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A Primer On Amazon’s Biggest Day

Let the scramble to search, scroll, and buy begin! Amazon Prime Day is finally underway, and don’t let its title deceive you. This year’s event spans two full days–kicking off Tuesday, Oct. 13 at Midnight PT and running through Wednesday, Oct. 14. It’s such a massive shopping day for the company that Amazon said last year Prime Day 2019 “was the largest shopping event in Amazon history,” and that sales totaled more than Amazon’s previous Black Friday and Cyber Monday events combined.

While it may seem impossible to imagine a time without Prime Day, it’s actually a more recent addition to the retail giant’s calendar. In a blog post, Amazon noted the first Prime Day occurred five years ago, on July 15, 2015, as a way to celebrate its then 40 million Prime members for the company’s 20th anniversary. Today, a whopping 100 million customers have a Prime subscription in the U.S. – with more than a 150 million worldwide! 

In addition to Amazon commemorating its anniversary, Prime Day also creates additional opportunities for the company. Because Prime Day is exclusive to Prime members, the event allows the company to “attract new Prime subscribers, pitching 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,” Amanda Bourlier, who supervises research at Euromonitor International, a global retailing research company, told NBC News. “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.” NBC News reported that Prime Day itself acts as a “doorbuster deal” to get shoppers close to everything else Amazon Prime.  

This year’s  Prime Day is the first event to be held in October, as all of the others have occurred during the month of July. Hosting Prime Day amid the summer season is a strategic move that takes into account retail sales that tend to be lower during the summer, according to CBS. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the retail giant was forced to delay its biggest shopping day. Experts attribute the crippled economy, a surge in product demand, and difficulty keeping certain items in stock as likely explanations for Amazon’s pushback of Prime Day.

The top-selling item of Prime Day 2018 in the U.S. was the Instant Pot Duo Pressure Cooker, and in 2019, it was the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, according to NBC News. Consumer Analyst Julie Ramhold told CNBC, “There is always one thing everybody goes for.” Ramhold says that this year she “wouldn’t be surprised if it was a fire pit,” since so many people are restricted to their homes during the pandemic.

Despite often facing criticism for contributing to the economic struggles of brick and mortar businesses, Amazon has facilitated sales for these sellers on its site. Small businesses have also benefited from Prime Day. Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said last year’s customers “bought more than $2 billion of products from independent small and medium-sized businesses,” throughout the two-day event. Amid the coronavirus pandemic and the challenges it’s posed for small businesses, Amazon is using this year’s Prime Day to prioritize the small businesses on its platform.

“This Prime Day, and throughout the holiday season, Amazon will spend more than $100 million on new promotional activities to help small businesses around the world increase their sales and reach new customers. This has been a challenging year for many small businesses, and selling in Amazon’s stores has enabled hundreds of thousands of smaller companies to sustain and even grow their sales despite the COVID-19 crisis,” the company said in its blog post. The retailer has a section on its site devoted to information on how customers can find and support small businesses across the country.

Another area of criticism over Amazon’s biggest day is all of the expedited shipping and packaging required to make it possible. “The time in transit has a direct relationship to the environmental impact,” says UPS Director of Global Sustainability Patrick Browne. “I don’t think the average consumer understands the environmental impact of having something tomorrow vs. two days from now. The more time you give me, the more efficient I can be.” UPS revealed in a 2017 report that it had more trucks on the road and higher carbon emissions due to the surge in e-commerce, decreasing its package-per-mile rate.

However, “Because of its scale, Amazon denies that it’s speeding up at the environment’s expense. The items eligible for same-day delivery are typically common orders, like diapers and detergent, that can be pre-positioned where consumers are most likely to need them. That cuts down on transporting things by air, which emits dramatically more carbon than ground transportation,” CNNBusiness reports. 

Amazon has taken significant steps to address the consequences and impacts its services can have on the earth. The retailer currently offers customers a free No-Rush shipping option, in which the customer is provided with a $1 digital reward for choosing the alternative to expedited shipping, thus allowing Amazon to “prioritize [its] fastest deliveries for customers with urgent needs.” Amazon last year unveiled Shipment Zero, its “vision to make all Amazon shipments net-zero carbon, with a goal of delivering 50% of shipments with net-zero carbon by 2030.”


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