A history of the mega sale and its impact Leave a comment


Since the first Amazon Prime Day in 2015, the retailer has scaled its celebratory summer sale to record-breaking heights. Prime Day 2021 — slated for June 21 and 22 — should be no different, according to CNBC’s Annie Palmer. June is the earliest the event has ever occurred, and it’s following the sale’s October 2020 date, the latest Prime Day on record. Despite Amazon adjusting Prime Day’s date for the past two years, Palmer said she doesn’t foresee it affecting the event’s success. Rather, she’s interested in how Amazon recently expanding its physical footprint — adding warehouses and other facilities across the country — will impact Prime Day 2021.

“Amazon now has this huge physical footprint that they can tap into, along with an even larger workforce,” Palmer said. “I think that will really benefit them this time around.”

SKIP AHEAD 2020 bestsellers | 2019 bestsellers | Amazon Prime membership 101

Each year, Prime Day increases its total sales, allows access to more countries and dominates a usually dormant online shopping period. And while experts previously told us they expected Prime Day 2020 to pale in comparison to previous years after it was delayed, it ended up breaking significant records. According to estimates from market research firm Digital Commerce 360, Amazon sold $10.4 billion worth of goods on Prime Day 2020, up 45.2 percent from $7.16 billion in 2019. The October event marked the two biggest days in sales for Amazon’s third-party sellers, nearly all of which are small and medium-sized businesses — their sales alone surpassed $3.5 billion, an almost 60 percent year-over-year increase, according to CNBC.

Palmer said while Amazon hosting Prime Day 2020 in October was a “shock,” it worked in the retailer’s favor. Essentially, Amazon pulled the holiday shopping season forward a few months. That, in combination with the rise in e-commerce sparked by the pandemic — and people spending more money on products to use at home since they couldn’t enjoy many in-person activities — contributed to Prime Day’s success.

“It’s going to be interesting to see if this kind of moment continues in 2021,” Palmer said. “The economy is reopening and people are getting back out there, but as far as I’m seeing, e-commerce activity remains strong.”

Amazon Prime Day: A force to be reckoned with

Since Prime Day began, Palmer said it has become an event shoppers plan for, some of whom wait all year to purchase anything from TVs and beauty products to Alexa-enabled devices like those in the Echo suite. Prime Day sales have historically surpassed those on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, making it the largest shopping event ever for the retailer. In just five years, in fact, Prime Day has become so big that it’s forced Amazon competitors like Walmart, Macy’s and Target to respond by changing the timing of their own sales and deals. Since Prime Day usually falls in July, for example, Macy’s runs its Black Friday in July event then. And with Walmart+, Walmart’s own version of Amazon Prime, the stakes are higher than ever.

“Prime Day is no longer just a day for people to purchase cheap items on Amazon,” Palmer said. “Quite frankly, it has completely altered the retail calendar.”

We consulted experts about the growth of Prime Day, as well as looked back on its history. And, of course, we compiled some of the top-selling items during Amazon Prime Day events worldwide, from Instant Pots to the Echo Dot.

Looking ahead to Prime Day 2021

Amazon announced that Prime Day 2021 will be held on June 21 and 22, which is earlier than the event’s usual mid-July date. As we previously reported, Prime Day 2021 could be timed against the rescheduled 2021 Olympics and the projected travel boom surrounding it. Palmer thinks Amazon might be hoping to catch people as they prepare for summer vacations and outdoor sports or activities. She said retailers could benefit from people looking to purchase discounted hiking, swimming and camping gear for example, as well as summer clothing.

“We don’t know if we’ll see the kind of crazy e-commerce growth that we did at the height of the pandemic,” Palmer said. “But I think we’ll see some strong sales this year and strong e-commerce activity.”

What is Amazon Prime Day

Prime Day is an exclusive sale for Amazon Prime members — shoppers who pay $119 a year to receive benefits like free expedited shipping on eligible purchases, free movies and TV shows through Prime Video (available on its own for $9 a month) and unlimited access to reading material on any device through Prime Reading, among other benefits. During Prime Day, select products from a variety of brands are greatly discounted, from Amazon-owned electronics to clothing and homewares. Additionally, while Amazon regularly offers Lightning Deals — short-term deals on specific products that could last hours or days — they’re exclusive to Prime members during Amazon Prime Day.

The first ever Prime Day event took place on July 15, 2015 as a way to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary, according to Amazon’s blog. The first Prime Day lasted 24 hours and gave access to members in nine countries: the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Canada and Austria. Since 2015, Palmer said, Amazon Prime Day has grown “exponentially.” Its 2020 sale and expanded access to members in 20 countries around the globe, from Canada to China.

Amazon Prime Day total sales have notoriously surpassed those on Black Friday and Cyber Monday for the company, Palmer said. But selling products isn’t the only focus of Prime Day. Amanda Bourlier, who oversees global retailing research at market research company Euromonitor International, said Amazon uses Prime Day as a way to attract new Prime subscribers, pitching to them Amazon’s “ecosystem of consumption,” meaning all of the services Amazon provides shoppers, like access to music and video streaming services and grocery delivery. “A Prime member probably doesn’t just shop from Amazon.com,” Bourlier said. “In addition to shopping on Amazon, they can buy groceries from Whole Foods, listen to audiobooks with Audible, subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, watch Amazon Video and use Amazon Echo speakers.” Prime Day, then, acts as a sort of doorbuster deal to get shoppers close to everything else Amazon Prime.

Palmer said Prime Day is unique in its scale because it’s a manufactured event created by the company. The sale does not coincide with the holiday shopping season, unlike Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Amazon Prime Day is traditionally held in mid-July, which is a strategic decision on the company’s part: The summer is typically a slower period for retailers. Amazon Prime Day is an attempt to remedy that.

Additionally, Prime Day is positioned well before the holiday shopping season — usually, anyway. James Thomson, a partner at marketing agency Buy Box Experts, said Amazon wants to get non-Prime customers to buy a Prime membership during the summer, prompting them to handle their Christmas shopping — and even back-to-school and Labor Day shopping — through the retailer. “The most important thing Amazon can do is drive loyalty to the Amazon marketplace,” Thomson said. “The company wants to get consumers to say, ‘I’m not going to walk into a physical store because it’s so much easier to buy on Amazon.’”

While Prime Day is highly profitable for Amazon and its sellers, Thomson said there’s another reason it’s such an important event for the company. He said Prime Day is a “massive dry run” for quarter four, which is when the holidays take place. Thomson, formerly the business head of Amazon Services, the Amazon division responsible for recruiting sellers to the Amazon marketplace, explained that Prime Day creates an artificial surge in orders, a similar increase to what the retailer experiences between November and December.

Such a dry run was even more important in 2020. Amazon experienced an influx of orders in March 2020 when stores and businesses began shutting down and people across the world began staying home. The spike in orders was so large, he noted it was as if “Amazon was getting Prime Day-level sales everyday.” Thus, hosting Prime Day in 2020 allowed Amazon to ensure that its operations and systems could once again handle such a high capacity of orders in the same year.

“One of Prime Day’s primary focuses is doing a test drive to make sure its operations work properly,” Thomson said. “It’s a nice warm up, and at the end of the day, it’s something Amazon has to do for itself.”

Bestselling Amazon Prime Day products

The bestselling products on Prime Day vary from year to year and differ from country to country, and that’s not just the result of differing buying habits — Amazon’s Prime Day offerings in one country aren’t always reflective in another.

For example, the top selling item in the United Kingdom in 2018 was a Bosch Cordless Drill, while in Singapore, it was a 15-pack of Coca-Cola Zero. Palmer said, “I don’t know what the secret sauce is to becoming the bestselling item on Prime Day,” but she points to factors like the deal itself being well advertised, or just that “it’s a good deal, plain and simple.” But, consistently, Amazon said they see record-breaking sales for their devices, from Fire tablets to Alexa-enabled tech. To give you an idea of some of the most successful deals during Prime Day over the past few years, we compiled them below by country.

Amazon Prime Day 2020 bestsellers

1. Echo Dot (global)

Compared to its earlier design, the newest iteration of the Echo Dot features a compact and spherical shape, and it’s complete with a front-facing speaker. The Echo Dot is equipped with Alexa so you can use voice controls to play music, check the weather and more after you connect it to Wi-Fi with the Alexa app. The Echo Dot is available in three colors: Charcoal, Glacier White and Twilight Blue.

2. myQ Chamberlain Smart Garage Door Opener (United States)

This wireless garage door opener is Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled, allowing you to control your garage door from your phone after you install the myQ app. The garage door opener comes with a wireless garage hub and one sensor. One sensor controls one garage door, and if you want to control additional garage doors, you can purchase individual sensors and pair it with the hub.

3. Shark Upright Vacuum Cleaner (United Kingdom)

Shark’s cordless vacuum features swivel steering to navigate around furniture, as well as a motorized brush designed to lift pet hair out of carpets. It includes an extra-large dust cup and two speed settings to choose from, one optimized for carpet and the other from bare floors like wood. The vacuum comes with a charging base, too.

4. Listerine Cool Mint Mouthwash (United Arab Emirates)

Listerine says its mouthwash kills 99.9 percent of germs that cause bad breath, plaque and gingivitis. Using the mouthwash may also help reduce gum inflammation and redness. The Cool Mint formula is made with four essential oils — menthol, thymol, eucalyptol and oil of wintergreen — to fight bacteria and leave your mouth feeling fresh after use.

5. Oral B CrossAction Electric Toothbrush (Spain)

Available in colors like Black, White, Pink and Green, this toothbrush oscillates and pulsates to clean teeth and gums. It boasts a pressure sensor that stops the toothbrush’s movement if you brush too hard, and its handle has a built-in timer to help you brush for a recommended time of two minutes. The toothbrush comes with one handle, a CrossAction brush head and a charger. You can purchase replacement brush heads separately, and the toothbrush is compatible with all Oral-B refills.

6. LEGO Star Wars Stormtrooper Helmet (Netherlands)

This LEGO kit comes with all the pieces you need to build a replica of the Star Wars Stormtrooper Helmet. It also includes stickers you can add to the helmet, as well as a nameplate to display your finished creation.

7. Christmas Magic Yankee Candle (Luxembourg)

Yankee Candle’s Christmas Magic scent features seasonal balsam and pine fragrances with hints of birch and eucalyptus. The candle has a burn life of up to 150 hours and it’s housed in a glass jar with a lid to preserve the fragrance overtime. The container also comes with a removable label, and the candle’s straight cotton wick ensures a clean burn.

8. FIFA 21 PlayStation 4 (Italy)

Compatible with the PlayStation 4 game console, the FIFA 21 game allows you to play virtual soccer games as well as act as a manager for a team by creating matches, facilitating transfers and leading training for players.

9. L’Oreal Paris Age Perfect Golden Age Rosy Re-Densifying Cream (China)

This daily moisturizer is made with rosy pigments to enhance and reveal your skin’s pink color. It gently exfoliates dull skin and stimulates surface cell renewal, over time leading to smooth, renewed and younger-looking skin. The formula is also hydrating and does not leave your face feeling greasy after you apply it.

10. Govee LED Light Strip (Canada)

This light strip comes with a power adapter, a Wi-Fi control box and two rolls of 16 foot strip lights, which you can cut them to fit in any space. After connecting the lights to Wi-Fi and pairing them with the Govee Home app, you can control the lights using your phone. They’re also Bluetooth compatible and respond to Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands. The lights are equipped with built-in microphones, so when you’re playing music, they will respond to the beat.

Amazon Prime Day 2019 bestsellers

1. Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote (global)

The Fire TV Stick comes with an Alexa Voice Remote and gives you access to streaming apps like Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV, HBO and Peacock (which is owned by NBC’s parent company Comcast). You can use the Alexa Control Remote to change the channel, search for a movie or TV show, or play music. The Alexa Control Remote can be connected to other Alexa-enabled devices like thermostats and video cameras.

2. 23andMe Health + Ancestry Service (Canada)

After mailing a saliva sample to 23andMe, you’ll receive a comprehensive digital report about your ancestry and family tree. The report also includes information about whether or not you’re a carrier for genetic variants linked to health conditions like Cystic Fibrosis, and about predispositions you may have to diabetes, Celiac Disease and more.

3. Nintendo Switch (Mexico)

This gaming device connects to Wi-Fi and allows multiple people to play together, either at home or on the go. The Nintendo Switch comes with a Nintendo Switch console and a Nintendo Switch dock, as well as left and right Joy‑Con controllers that can be detached from the console for dynamic gameplay.

4. Sony PlayStation Classic Console (United Kingdom)

Sony Playstation’s Classic Console lets you play 20 pre-loaded games and comes with two wired controllers, as well as a virtual memory card. It can be connected to computers or TVs with HDMI ports. Sony’s PlayStation 4 is also highly popular.

5. iRobot Roomba 671 (France)

The iRobot Roomba 671 loosens, lifts and suctions dirt, dust and hair from hard floors and carpet. You can schedule and monitor cleaning sessions through the iRobot Home app, and it’s compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, so you can also use voice commands to control cleaning.

6. JBL Bluetooth Speaker (Germany)

This wireless speaker can play music for up to 12 hours on one charge. You can connect it to Bluetooth-enabled devices like phones, computers and tablets, and the speaker is water-resistant for up to three feet deep.

7. Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Light (Netherlands)

After installing these lights and connecting them to the Philips Hue Bluetooth app, you can control the brightness and color of the lighting in your home. Choose from 16 million colors and connect voice assistants like Alexa to control the lights with your voice.

8. Tefal Jamie Oliver Stainless Steel Pan (Luxembourg)

When this pan gets hot, it turns fully red to let you know it has reached an ideal cooking temperature. The pan has a non-stick titanium-coated interior, which provides extra scratch-resistance. The Jamie Oliver Tefal Pan was also Luxembourg’s 2018 bestselling item on Prime Day.

9. Lifestraw Personal Water Filter (United States)

Bring this water filter with you while traveling, hiking or camping to filter up to 1,000 gallons of contaminated water. You can purchase the water filter in one, two, three or five packs.

What you can shop on Amazon Prime Day

Although Thomson said Prime Day offers “legitimate discounts” on products, the sale does not offer customers discounts on “a smorgasbord of items.” At its core, he said the sale centers around Amazon products, whether that be a Kindle or a Fire Stick. However, Thomson said, brands big and small offer plenty of deals on other tech, fashion items, toys, beauty products, small kitchen appliances and more. But shoppers don’t know exactly what’s going to be discounted until the day the sale occurs. Because of this, Thomson said, shoppers often buy products spontaneously. Of course, online shopping guides and recommendations from publishers like NBC News Shopping and our friends at Shop TODAY aim to help you and shoppers at-large approach the sale as informed and prepared as can be.

Prime Day also serves as a trial run for small brands. “During Prime Day, shoppers will buy products that may not be from brands they’re familiar with because of big discounts,” Thomson said. “Amazon wants you to try that product for the first time.” Additionally, during Prime Day, some brands offer products that previously did not sell a lot of units, he said, enabling heavier discounts on those specific items. The same thing happens on Black Friday — brands ask themselves what they have a lot of and sell anything in surplus at a lower margin (a common trope for any sale at any time and by any retailer). For example, a brand may discount a TV on Prime Day but it might be an old model.

Amazon Prime membership 101

Amazon Prime launched in 2005. It offered members benefits like two-day free shipping, which, at the time, seemed like a pipe dream, Bourlier said. Fast delivery was — and still is — a factor that motivates people to become Prime members, in addition to the variety of products Amazon offers shoppers to purchase in one place. Over the years, Amazon has expanded the benefits Prime members get, to most recently include:

  • Prime Music: Members can stream more than two million songs, and different playlists and stations.
  • Prime Gaming: Members get free game content every month and a Twitch Channel Subscription.
  • Prime at Whole Foods Market: Members get exclusive savings and five percent back for eligible members with the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card.
  • Early Access to Deals: members get 30-minute early access to Lightning Deals on Amazon.com.
  • Fast shipping: members can get free one-day, two-day and same-day delivery on select products.

As Amazon continues to add to the benefits Prime members get, Bourlier said it sets the bar for other retailers looking to start loyalty programs. Added benefits also “lock” shoppers into the Amazon ecosystem. “Amazon Prime wasn’t the first retailer with a loyalty program, but it was one of the first retailers to imagine how loyalty programs might look in an ecommerce landscape,” Bourlier said. “Amazon is also often the first retailer to offer specific features to shoppers, like free two day shipping.”

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