The original title of this post included the words “kill it with fire.” I don’t think we should be taking the flaming pitchforks to anything OnePlus is doing here, including what the OnePlus Two has in store for us. And it has a lot in store for us.
But as we’ve discussed many times before on the Pocketnow Weekly (with major credit to a certain modder), the concept of passing out invites for prospective customers to get in line for your new product is smart and sound. From covering up inventory shortages to shrouding the mystery product with hype, there are some pretty good pros going on here.
Whether or not the product in question is limited edition or for general sale, though, the big appeal of implementing an invite system falls upon inciting exclusivity. The act of “inviting” a customer to purchase your product gives them an air of privilege, of feeling special. In OnePlus’s case, its customers are feeling more special than they already felt by just wanting to grab the device.
As always, though, it’s all in the execution. The OnePlus One invite system was held back by startling demand for below-average inventory, even for a startup product. And with the claimed improvements of the OnePlus Two invite system, we’re betting that the user experience this time around will improve only marginally.
So, if we have to make peace with it, what do Carl Pei and OnePlus have to do?
Don’t come up with so many crappy ways to start your system.
There are many ways to be exclusive. Some ways can seem more exclusive than others.
The OnePlus One invites roadmap was planned with 2,500 invites and a burst of initial contests and giveaways to get things shuffling. At a later date (when supplies allowed), OnePlus would distribute multiple invites for those initial winners to hand out to their friends and family to whom OnePlus would also give extra invites for their relatives and connections.
In crafting those promotional events, OnePlus followed through with that burst: it gave opportunities through tech news sites (like ours). It had small scale contests sprinkled throughout last spring. And then, the offenders came.
OnePlus had encouraged 140,000 of its fans to apply to its “Smash the Past” campaign, where a random 100 were chosen to participate and in doing so, receive the OnePlus One for a single dollar. Participants could either physically decimate their phone (that hopefully was on OnePlus’s approved phones list) in their creative ways to receive the deal or donate the device to an NGO devoted to providing smartphones to medics. But the second option was only available after a week of criticism from forum followers and the editorial sects of tech media. However, concerns about salvage and environmental responsibility weren’t the only ones OnePlus and its faithful had to hurtle through.
The “Ladies First” beauty pageant/contest has also been discussed beyond disgust, so I won’t further slice flesh here. I do want to slap some addendums, though: Carl Pei took corrective action afterward by offering all participating women invites. Admittedly, that effort was under-reported, but it was something unnecessary if the contest wasn’t mishandled in the first place. I also wish that OnePlus, in addition to modifying its contest structure (intentions good or bad), provided the same one dollar offer it did as the smashers. But perhaps I’m being too progressive.
That’s how the invite system kicked off. Shipments started on June 12, 2014. And then came a certain Tuesday.
Don’t allow so many avenues to circumvent your own system.
Well, way before that Tuesday, there was that Oppomart quandary. Were OnePlus an extended limb from Oppo Mobile via Oppo Electronics? Or are all of them just blindly naming themselves something alike to “Oppo”? Taylor Martin raised the question of how Oppomart got supply when OnePlus itself had trouble keeping up with its factories. The question I have is why OnePlus or Oppo wasn’t more aggressive in monitoring the reseller feeds so that things like getting Oppo’s ColorOS stuffed into a OnePlus One could happen.
A full year on and the jury’s still out on that one. And you can still get a 16GB OnePlus One at a 30 USD premium on Oppomart.
If Oppomart is the independent operation it supposedly is, it wouldn’t be hard to believe that they scalped off plenty of invites from forums and even eBay. The entries lead to dead search results now, but the fact that these exist in the first place leave the digital trail wide open for people to see that there was invite trading going on, in spite of OnePlus’s wishes to prevent that from happening.
We’re still several months short of the Tuesdays move at this point. Check out this post from August last year. Stephen Schenck mentions a planned September changeover to a traditional pre-sales system which got moved to October 28. Amazon India started to sell the OnePlus One in November before it couldn’t. On a couple of occasions, the OnePlus One would be let loose, unencumbered by invites, pre-sales, friends, family and disappointment. Because at
It was only five months after the startup planned on booting up open purchasing in February that the company finally decided to do so… on Tuesdays. One-seventh of a week. And all the other times of the week, all the rest of the previous year, people and sites were still passing out invites.
Sanctioning ways to get around the system you’ve built to keep control of supply and demand can definitely inflate your traffic. Doing it more than a few times before tearing that system down, though, exposes the masking over your weaknesses. You’ve made invites irrelevant and have created a new kind of frustration with your customers: clogged server traffic. Not as bad as waiting for an invite, but it’s still an oversight in what’s already been a pain of a buying experience.
OnePlus had six employees in the beginning. It has better than seven dozen now. Delegate a team to control your Swiss cheese holes.
The struggle finally ceased in April. But with that news came the expectation for another invites system come OnePlus 2 release time. So, what can the not-so-startup do to ensure against a repeat of last year?
Don’t be a deli counter.
The base invite system for the OnePlus One had a stupid catch for people to adhere to. The original OnePlus forum post from Carl Pei administered a 24-hour time limit on invite activation. It’d be like if you were to pull a ticket for the deli and then spent your wait time clearing out your shopping list elsewhere in the supermarket. Your number gets called, but you can’t back yourself up to the counter in time to get your order in. Well, you just got passed up for the next ticket on queue. Gotta grab another.
The desire to move product fast is palpable and imperative for a young company. Bills don’t pay themselves. And we do live in a world of near-constant connection, so that e-mail’s going to get to you fast. But if you’ve signed up for an invite from the company, you’re not given much warning of when the invite will pop up in your inbox. If you’re out of the way of your e-mail account — say, on vacation, in an extended emergency situation or at a very stringent workplace — for the period your invite’s fresh, you might be sure out of luck.
If you signed up for an invite in the hopes of saving up the 300 USD in time for when you’ve gotten your invite only to get it at the wrong time … well, maybe I’m romanticizing this thought a bit, but this might especially be discouraging to some of our younger readers who’ve worked hard at part-time jobs to only just come up short for a unique experience like the one offered by OnePlus. But I don’t have a psychology diploma, so if you fit the bill above, please let me know in the comments below.
The one concrete thing I can suggest here is that invite validity should probably last up to a week or so to provide people who were dedicated enough to support you from the start a better chance to concretely support you.
Don’t lie to us, Carl.
All that Carl Pei has promised last week was that invites for the OnePlus 2 are to be more plentiful, faster to spread and easily requested. We expect updates up through the minute the forklifts start moving. The OnePlus One is an awesome phone that deserved better in its marketing treatment. OnePlus needed better marketing treatment. Pei has the burden of picking up from product cycle number one and moving forward with more media scrutiny.
Spec enthusiasts and those within the #NeverSettleforVeri-I mean, #NeverSettle culture will probably still have a healthy tolerance for mistakes. I’m pretty sure a select few of us here in the peanut gallery have already worn that tolerance out just by hearing the word “invites” again. For the majority of us, I suppose it comes down to that thing about promises: keep them.
I say be done with it. End the invites system. Monitor your site traffic. Make sure you have enough to be able to push to everyone at once. If you have to stop sales because you’ve run out, stop them and tell us clearly when you think you can have them up again by. Other companies do this. And it’d be better than giving us a bad reason to keep OnePlus in a stream of negative headlines.
I get the (Planet) hype, OnePlus. You’re special. You just can’t be special special anymore.