Amazon Prime Day Fail: Huge Sales, Grumpy Customers

Moving merchandise may qualify as success, but not everyone was sold on sales figures as the salient metric.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

July 17, 2015

3 Min Read
<p style="text-align:left">(Image: Twitter)</p>

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Amazon declared its July 15 Prime Day sale a success before the day was through, an assertion that ran contrary to the sentiment evident on social media channels.

At 3:25 pm ET on Wednesday, Amazon Prime VP Greg Greeley said in a statement that Prime Day peak order rates had surpassed those of Black Friday last year. Amazon Prime members, he said, "have already bought tens of thousands of Fire TV Sticks, 35,000 Lord of the Rings Blu-Ray sets, 28,000 Rubbermaid sets, and 4,000 Echo devices in 15 minutes."

That counts for something.

Online commerce consultancy ChannelAdvisor echoed Amazon's assertions. In a blog post, Scot Wingo, executive chairman of ChannelAdvisor, said Amazon's sales for the day were up 93% in the US and 53% in Europe compared to last year. ChannelAdvisor's data comes from third-party merchants selling through Amazon.

Wingo said Prime Day fell short of Black Friday sales by 3% and reached only 60% of Cyber Monday sales. "By all measures, Amazon seems to have had a great first Prime Day," he said. "In the US they were able to have a day that was 4X the baseline growth and come very close to Black Friday volumes for third-party sellers. In the EU, there was also strong growth, but not quite as large as the US."

Moving merchandise may qualify as success, but not everyone was sold on sales figures as the salient metric. In Amazon's forums, posts expressing disappointment in Prime Day abound. On Twitter, the hashtag #primedayfail surged, accompanied by the sarcasm that powers the Web. Buzzfeed, ever attuned to the pulse of social media, assembled the obligatory list story: "25 Of The Best Responses To Amazon Prime Day."

Twitter user Roy Buckingham's tweet captures the principal complaint of Amazon Prime customers: bizarre, obscure, or ridiculous featured merchandise, like a family pack of brass knuckles, an XXL Diane Keaton t-shirt, and a plate of ham.

For disgruntled Amazon Prime members, and perhaps others, quality mattered more than quantity.

That's what happens when you're in an industry that deals with "content" at scale, rather than individual items and personal service. Algorithms can process and sell undifferentiated stuff efficiently but, so far, haven't shown that they can replace people when it comes to commerce.

[Read Google Tests Buy Button In Mobile Search Ads]

As Twitter user Doug Davis observed, "@Amazon's algorithms are so advanced, I've been offered over 10,000 #PrimeDay deals and am not interested any of them."

Amazon used to refer to itself as the world's largest bookstore, but if you've ever visited a bookstore run by someone with a passion for books, you know it's a different experience. Prime Day turned out to be the world's biggest yard sale, without the personal touch. That counts for something, but it could have been so much better.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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