Holiday retail isn’t a game: prepare your associates for the Xbox Series X/S and PS5 releases

This week is the official start of the holiday shopping season!

Retailers have already converted Black Friday from a single day into a two-month cycle of ongoing promotions and virtual door-busters. But the shopping calendar is typically marked by the release of the “must-have” gift. Remember when parents got into fist fights over Tickle Me Elmo? Thankfully, this holiday isn’t about stuffed toys. Instead, it’s about video games—specifically the release of the next generation of consoles. Which kind of household will you be: Playstation 5 or Xbox Series X/S?

The new Xbox released on Tuesday, November 10 while the PS5 drops on Thursday, November 12. Video game sales have been strong this year as people have tried to entertain themselves while stuck at home due to the pandemic. Nintendo shipped 6.86 million Switch consoles during Q3, up 40 percent year-over-year. Xbox and PS5 pre-orders sold out within moments of going live, and they’ll be in high demand for the next several months.

Normally, a console release is an event. People camp out in front of stores like Walmart, Target and Best Buy for hours to get their hands on one on the first day. However, this year is going to be very different (again). The PS5 won’t be available in any stores on launch day. Best Buy is only taking online orders for both consoles until 2021. Target is only accepting orders for drive-up or pick-up. And Walmart is offering pre-orders at scheduled times. Confused yet? 

It’s going to be difficult for customers to figure out how to buy these short-supply, high-demand products. People are going to get confused, annoyed and frustrated. And they’re going to take it out on frontline associates. Retailers must prepare their teams to handle this very different shopping experience. In fact, this will be a stress test for frontline retail preparedness this holiday season.

Ready or not?

Wondering if your team is ready for the Xbox/PS5 release? It all comes to whether or not your associates can quickly and confidently respond to the following customer questions:

When are you going to get some in?

Your associates are going to get this question over and over and over again. And “I don’t know” isn’t an acceptable answer. Use digital communication to keep your staff updated on inventory and deliveries in real time. Make sure they know how to accurately and confidently answer questions rather than taking guesses or spreading rumors. 

Which one should I get?

The new Xbox and PS5 probably won’t need any help for a few months. They’ll sell themselves. However, let’s say you do have options in stock and a customer can’t decide. Your associates must be ready to help the customer make an informed decision and build brand loyalty, which is more important than ever in retail. Train associates on the key differentiators for each console. For example, highlight the DuelSense Controller for the PS5 and Game Pass for Xbox. Make sure associates can access and explain the full console specs on-demand using their handhelds or personal devices. Remember customers won’t be able to playtest these systems due to limited store access and increased health regulations. Associates must be able to sell each product with confidence so customers can make informed decisions. 

How can I get one?

Heavy gamers will figure out the complicated buying process for these consoles. Casual players and first-time buyers may assume they can just walk into the store and pick one up, even during a pandemic. Keep associates up to speed with your current buying process. Make sure they can access the latest information when and where they need it without relying on verbal manager updates. Push notifications directly to associates when the process changes due to increased inventory or relaxed store regulations. 

I’ve been waiting forever. Where’s my Xbox?

Retailers have been improving their buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) processes for months now. Hopefully, this has set you up to handle increased demand for Xboxes and PS5s. However, many of your customers may not have used BOPIS before (except maybe for grocery shopping). You can’t expect them to know how things work at your store. Remind your associates of the importance of patience and empathy. Prepare them with helpful responses and tactics they can use when people don’t understand the pick-up process. And cross-train additional associates for in-store and curbside fulfillment roles to make sure you can move product quickly and with minimal disruption. 

Why won’t your website let me order a PS5?

Retail is more omnichannel than ever. That means your store teams must be ready to assist customers with online orders. “Here’s the number you should call” is not an answer that will build brand loyalty. Make sure your associates know how to troubleshoot common digital shopping issues. Keep them informed with changes to online inventory and ordering processes. Stress first call resolution tactics for your contact center and store associates. 

$%#%@&#@%&?!?!

Some customers are going to become frustrated. Some are going to become angry. Some are going to become abusive. This may be the first holiday retail experience for many of your team members. They’ll need training on how to de-escalate a challenging customer situation to keep themselves and everyone around them safe. Show them how to identify potential issues before they escalate. Help them build the knowledge needed to approach these situations with confidence and empathy.


Can your frontline handle all six questions? If so, awesome! You’re ready for the console shopping surge. If you’re not quite sure, then you’ve got some work to do. But there’s good news. These concepts can be applied to more than just gaming consoles. You can use them to rapidly build frontline agility and prepare your associates for whatever comes next.

If your frontline is ready to handle the console craze, they’re likely ready for anything this very different holiday season may throw at them.

Be safe. Be well. Be kind to the frontline.

JD is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. His practical approach integrates science, technology, storytelling and pure common sense to enable employees, improve performance and drive business results. For 20 years, JD has executed strategies for global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company.

Let’s work together to drive frontline performance in all the right ways.