Amazon’s Prime Day delivers backlash from disappointed consumers

July 16, 2015 02:23 PM Inc. executives probably were pretty happy that #PrimeDay, the hashtag highlighting its 20th anniversary sale, was the top trending topic Wednesday on Twitter. But just below the hashtag, and likely far less pleasing, was this Twitter-written line: “Online shoppers tweet their disappointment in Prime Day.”

Consumers took to social media to express disappointments about the e-retailer’s deals, the types of products sold, how quickly items sold out and long wait times to complete purchases. Some Twitter users latched onto the #PrimeDayFail hashtag to express their feelings about the heavily hyped event, which Amazon billed as bigger than its annual Black Friday sales. There were, for instance,  a slew of tweets related to the obscure or unsexy items available for sale, such as a Rubbermaid 42-piece Easy Find Lid food storage set that was one of the top-selling products on Amazon yesterday.

Overall, half of all social media posts related to Prime Day conveyed sadness or disappointment, according to Adobe Systems Inc.’s Adobe Digital Index.

The consumer backlash to Prime Day is “not a good look” for Amazon, says Omar Akhtar, managing editor for business research and advisory firm Altimeter Group. “If the goal was to just sell a bunch of stuff, Amazon did that,” he says. “But Amazon didn’t achieve what it was supposed to—a celebration of the Amazon brand and to capture the joy of a major shopping event like Black Friday.”

However, Joe Martin, senior analyst, Adobe Digital Index, thinks Amazon may actually have benefited from the backlash because it may have actually boosted awareness of the event. "There's no such thing as bad publicity," he says. "Especially since Amazon has such strong brand credibility."

Experian Marketing Services data supports Martin's claim, as 15.2% of Amazon's traffic stemmed from social networks, up from 11.3% the previous Wednesday.

And a lot of those shoppers who clicked to Amazon made a purchase. The retailer, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, says its sales were 18% higher than they were on the Friday after Thanksgiving last year. “Going into this, we weren't sure whether Prime Day would be a one-time thing or if it would become an annual event,” says Greg Greeley, vice president, Amazon Prime. “After yesterday’s results, we'll definitely be doing this again.”

At least one vendor expressed mixed feelings about the sales. “On the one hand, it seems that sales soared,” says Adriene Nussenbaum, CEO of Mirakl for the US. “On the other, the event did not spark great buzz on the social media sphere, mostly due to out-of-stock issues on popular products and otherwise not super sexy offerings.”

While Amazon should be pleased with those results, its failure to respond to consumers’ complaints comes across as arrogant, Altimeter’s Akhtar says. “When a brand faces a Twitter backlash, it should acknowledge that fact by responding and saying, ‘We didn’t handle inventory as well as we could, demand exceeded our expectations, we’ll do better next time,’” he says.

Responding to consumers’ social media comments—or even just acknowledging that some aspects of the sale didn’t go as planned—can help a brand build a deeper connection with shoppers, Akhtar says.

He points to Southwest Airlines which, in 2012, celebrated reaching 3 million Facebook likes by offering 50% discounts on certain airfare tickets. Overwhelmed by the response, the airline's system double-charged some passengers and its site crashed several times, sparking a viral backlash. Southwest then responded by posting continuous updates on social media and interacting with each consumer who posted a negative comment. 

"Southwest didn't take its customers for granted," he says. "It showed that it truly believes in maintaining a relationship based on mutual trust rather than transactions." To not respond is a missed opportunity, he adds.  

Even so, Amazon’s response, or lack thereof, wasn’t surprising, says Sucharita Mulpuru, Forrester Research Inc. vice president, principal analyst. “The Twitter peanut gallery was harsh but if we've learned anything from Amazon over the years, it is always good about ignoring the haters,” she says. 




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