Getting the Oculus Rift into retail locations like Best Buy and trusted sites like Amazon is an important part of making sure people feel comfortable buying the technology.
The fact that skeptics will soon be able to try the hardware for themselves, even scheduling their demos up to a month in advance so they don't have to wait in line, is huge. There just isn't a way to believably explain the quality of the experience without trying it for yourself.
So the news that Oculus is expanding the ways you can try and purchase a Rift is great for the virtual reality industry as a whole. But the idea of giving up any of the hardware's inventory before they've fulfilled their first pre-orders feels actively hostile to the most dedicated fans, the people who were the first to buy into Oculus' dream of consumer virtual reality.
You'll even be able to purchase the system on Amazon on May 7. Pretty cool, huh? You'll get your system before the people who pre-ordered in the early days!
Which is why this is such a transparently bad idea. There are people who ordered months ago still waiting for their cards to be charged and the hardware to be shipped out, and some of the units that could have gone to making those customers happy are instead going to retail locations like Best Buy, as well as Amazon and Microsoft online orders.
This is a terrible mistake, and customers have every reason to be angry about it.
Why this is so bad
We were told that retail would be given a very small amount of inventory while Oculus works on fulfilling back orders. But the question isn't how many units are being kept from pre-order customers, but why keep any?
I asked Oculus if the company was worried about backlash from customers still waiting on their units.
"That's one of the reasons we're going to let pre-order customers buy their Rift at retail, cancel their pre-order, and keep all their pre-order benefits, including the EVE: Valkyrie founder's pack and priority status of Touch pre-orders," a company spokesperson told Polygon.
So if you have a pre-order, you are invited to try your hand at getting one of the few units released to retail, and then cancelling your pre-order. With eBay prices going above retail and demand seeming to far outstrip supply, it's likely that lines will form for these few units. So you're stuck waiting in line to get the hardware that Oculus sent to Best Buy instead of you, the person who believed they were buying a virtual reality headset.
Not standing in line, and not having to go to a retail store, is kind of the entire point of pre-ordering hardware, in fact.
This isn't OK. This isn't going to build confidence in the product. This is a pretty blatant middle finger to the people who believed in you first, while you seem to prioritize retail relationships and customers.
These people ordered their Rifts. They were ready to buy them. They believed in your vision. And you're giving their hardware to Best Buy, Amazon and Microsoft? The fact you can cancel your pre-order isn't the point, the point is that you should take care of the people who thought they would have their hardware by now. The people who got in the virtual line first shouldn't have to check to see if their local Best Buy will have units and then get up early to beat the scalpers to get their hardware.
This is not how you treat your customers, especially the ones who believed in you first. The ones you'd like to help spread the word about VR. The early adopters. The influencers. I could go on. It's likely these deals were made with retail partners before the component shortage happened, but the result shouldn't be that pre-order customers are asked to wait in another line, be it virtual or physical.
My radical idea? Stay with me, it gets tricky: Mail the people who bought your product the fucking product before you expand into retail. It's just a thought.