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As I understand it the term pre-order refers to ordering an item that hasn't been released yet, probably as a concatenation of pre-release order. However I just received an email from Farnell Element14 inviting me to pre-order my Raspberry Pi. Now as I understand it, these machines are already in production and limited release; a lot of people have already received theirs.

Shouldn't the company in this instance have invited me to simply order my copy at this point, even if the estimated dispatch time is a couple of months away, or does the term pre-order have a different meaning in this context?

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Ugh; I hope you get one someday. I've nearly given up. Same with apc.io. –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Jun 14 '12 at 14:15
    
@cornbreadninja Well mine is ordered now, due for delivery in August. The apc looks good too. Maybe I won't resist getting one of them also. Thanks for the heads up... :-) –  AntonChanning Jun 14 '12 at 16:17
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:D You are quite welcome! Forgive me, but do you know about the cotton candy as well? –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Jun 14 '12 at 16:19
    
@cornbreadninja Neat. Now I want all these things... –  AntonChanning Jun 14 '12 at 16:22
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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

A pre-order is made before the item is available to send out to the customer.

It doesn't matter if they're still on the drawing board, being prototyped, or being manufactured, or being sent to the shops.

As soon as the item is ready to be sent out to the customer, you order instead of pre-order.

The OED's first quotation is from 1957 and defines pre-order as:

The placing of an order before an item is available or required; an order of this type, an advance order.

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Thanks, I think that explains their usage and my confusion pretty well. Of note, once I placed the order, the confirmation just used the word 'order' rather than 'pre-order', so I'm guessing that 'pre-orders' are a subset of 'orders' that meet the above criteria. –  AntonChanning Jun 14 '12 at 20:11
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Strictly speaking, you are being asked to pre-order from this company, and the term actually refers to ordering product before the supplier has received any*. So the fact that they are already out and available is not relevant, because this particular supplier has not so far received any.

Slightly more generally, they are out and on, as you say, limited release. So this is an opportunity to order one from the publicly available stock before that has been formally released. It is marketing (as @mhoran_psprep says), but it also means that they cannot give you a delivery date yet for it. However, they would like your money.

*or, alternatively, before they have a definite delivery date or quantity. Basically, they do not yet have the supply stream set up, so it is at your own risk.

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Because there is a delay between your order, and the shipment, they are asking you to start the process early. One reason they want you to order now, is to lock in sales before the first shipment to them arrives. This eliminates risk, that they will go unsold, or the risk that they won't order enough.

They are using marketing practices to say, we like you so pre-order with us now. We promise to deliver the product from the first batch we get. The use of the term pre-order makes it seem more special, or more of a perk. It is nothing more than marketing.

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The notion of "promise to deliver the product from the first batch we get" is wrong; at the moment it's a somewhat later batch. From element14's April update: "We have ... 12,000 ... due to arrive by the third week of May. ... By early next week, all 110,000 customers who have ordered with element14 ... will receive a confirmed delivery date ... [then we] will invite the 70,000 hopeful customers who have already registered to place their orders [for July or August delivery]" (or later?). –  jwpat7 Jun 14 '12 at 14:11
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