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Blog / Jul. 17

Amazon Prime Day: Deal Me Out

Dave Bruno

What a fascinating day yesterday turned out to be. It was July 16, the start of Amazon Prime Day (ok, really Prime Day and a half, but who’s counting, right?), and at the stroke of noon PDT, I was fully prepared to make my move on a few choice items I had targeted for the Prime Day deals.

Full disclosure: I am not one to wait with baited breath for deals, be it Prime Day, Black Friday, or any other overhyped promotion requiring me to stand in line, camp out, or race to be one of the first to click on a web page. And to be honest, I have never really been that interested in Prime Day. While I have occasionally perused a few deals on Prime Days past, I never actually found anything I felt compelled to purchase (much more on that later).

Going “All In” on Prime Day

However, as both an avid student of all things retail and a keen observer of how Amazon impacts retail at large, this year I decided to seriously shop the site on Prime Day. I wanted to see first-hand how the whole Prime Day experience would unfold. So, as the big day drew near, I diligently opened every email from Amazon that looked like it might be promoting their big day. I reviewed their tips and I read the instructions on the Prime Day home page. I was definitely struck by the fact that – after more than two decades as an avid online shopper – Amazon felt the need to ask me to read their instructions to make sure I knew how to…shop online. But nonetheless, I persevered.

As their instructions advised me to do, I browsed the upcoming deals, and as I browsed, I added items to my Prime Day Watch List. I asked Alexa for my Prime Deals, and I made sure the Amazon app on my phone was updated and current. I felt like I was seriously ready to take full advantage of Prime Day 2018.

And, at exactly, 12:00 pm PDT, I opened my app, ready to check the items on my Watch List and to experience Prime Day for all it was worth.

A Day of Disappointment

Only Amazon wasn’t ready for me, apparently.

As it happens, I live in Southern California, in one of the areas covered by the huge red circles on the map below. The Amazon Outage map, that is. Apparently I, and several million other Prime members like me around the country, were shut out of Amazon for several hours just as the Prime Day festivities officially began. The vaunted Amazon, powered by the equally vaunted Amazon Web Services, took a dive yesterday. A deep dive.

Amazon Prime Day

Word of the outage, of course, spread quickly as the number and size of the dreaded red circles on DownDetector kept growing.

I began contacting friends around the globe in an attempt to draw my own personal Amazon outage map. Some of my friends, particularly those outside the US, were not affected at all. Others were subjected to funky (and ultimately futile) site navigation. Others still – many others, it turns out – were completely shut down.

As for me, after all that time spent researching, browsing and preparing, I was one of those who were completely shut out.

At first, I was bummed. I felt like all that effort had been a waste of time. Compounding my frustration was the fact that, in addition to looking for a deal or two, I was also hoping to pen a post for this blog about the Prime Day shopping experience. I was hoping to extract a few meaningful insights about the day to share with clients and colleagues.

The Disappointment Deepens

But then I realized something interesting: I realized that while I was indeed bummed about the way my Prime Day experience had been compromised by the outage, I wasn’t at all bummed about missing out on any of the deals. For example, I had been watching a pair of Bluetooth headphones, but not because I really wanted them or because they were a great value. Rather, I just needed a pair of headphones, and the 30% Prime Day discount seemed like a pretty good deal. Not a great deal, necessarily, but a good price to be sure, and since I needed a new pair anyway, I was planning to buy them.

So when the outrage occurred, I didn’t panic for fear of losing out on those headphones (or any of my other Watch List items for that matter). I knew I could find similar items – and similar deals – elsewhere.

As this realization began to sink in, I further realized that Prime Day, for me anyway, was much ado about nothing. Because unless I had been interested in Amazon’s own stuff, there really wasn’t all that much that I found interesting.

Make no mistake, Amazon certainly wanted me to be interested in their gadgets and their technology. The Prime Day pages on their site and their app were dominated by Amazon gear. Alexa was full of recommendations to purchase Amazon tech. And if I wanted to buy their stuff, I didn’t even have to wait for Prime Day to arrive. Amazon was happy to offer me several “advance” deals on the aforementioned Amazon items well before noon yesterday.

But I wasn’t interested in any Amazon devices. There were a few things I was seeking to purchase on Prime Day, but they weren’t Amazon things. And if I wasn’t seeking Amazon stuff, Prime Day was by and large a disappointment for me.

Saving the Day by Extracting a Few Insights

Except for one thing: I did manage to extract a few insights from the experience, after all. I realized that Prime Day is a complete and utter departure from everything that Amazon has come to stand for:

    • Shopping on Prime Day was harder than any other day of the year on Amazon. This massive, impressive, ubiquitous shopping brand was built on the back of frictionless, painless, efficient and easy One-Click Buys. And yet to take full advantage of Prime Day, I had to read instructions. I had to search for products I wanted in ways that were much more difficult – and much less efficient – than a typical Amazon search. I ended up visiting third-party blogs to learn what the best deals would be.I had to add things to a watch list to make them easy to find once Prime Day actually rolled around. Making matters worse, after I did add items to my Watch List, it wasn’t all that easy to find the darn list when it was time to shop.
    • Shopping on Prime Day was less personal than any other shopping day of the year. The first page of (what I assumed were) “my” spotlight deals included a smoker grill (I don’t eat meat), a can of Lysol (I only clean my house with organic cleaning products), a jar of kids’ vitamins (I don’t have kids), and a tub of anti-aging wrinkle cream (I’m a 54-year old man who long ago came to terms with his aging skin).Shopping Prime Day with Alexa was worse. When I asked her for my deals of the day, she simply recited an endless litany of deals on Amazon tech. What happened to those awesome Amazon algorithms designed to recommend items to me based upon my own history with the brand? After she began her reply with five consecutive recommendations for Amazon stuff that had nothing to do with me or my history, I asked Alexa to shut the heck up.
    • Shopping on Prime Day enticed me to abandon the very research habits that Amazon taught me. In perhaps the most jarring realization of the day, I found that the ever-present threats of limited time and limited inventory enticed me to lower my shopping standards. Instead of researching my purchases thoroughly, which typically helps ensure greater value for my money (and greater satisfaction with Amazon), in the interest of time I merely glanced at the star count in the headlines. If an item of interest had three stars or more, I added it to my cart without further investigation. Who had time to research? The deals were being claimed, and the clock was ticking. Who had time to worry about quality when the deal was soon to expire?

To Thine Own Self Be True

At the end of the (Prime) day, I felt like the brand had let me down. And it had nothing to do with the outage. I am in the technology business, and I know how fickle tech can be, despite the best laid plans. Rather, I was disappointed because Amazon, in their zeal to manufacture both urgency and sales, had added a whole lot of friction to the shopping experience, which is exactly what I have come to expect to avoid when visiting their brand.

So, what is the big takeaway I gleaned from my Prime Day experience? The takeaway, while neither new nor groundbreaking, is a great reminder to us all, nonetheless:

To thine own self – and brand promise – be true.