Shoppers flock to Amazon’s Prime Day sale

July 15, 2015 05:46 PM

It may not have been quite Cyber Monday in July, but it appears Inc.’s Prime Day online sales event Wednesday was a big deal.

Amazon itself provided few details, but posted to its Facebook page Wednesday morning that “Prime Day peak order rates have surpassed 2014 Black Friday.”

More specific evidence of the success of the event came from ChannelAdvisor Corp., which reported around midday that its U.S. client retailers selling on were generating sales 80% greater than on the same day last year, with European same-store sales growing 40% year-over-year.

“Customers that are participating in the Prime Day promotions are seeing some really amazing outcomes,” says ChannelAdvisor executive chairman Scot Wingo. “We had one customer blow through several thousand items in a lightning deal in minutes.” ChannelAdvisor helps merchants sells on such online marketplaces as Amazon and eBay.

What’s more, the event, which was limited to members of Amazon’s Prime loyalty program—or consumers who signed up to join the $99-a-year free shipping program—seems to have been accomplishing its purpose of encouraging more consumers to join Prime. One indication of that came from Dynatrace, which monitors the performance of websites, and says that the Prime sign-up page was loading slowly early Wednesday.

The average response time to the Try Prime page on clocked in at 11.236 seconds at one point during the morning, many times slower than the response time for other pages on Amazon’s site, says David Jones, director of sales engineering at Dynatrace.

“This morning, the very first indication that something was awry really started with us having a look at the sign-up process,” Jones says. “The response that we’re getting back from this is what we call a 503 error, which is essentially the server announcing itself to the browser, saying, ‘I can’t fulfill this request.’”

Largely because of the slow sign-up process Dynatrace found that the time to complete a transaction on—from finding a product, signing up for Prime and checking out—was at least double the normal duration of about 30 seconds. Because Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, is not a Dynatrace client, the company could not say just how much traffic to increased over a normal day.

Colin Sebastian, an investment analyst with Robert W. Baird and Co. who follows Amazon, says Amazon’s claim of orders exceeding those of the Friday after Thanksgiving suggests that the manufactured sales holiday was a success, at least in the short term.

“It certainly achieved the goal of bringing additional exposure to the Prime program, and we would expect Amazon received at least a short-term boost in new Prime memberships,” he says. “That said, what is not as clear is how many of these orders would be truly incremental, or were people waiting for Prime Day to make purchases.”

While the Prime sign-up process may have been slowed by consumers seeking to join the program, Amazon’s site performance overall appears to have held up under the pressure of the sale.

Website monitoring firm Catchpoint Systems says Amazon’s pages were loading at 3.52 seconds on desktop and 1.51 seconds on mobile devices as of 3 p.m. Eastern time, about the same as they do on a normal day. Catchpoint attributes that to Amazon scaling back the imagery and other elements on its home page in anticipation of a traffic spike. The average number of items on Amazon’s desktop home page decreased to 183 on Prime Day from 274 on a normal day, and the average number of items on a mobile page decreased to 61 from 109.

An Amazon spokeswoman, in an email response to questions about traffic volumes, said only that “Prime Day has been exciting so far.”

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., No. 3 in the Top 500 Guide, is running a promotion to counter its rival's event. A Wal-Mart spokesman tells Internet Retailer “customers are flocking to our site for the thousands of new rollbacks we’re offering today,” but, like Amazon, did not give specifics about the traffic spike.

The #PrimeDay hashtag was the top trending topic in the United States on Wednesday, but not all of those tweets were positive.

Consumers took to social media to vent their frustrations, with some saying the event was overhyped and others expressing disappointment with product offerings. Other Twitter users began using the #PrimeDayFail hashtag to make their feelings known.

“On the social media backlash, perhaps Amazon did not set expectations correctly, but from what we can tell, Prime Day looked a lot like other ‘shopping’ days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with limited supplies of heavily sought items, and then discounts on less popular goods, wholesale items and liquidations,” Sebastian says.

Overall, Amazon’s sale did not generate nearly the kind of buzz on social media that, for example, Black Friday did in November 2014, according to the Adobe Digital Index from digital technology and marketing company Adobe Inc. There were 90,000 mentions of Amazon Prime Day across all social channels Adobe monitored through 3 p.m. Central on Wednesday, well short of the 1.6 million that Black Friday had during that same amount of time in 2014. Adobe projected Prime Day would finish with about 200,000 social callouts, versus 3 million for the Friday after Thanksgiving last year.

Nikki Baird, managing partner with RSR Research, says the relatively tepid chatter on social networks is in line with her perception of consumer response to the Amazon event.

“I’ve heard more hype from the retailers themselves and the industry pundits than from consumers,” she says. “But it’s too early to say if it is a non-event. I think it would be a somewhat scary indicator for consumer confidence and spending if it does turn out to be a non-event.”

Keep up with Internet Retailer’s Prime Day coverage here. 




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