Photo of Logitech Keyboard next to PS5 controller and Apple iPhone. Pre-order sales are critical to direct-to-consumer (DTC) success

Why Pre-Order Sales Are Critical and How to Increase Your Pre-Order Pipeline

Retailers have long known that pre-order sales are crucial to a successful product launch. This is particularly true in the video gaming space where pre-orders have taken on a life of their own.

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Retailers have long known that pre-order sales are crucial to a successful product launch. This is particularly true in the video gaming space where pre-orders have taken on a life of their own.

Gaming publishers now spend a great deal of time and effort crafting their pre-order strategy to generate buzz and early sales for their titles. Pre-orders are also important in other product categories such as consumer electronics (the latest iPhone, for example), new book and album releases (Taylor Swift, anyone?), and even autos (think Tesla).

When it comes to eCommerce brands, data from Scalefast suggests that pre-orders may be more important than ever. Our findings indicate that online businesses should put even more effort into driving up their pre-order sales, particularly on the very first day that orders can be made. Brands should be focused on generating customer awareness well in advance of the all-important launch date by employing a mix of marketing strategies.

Diving into sales numbers from recent gaming titles released on its platform, Scalefast analysts discovered a key pattern for pre-orders of collector’s editions. On average, sales made on the first available day for these pre-orders accounted for 28 percent of the entire pre-order campaign. This figure applies to the most successful pre-order products, and only to exclusive items offered in limited quantities (such as this collector’s boxed edition for Dissidia Final Fantasy NT from Square Enix).

For less popular titles or products, the percentage is lower, somewhere in the range of 15-18 percent of total sales made on the first day of pre-order availability. The most in-demand products can sell out of pre-orders within minutes or hours, so we aren’t including those campaigns in the 28 percent figure.

The key takeaway is that the “velocity” of pre-order sales, as determined during the first few days of making them available to customers, is an excellent indicator of total sales for most product launches.

Interestingly, this trend was seen regardless of the length of the pre-order period. What this indicates is that the most critical period for any product launch is the weeks and months leading up to the pre-order date — not the weeks and months following the pre-order launch. In other words, what eCommerce brands do before launch is much more important than what they do after launch.

That said, Scalefast found that there were some tactics that could allow brands to exceed the critical 28 percent pre-order benchmark. For one in-demand gaming title, a major publisher managed to increase order volume above and beyond what was reached on the first day of pre-orders, by smartly using waitlists and email marketing. Other promotional techniques could include generating buzz around a game trailer, making a major promotional push at a major convention, or doing a lot of PR and blogger outreach. These promotions can spur sales to spike right before the official release date.

Other interesting patterns emerged from the Scalefast data: The day before the general release date, traffic to the dedicated product page and the number of pre-orders typically doubles. This is driven largely by organic and direct traffic. On average, new visitors accounted for 65 percent of this traffic, while returning viewers made up about 35 percent.

Graph of Pre-order sales leading up to product release. Graph shows that most purchases occur on the first day of pre-sales. Spikes in pre-order sales due to marketing campaigns leading up to release, and that sales activity is low post-release.

Based on these observations, Scalefast offers the following recommendations for eCommerce brands, categorized by campaign life cycle:

Before Pre-Order

  • Building customer awareness through search engine optimization, content marketing, paid advertising, social media, and fan-focused events should be done very early on, before the product page is even completed.
  • Put together an exclusive online-only package that includes items that will differentiate the product from what retailers will be offering. This is especially critical for gaming pre-sales since consumers have come to expect a level of exclusivity with presale packages. Another excellent incentive is some kind of preorder bonus that’s related to the core product but offers additional value to the consumer, such an exclusive guide or access to in-game bonuses or levels.
  • For collector’s editions specifically, product pages should include detailed descriptions about the additional offering and feature images prominently (at the top of the page if possible). Products where pre-orders performed poorly did not include imagery of collector’s items or exclusive items were hard to find on the landing page.
  • Brands should partner with blogs, influencers, and media outlets where their customers can be reached. Generating early buzz is key to getting fans excited about an upcoming release and eager to make pre-orders.

During a Pre-Order Launch

  • Use this increase in traffic to drive customers into additional flows for customer retention. For example, you can collect customer email addresses at this stage to build a list for email marketing later. With more than 50 percent of pre-order visitors being new visitors to the website, this is an opportune time to capture emails, even if customers aren’t interested in the specific pre-order product offering.
  • Publish press releases, blanket social media, and consider paid ads to drive referral traffic.
  • If ad campaigns are created, they should be launched at this time in order to get users into remarketing list flows. This will ensure marketing dollars are not spent on customers who would have purchased regardless, but more on those who bounce from the product page or site.

Before Release Date

  • Utilize segmented emails to those customers who have not purchased to pump up final sales.
  • Promotional information on the site should highlight the scarcity factor and emphasize the limited time offer (“Your chance to pre-order expires at midnight tomorrow.”)
  • Organic traffic will likely spike right before the release date so this is another excellent chance to gather emails and build your list.

With the knowledge that approximately a third of pre-order sales will arrive on that first day, eCommerce brands must develop a concrete, actionable strategy to drive fan interest and engagement well ahead of this date. Sales made during those crucial first few days will determine the overall success of the product launch. If you’re an eCommerce brand with a new product and want to offer pre-orders, ask yourself: What’s my strategy to maximize raise awareness and maximize pre-orders on that first day?

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