via the Best Buy app once inventory went live. Strangely, it also shared that this kind of outreach won’t happen for every restock in the future.

Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

What other paid options exist?

If you want to take a look outside of what the biggest retailers are doing (and not doing) for eager console shoppers, GameStop offers exclusive restocking opportunities for subscribers to its PowerUp Rewards Pro service, in addition to other gaming-centric perks.

Subscribers will get “first dibs on new console drops, graphics cards, collectibles, and more.” What’s more, it explicitly informs its subscribers via email about upcoming console drops. It costs $14.99 per year. According to CNET’s post on tracking PS5 restocks, the retailer lets PowerUp Rewards Pro members have a go at the consoles one hour ahead of everyone else.

GameStop gets the nod for being more affordable than the subscriptions mentioned above, but it offers the fewest amount of perks. You’ll get a little promotional credit each month for sticking with the subscription, as well as discounts on games, and a subscription to the Game Informer magazine. Though, it notoriously offers only the most expensive console bundles in almost all of its exclusive restock events. GameStop stuffs the bundles with games, controllers, and gift cards you might not want, and this is the thanks you get for subscribing to its service.

What if you don’t want to buy any subscriptions?

Some manufacturers themselves have offered registration to give you a chance at buying products in a more orderly manner. Sony is accepting free registration to express interest in purchasing its PlayStation 5, though it doesn’t ensure that you’ll get an invite. Instead, its selection process is determined on “previous interests and PlayStation activity,” not a first-come, first-served basis. I’m sure this is helping some people get consoles, but it’s certainly not a sure-fire way to get one soon.

Computer components company EVGA did the logical thing of just allowing people to sign up to buy an Nvidia RTX 30-series graphics card in early 2021, letting people buy it once their number in line is called. That’s how my colleague Sean Hollister scored an RTX 3060 at MSRP — it only took nine months to reach his spot in line. Still, to him, it felt like a fair system at work. Sadly, EVGA halted its queues, so it’s not currently available to sign up for.

EVGA used to let people sign up to be offered a chance to buy graphics cards, though its queue system is not currently available.
Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

We might all be a bit happier if more retailers adopted more sensible queuing methods. If paying for a subscription increased your chances of getting what you want sooner and made it easier to do it at your own pace, that’d be great, too. Unfortunately, it seems like we’re not totally there yet.

That’s the strange part about all of this. Retailers are good at sending out lots of marketing emails, yet this kind of personalized email or text outreach seems to have befuddled even the biggest stores. Or perhaps it’s not befuddling them, and they just choose not to do it. After all, these restocks generate a huge level of buzz and traffic.

I wonder if the reality is somewhere in the middle. It can’t be overstated how limited stock is, and perhaps for site stability and security purposes, it behooves retailers to be as vague as possible — even to paying subscribers. On the other hand, retailers are fully aware that this frenzy won’t last forever, and as a business, it’s in their interest to turn as many of you as possible into regular-paying customers.

As these subscriptions currently exist, they want to get you in the door with the promise of exclusive access to restocking opportunities. I want these services to improve because they could be more useful for people who choose to pay. But without offering a real guarantee of success, they’re arguably worse than scalpers. They’re taking a cut of this madness with too little to show for it.