It’s no surprise that the PlayStation 5 (PS5) has been extremely popular since its launch in November, with over four million consoles sold since launch. However, what is surprising is that the PS5 has broken all launch month gaming hardware sales records ever, despite its steep prices at $500 for the full console and $400 for the digital edition, not to mention its launch in the middle of the largest economic disaster since the Great Depression. In fact, the console was so popular that it is nearly impossible to find one online before they become sold out – unless, of course, you’re willing to pay upwards of over $1,000 for one.
So what’s the secret to putting the PS5 in as many households as possible? What has made it so that any restock in stores is cleared out by customers within the same day? And why does the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines look entirely different, with vaccines sitting on shelves and advocates calling out to not let them expire?
Well, as fortune would have it, there are a multitude of much-needed lessons we can learn from Sony’s rollout of its next-gen console that would revolutionize mass vaccination efforts moving forward.
Sony’s limited supply of PS5s has created a rush to be the first get one and join an exclusive group of fans who bought the console and experienced it early on. The exclusivity of the COVID vaccine has led to select healthcare facilities and pharmacies providing a limited stock of the vaccine to only a single “premium group” of people at a time. Thus, the rush for exclusivity and saving loved ones from getting the virus doesn’t manifest like scrambling to buy a PS5 in time for Christmas break. By excluding so many people from early vaccination efforts through tiered vaccination plans, the vast majority of the demand for the vaccine was effectively removed from the start, creating inequities in vaccine availability.
Yet, the highlight of selling the PS5 was that it was sold on a first-come, first-serve basis, like any other product. The high demand led to long intermittent stretches of sold-out stock at virtually all locations. That’s not a bad thing though – in fact, it signals that console sales were so efficient that demand for the PS5 outperformed the fastest manufacturing and supply shipments possible. When every single individual product is sold to consumers as quickly as possible, that’s efficiency at its very best.
Oppositely, in my own state of Pennsylvania, our vaccination plan has been anything but efficient. The plan is divided into four tiers – Phase 1A, 1B, 1C, and 2. The state has been in Phase 1A since the vaccines became available here in December. Phase 1A does not include front-line workers, such as EMS personnel, grocery store clerks, city bus drivers, teachers, and daycare coordinators – high-risk groups who can spread the virus throughout cities much more easily than the healthcare workers and seniors included in Phase 1A. Especially with healthcare workers already universally masking, which significantly slows the spread of COVID-19, prioritizing vaccines for healthcare workers may not have been the best choice for efficient vaccine rollout.
Because vaccines were prioritized similarly across the country, people have faced moral dilemmas that shouldn’t have occurred. One physician in Texas recently went to court for stealing a COVID-19 vaccine vial. His reason? – the leftover vaccine in the open vials would have expired had nobody used it within a few hours, so he took it home for his family after failing to find healthcare workers who did not already get vaccinated under phase one of the state’s strategy. Now, he is facing punishment of up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine for breaking from county guidelines. This is not the kind of person who should be prosecuted in this pandemic.
When PS5s are available, stores and news outlets know the anticipated restock dates and relay that information to consumers so that people can purchase them as soon as consoles restock at stores. There are even Twitter accounts, like Wario64, that people can follow for live updates on PS5 restocks online.
As for COVID-19 vaccines, why do we not communicate vaccine restocks to the general public? The story of the Texan physician from earlier is a symptom of this bigger problem. Leaving vaccines for the select few instead of opening efforts to everybody has led to thousands of them sitting on shelves and left to expire. In turn, this has led us to witness patches of cities with huge shortages of vaccines alongside surpluses of it in warehouses. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
What if we had clear communication between pharmacies, hospitals, and local governing bodies about where the stock of vaccines is used up and where there is a surplus? If we could be as efficient as the gaming community has been with announcing PS5 restocks, we might have a fighting chance to curb the outright trashing of vaccines that are currently being left to expire.
When the PS5 was first announced, fans could place preorders and have it shipped to their homes or available for pickup in-store on day one. Preorders allow stores to estimate the rate at which they will sell the console early in its release and plan how many to buy accordingly. It also ensures that consoles get into consumers hands as fast as possible, keeping consumers, stores, and Sony happy.
So far, we have only very recently seen some localities implementing a similar strategy to preorders for vaccinations. In places like New Jersey and Philadelphia, pre-registration for the vaccine is a new option for the general public to be pre-placed into a respective tier so that they can get the vaccine as soon as possible. While this is promising for a better rollout moving forward, this needs to be the standard across all states so vaccines can “sell out” as quickly as Sony’s PS5.
No “PlayStation 5 shaming”
Never have gamers shamed gamers who obtained the PS5 early on launch day. People are not angry that PS5s weren’t left for children who “needed them more” in this difficult past holiday season. Yet, when it came to people trying to keep themselves and their families protected from a virus that is almost unprecedented in its killing capacity, honest and good-willed people were shamed for wearing masks when “healthcare workers need them more,” then shamed for not wearing masks when it became law, and finally, shamed again for getting vaccinations when “healthcare workers need them more.” Instead of empathizing with others and realizing that people are following their natural instincts to protect themselves, this mixed messaging and villainization has led to a thoroughly weak public health effort overall. In the one moment in recent history that a strong emergency preparedness sector was vital, we were unclear about expectations and harsh with people who were only doing what was best for their loved ones. Let’s be clear – shaming is not a public health strategy.
It’s time for us to broaden our vaccination strategy and leave our mistakes behind. Although PS5 rollout has not been without its own challenges, Sony has been successful because they know how to get a product into people’s hands. At this point, we have a chance to learn and revolutionize our vaccine strategy. Pretty soon, we will see PS5s on shelves like any other product, but that will be after the rush to get early access is over, not at the initial launch – which is what we’ve seen with the vaccine so far. If we want COVID-19 vaccine rollout to be as successful as the PS5, we need to learn from the best in marketing business and emulate Sony’s tactics for worldwide success year after year.
Zane Kaleem is a medical student and can be reached on Twitter @zanekaleem.
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