Prime Day: Did Customers Think It Reached Its Prime?

David Smith, Associate VP, Marketing Strategy

The public has officially survived its first Amazon Prime Day. And, while the results are still being tallied — particularly those tied to sales — the early read is that the event as a whole was met with a resounding "meh."

Social media was aflutter leading up to and during the event itself, seeing official hashtags (#happyprimeday) and unofficial hashtags (#primeday and #primedayfail) driving conversation across the web.

Brands and third parties even tried to latch on and catch some of the halo effect, either by promoting products that were part of the event or promoting their own offers against Amazon's efforts.

The public's sentiment can be summed up by this very tongue-in-cheek tweet:

But, was it that cut and dry? Not really.

YES, IT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER.

We'll just go ahead and get this out of the way first. The overall experience of Prime Day was a little underwhelming.

Part of the feeling of letdown was the result of an insane amount of build up by both the online and traditional media in the days leading up to the event.

Not to mention the fact that its mere existence prompted Walmart and Target— two of the biggest brands in the world — to respond by creating direct (or indirect) promotions of their own.

So, in many ways Prime Day was walking into an Avatar-like situation where the experience couldn't possibly live up to the hype.

But, Amazon also didn't help itself, either.

HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT

Aside from the 5-10 marquee deals it highlighted at the top of the landing page, appealing deals on Ray-Ban sunglasses, Frye boots, Invicta watches, Mizuno running shoes, AAA video game titles and Acer laptops were hidden among things like 500-count doggie waste bag packages and tactical body armor, requiring a significant amount of work to seek out.

A LESS-THAN-IDEAL USER EXPERIENCE

And, the retailer's conscious decision to release deals in waves, as opposed to unveiling them all at once, forced users to continually refresh their view of the site and navigate the clunky Lightning Deals interface, which was designed for a handful of deals every day, not hundreds or thousands.

Instead — likely for technical reasons — the retailer chose to leverage existing components to cobble together a decidedly underwhelming user experience with existing components, leaving customers feeling deflated, when they didn't really need to be.

Knowing that this event was going to be operating at a massive scale, the retailer could have kept literally the same deals, but presented them in a different way that highlighted noteworthy products and brands while complementing them with the "best of the rest." This approach could have allowed them to play up quality and quantity, as opposed to feeling crowded and disorganized.

BUT, PRIME DAY ACCOMPLISHED ITS PRIMARY GOAL.

The focus of Prime Day wasn't on providing a "value" to the customer, "celebrating" the retailer's 20th birthday — or even on necessarily motivating a short-term windfall by creating a "Christmas in July" — although it's worth noting that we know the pace of sales outpaced Black Friday.

It was all about casting a wider net to pull in more Prime members.

The Harvard Business Review put it eloquently when it said, "Prime is the lynchpin of Amazon's plan to rub out brick and mortar retailers. With "free" expedited shipping, the goal of Prime is unabashedly clear: make Amazon the first-choice retail product provider for consumers."

The source of this logic is an oft-cited statistic from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, indicating that a Prime member is worth twice what a non-member is to Amazon on an annual basis.

And, if what we're seeing on Google Trends is any indication, it looks like we'll soon see reports come out that the promotion accomplished its goal of bringing new Prime members in the door — many likely prompted by the free 30-day trial of Prime Amazon offered in conjunction with the event.

Google Trends: Prime Signup

Assuming that's true, Amazon now has an influx of potential high volume consumers to groom going into retail's most valuable and competitive season.

While some drop off is inevitable — as is the case with any promotion that incentivizes membership — the baseline won't return to where it was before Prime Day, resulting in a net gain.

IT INTRODUCED A NEW BENEFIT TO PRIME MEMBERSHIP.

In most membership-based organizations the key to renewal is continually adding value so that when the time comes to re-up it feels like a no-brainer.

Most Prime members join for one of two reasons:

  • Unlimited two-day shipping
  • Access to Amazon's versions of Netflix and Spotify

Those two reasons alone are often plenty to justify the $99/year cost of the membership.

But, Prime Day introduced the world at large to its take on member-only events. And, while we could argue about the execution of it until we're blue in the face, they've set a precedent by being willing to earmark major (and minor) deals for Prime members only.

This sets the stage for Amazon to evolve the program, potentially rolling out quarterly or monthly Prime member-only events, which, if done well, could add a third killer feature to Prime membership.

AND IT HIGHLIGHTED SOME OF THE LESSER-KNOWN ONES.

Beyond the obvious perks (like roadside service from AAA) many membership-based organizations have a slew of lesser-known benefits that add value to being a member,

For AARP it's something as simple as free coffee at Dunkin' Donuts. For AAA it's saving up to 50% on prescriptions. Costco? Excellent travel packages and a $1.50 foot-long hotdog do the trick.

Amazon's no exception, and they put some of their lesser-known benefits on display on Prime Day, knowing they were going to have a captive audience spending extended periods of time on site.

Things like coupons on partner products and access to services through Amazon — who knew you could use Amazon to have a toilet replaced? — won't necessarily be what makes or breaks a user's decision to sign up initially.

But, when the time comes to renew, their collective value, paired with core benefits like free shipping, could be what pushes someone on the edge over the top.

IT WAS A VALUABLE TRIAL BALLOON FOR THE REAL PRIZE — BLACK FRIDAY AND CYBER MONDAY.

Brick and mortar retailers have fundamentally changed the Black Friday experience over the last few years.

You can stretch trips out over 3-4 days, even starting on Thanksgiving Day if you're willing to risk slipping into a tryptophan-induced slumber while in public. You can get tickets for major items and walk around the store looking for other deals. Some stores even have free coffee and water, just for showing up.

It's become less a cutthroat competition and more an enjoyable experience.
But, Black Friday on Amazon still feels a lot like this:

The improvement of the in-store experience over the years has created a gap that Amazon is still trying to find a way to navigate.

Prime Day allowed them to test a few potential solutions to the inevitable sense of letdown the millions of site visitors competing for a few thousand TVs over the last few years have felt.

KEEPING DESIRABLE DEALS AVAILABLE FOR THE CASUAL SHOPPER.

While not necessarily what most shoppers were actively seeking out, the deeply discounted Lord of the Rings and Kingsman Blu Rays, Amazon Echo, various SSDs and Husqvarna lawnmower were available for multiple hours and were genuinely good deals.

Amazon seemed to be attempting to address some of its volume issues by setting aside a handful of products in order to in some small way offset the disappointment of not being one of the handful of people to land the sub-$150 TV.

Assuming they follow this model going into Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there could be significant long-term benefits, especially if shoppers tack on a few impulse buys along the way.

PLACING AN EMPHASIS ON QUANTITY.

Amazon went out of its way to promote Prime Day as having "more deals than Black Friday" — not necessarily better deals.

It's a subtlety that was lost on many shoppers, as evidenced by the general consensus that the event felt more like a "crappy garage sale."

While the quantity vs. quality (or perceived quality) approach may have fallen flat, Prime Day gave the mega retailer a relatively safe environment in which to test, as opposed to during the hyper-competitive weekend following Thanksgiving.

IT WAS AN EVENT STEEPED IN NUANCE.

It's worth noting that many shoppers shared thoughts like this one:

The interesting undertone here is that she was so invested in the concept of the event that she felt like she had to buy something.

This level of emotional investment in a sale is a retailer's dream — online or off.

And that's why marketers and retailers alike will dissect it as a case study in the coming months, hoping to unlock the secret sauce and create their own version as we move into the most competitive shopping quarter of the year.

Date:

07.16.2015

Authors

David Smith

David Smith Associate VP, Marketing Strategy