Amazon’s Prime Day Rolls On Despite Technology Let Down

Tim Denman
Editor in Chief
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Now in its fourth year, the big news out of Amazon’s annual Prime Day event has taken a drastic shift. Traditionally, the days following the massive flash sale is filled with reports highlighting Amazon’s latest record-breaking sales numbers, but this year the back-patting narratives have taken a negative spin.

The seemingly bulletproof retailer walked away from its signature event with a few chinks in its armor after the website crashed when the curtain raised on the event at 3 pm Monday July 16. Shoppers who flooded to the site to get their first glimpse of the sales blitz were greeted with a static Prime Day image and when they clicked Shop All Deals to enter, the website was unresponsive. After repeated attempts to view the deals shoppers were presented with the below message ― not exactly the best way to kick off one of the most highly anticipated online shopping days of the year.  

Prime Day shoppers encountered this disappointing message when they tried to shop.

"Some customers are having difficulty shopping, and we’re working to resolve this issue quickly," the company said in a statement as the disaster unfolded. "Many are shopping successfully – in the first hour of Prime Day in the U.S., customers have ordered more items compared to the first hour last year. There are hundreds of thousands of deals to come and more than 34 hours to shop Prime Day."

The bulk of the issues occurred during the first hour of the sale, with both its website and mobile app returning to full functionality after the initial hiccup ― although there are reports of shoppers experiencing extreme slowdowns and site crashes throughout the day and a half event.

While the functionality stumble will likely become a minor footnote on Amazon’s continued march toward retail domination, it is noteworthy and could have an impact on 2018 Prime Day results and the online giant’s public image.  

“While Amazon has done well to cultivate strong brand loyalty through its seamless shopping experience and conveniences like free shipping, this Prime Day "black eye" will no doubt resonate with customers,” said Jeff Cheal, director of product strategy, personalization, campaign and analytics,  Episerver. “Our experience and research shows that customers are quick to jump ship if an online shopping experience doesn't live up to these new standards, even with sites they are previously familiar with. If Prime members can't shop for the deals they were promised on Prime Day ― Amazon’s highly-publicized bell ringing event ― it means Amazon has fumbled in delivering on the very premise that has made it into the retail juggernaut it is today.”

Despite the hiccup, Amazon reports that Prime Day 2018 was once again a rousing success both from a revenue and website traffic perspective. “On a day (and a half) with more than one million deals worldwide offered exclusively to Prime members, sales this Prime Day surpassed Cyber Monday, Black Friday and the previous Prime Day, when comparing 36-hour periods, making this once again the biggest shopping event in Amazon history,” Amazon said in a prepared statement.

    Highlights from Prime Day 2018
    • During the first 12 hours of the event, sales on Amazon were 80% higher than average, compare to sales during the same 12-hour period last week, and total cumulative orders were 69% higher than last year, according to Feedvisor.
    • Revenue for the annual event is predicted to be in the $3.4 billion range, compared to $2.4 billion last year, according to Coresight ResearchCEO Deborah Weinswig.
    • The previously digital-only event took physical form at Whole Foods Market this year. By downloading the Whole Foods mobile app and scanning the Prime Code, shoppers could enjoy 10% off hundreds of sale items throughout Whole Foods stores. In addition, anyone who scanned the app during checkout and spent at least $10 received a $10 credit to toward their Amazon account.
    • Small and medium-sized businesses worldwide have exceeded more than $1 billion in sales on Amazon during the event.
    • Toshiba 50-inch 4K Ultra HD Fire TV Edition has sold out, making it the best-selling TV deal in Amazon history.
    • Augmented reality made its Prime Day debut. Amazon app users simply had to tap on the camera icon, to try the AR View, product search, barcode scanner, or package X-Ray feature to get an additional $5 off select Prime Day deals purchased through the app. Shopper could use the features every six hours throughout Prime Day for multiple $5 discounts.
    • Prime members worldwide purchased more than 100 million products during the event.
    • Best-sellers worldwide were the Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote and Echo Dot ― making this, with 12-hour early access to device deals, the biggest event ever for Amazon devices.
    • Amazon welcomed more new Prime members on July 16 than any previous day in Amazon history.
    • For the first time, members in Australia, Singapore, the Netherlands and Luxembourg participated in Prime Day.
    • A record number of Prime members shopped across 17 countries.
    • Jeff Bezos’ personal fortune rose to $151.4 billion on Tuesday, according Forbes Real Time Rankings. This set a new record for Bezos and for all of the billionaires Forbes has tracked over the past three and half decades. 

In just four short years, Prime Day has transitioned from a relatively small event to a massive undertaking that has forever altered the retail landscape. Competitors both big and small are adopting the flash sale approach and leveraging the media hype around the event to launch their own sales days.

“Large retailers like Target and Walmart have announced big one-day or week-long sales on their online and brick and mortar outlets, timed around Prime Day,” said Mary Lou Barney, VP, Client Success, Fuel Cycle. “A completely different competitive response is underway by small brick-and-mortar stores. For them, the push is akin to the Small Business Saturday or Shop Small initiatives of the holiday shopping season. They are connecting with their communities to personalize the shopping experience and the choice to support local business.”

Mihir Kittur, chief commercial officer, Ugam echoes Barney’s sentiment. “This is the first year where Prime Day is spreading widely to other e-retailers and officially becoming an industry-wide event, sort of like a new version of Cyber Monday,” he said. “In the past, it was only Walmart and maybe a couple other competitors that pushed deals in response to Amazon’s. This year, however, we’re seeing numerous other players actively promoting sales to try to carve out their own slice of the event.”

While retailers both big and small are looking to piggyback on the Amazon hype wave surrounding Prime Day, others are taking a different approach, opting instead to try and claim their own piece of the retail calendar.

“Retailers should not try to beat Amazon at its own game,” said Guy Yehiav, CEO, Profitect. “It’s best to avoid holding flash sales during the month of July, when Prime Day hype is highest, to avoid getting lost in the mix. Furthermore, retailers shouldn’t discount the same types of items Amazon is promoting, as the market will already be saturated.”

Regardless of their approach, one thing is clear ― Prime Day cannot be ignored. It has captured the hearts, minds and wallets of shoppers and elevated itself to the vaulted position of “retail experience” ― this year’s website issues notwithstanding.

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