How Prime Day became Amazon's biggest day of all time

Prime Day is Amazon’s summertime version of Black Friday. It’s when thousands of products are sold at a discount, and in 2017 it was the biggest day in Amazon’s history: busier than Black Friday, busier than Cyber Monday, and busier than Prime Day 2016. It’s no wonder that in July 2017 Amazon Boss Jeff Bezos briefly became the world’s richest man - he’s got all our money.

Prime Day this year fell on July 12th and on the day 2.6 million people visited TechRadar as we ran deals pages and buying guides pointing readers to the best deals and the best products! Prime day has always taken place on the second Tuesday in July, so Amazon Prime Day 2018 is likely to land on July 10th next year. 

Amazon Prime Day 2018 will likely take place on July 10th

  • Amazon Prime Day sales this year:
  • 3.5 million toys
  • 50,000 TP-Link smart plugs
  • 200,000 dresses
  • 300,000 lightbulbs
  • 100,000 Amazon Launchpad items
  • 45,000 pairs of headphones
  • 32,000 electric toothbrushes
  • 52,000 kitchen items
  • 37,000 power tools

The figures for headphones, toothbrushes, kitchen items and power tools are for Amazon UK alone. It’s safe to say Prime Day 2017 was a success. 

What were the best Prime Day deals this year?
As ever, you can count on us to find the very best Amazon Prime Day deals. In 2017 the best Prime Day deals included the PlayStation 4, high quality headphones, Oral-B Bluetooth toothbrushes. Other top deals included:

Amazon Devices: Echo speakers, Kindles, Fire TV Stick
Pressure cooker: the Instant Pot Duo80 cooker was $40 off
Philips Hue: smart bulbs were 50% off in US and UK
LG OLED TV: $700 savings on 65-inch LG OLED TVs in the US
Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Prices down to £479.99 in the UK
Philips Fidelio L1: £180 off these headphones
PlayStation Plus: 15 months for £29.99 in the UK

So are Prime Day deals really real?

As with any sale some products are end of line stock or things that just aren’t selling, but many deals are genuine. Let’s take a look at the US bestseller, the Instant Pot DUO80 pressure cooker. On Prime Day it was $90, and if you check its price history on CamelCamelCamel.com you’ll see that it’s been tracking at $129 for most of 2017.

Most popular Amazon Devices on Prime Day

There’s one big blip in the graph, though: on the 2nd of July it went up to $209.10, dropping back to $129 the following day. If you’re comparing the Prime Day price to the 2nd of July price then the saving is clearly illusory - but compare it to the normal selling price and it’s clearly still a good deal. Reader, we bought it.

Checking other devices can be illuminating, though. Amazon’s Echo Dot is usually $49.99, but it dropped to $39.99 in June, in May, in December and on Black Friday. The Kindle Paperwhite price goes up and down more often than a kangaroo on a bouncy castle, moving from $119.99 to $99.99 every fortnight or so.

The lesson here, other than “don’t buy Amazon devices at full price”, is that you really need to know the value of what you’re looking at. Some deals, such as our pressure cooker, are genuine (and no doubt arranged with the supplier way in advance to trade margin for volume). Others aren’t necessarily deals you need to race to get, because the devices will be discounted again soon. And as with any sale, forget the RRP/MSRP when you’re looking at the sale price - especially on big ticket items such as televisions. The RRP on those only exists to give retailers a laugh.

What were the weirdest deals this year?

Where do we start? There was 40% off cream made from sheep placentas, 27% off Yeti Garden Statues, 40% off a Viking-style drinking horn and 20% off a hot dog toaster. We didn’t even know hot dog toasters existed. You could get 14 dollars off a 12-pack of Perky Jerky Turkey, 20% off a Beard Bib and 56% off glasses that apparently make your eyes think you’re on magic mushrooms.  

Prime Day on Twitter:

As you can probably imagine, the reaction to Amazon Prime Day on Twitter featured snark and moaning in roughly equal measures. JeffGrub encouraged everyone to consider the true meaning of Prime Day, Marky Bummers mourned what we’ve lost, and Mila expressed herself through the medium of Muppets. Reverend Scott marvelled at Amazon’s marketing, Christine Hennessey spotted the significance of it all and Jacqueline Herrera stressed the importance of reading the reviews.

The Echo Dot was the most-bought item on Prime Day in the UK this year

So what is Amazon Prime Day anyway?

Like any sale, the main reason for Amazon Prime Day is to get people spending money they wouldn’t otherwise spend. Get them through the virtual doors with great offers and hope they’ll spend cash on other things too. In Amazon’s case there’s also the Prime membership that the day promotes: no Prime, no Prime Day. While Amazon offers a free trial of Prime and some shoppers will cancel the subscription before any payment comes due, many won’t.

Amazon Prime 30-day trial

Prime gets you free superfast delivery, exclusive deals, video and music streaming and lots more. There's a no-commitment 30-day free trial too, which you can get by signing up to Prime here:

- US free trial
- UK free trial
- Canada free trial
- India free trial

More people signed up for Prime on Prime Day 2017 than on any other day in Amazon’s history. According to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, some 80 million people were already Prime members before Prime Day 2017; in 2016 it was 58 million. Amazon also reports that sales via the Amazon app more than doubled and "tens of millions of people" used the app to buy stuff on Prime Day this year.

So is Amazon Prime Day just another Black Friday?  Actually, no. As Amazon puts it, Black Friday is largely about gifts for other people - it takes place just at the start of the Christmas shopping season - but Prime Day is all about Amazon. Sorry, you! It's all about you! Ahem.

The overwhelming majority of decent deals on Prime Day were on things you might buy for yourself or for your home. As you’ll see from the best sellers there were lots of smart home devices sold to Prime customers as well as quite a lot of kitchen gear. There were good deals on laptops and consoles too, of course, but they were alongside deals on hammocks, juicers, robot vacuum cleaners and pressure cookers.

Amazon Prime Day 2018: how long will it last?

We know what you’re thinking: Amazon turned Black Friday into Black Friday Deals Week, so there’s no way it would limit Prime Day to just 24 hours. And you’re right. Prime Day 2017 was 30 hours long. No doubt Prime Day 2018 will be longer still. Prime Day 2022 may well start before Prime Day 2021 finishes. 

Things to watch out for on Prime Day 2018

As you’d expect from an event this big, not everything went according to plan on Amazon Prime Day this year. Twitter featured many irate users who found that deals didn’t appear at the specified times, while others suggested that Amazon had a “bot problem” with some deals being oversubscribed instantly. Still others had problems with the app, where deals weren’t sold out but the App’s Add To Cart button didn’t work. There were concerns over some of the deals too. Some deals were more expensive on Prime Day than they were normally, while other deals simply reproduced deals that had been available the day before. And still others were laughable: would an incredible four cents off the $1,799.99 price of a soundbar tempt you to buy? Problems didn’t end at the ordering stage either. While Amazon boasts about the fastest-ever UK Prime Day delivery of just 14 minutes between ordering and delivery, many of us saw our next-day or two-day deliveries become even longer.

Prime Day: do Amazon's rivals respond?

They did. It was Free Slurpee Day at 7-Eleven and Cow Appreciation Day at Chick-fil-A, which offered free food to anybody in an animal costume. Meanwhile eBay threw some shade, with a front page claiming that “Their Prime Deal Is Our Everyday Deal”.

According to research firm Bazaarvoice, 76% of US Prime Day shoppers visited rival retailers to check whether they were getting the best deals. And as PwC Consumer Markets analyst Steve Barr told CNBC, “We are seeing other big box retailers use Prime Day as an opportunity to capture shoppers' appetite for deals and as way to compete against Amazon for share of wallet and mindset.” 

Bazaarvoice found that Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, Home Depot and Lowe’s proved most popular among Prime Day shoppers in the US, with Target offering a week of bargains to annoy Amazon. Dell ran 'Black Friday In July' on Prime Day this year, Toys R Us offered 20% off everything, Best Buy took $200 off Dysons and $70 off the Apple Watch Series 2 and JC Penney ran its Penney Palooza sale. Wal-Mart decided not to take part in the frenzy, preferring to offer extra discounts on in-store collections instead.

The Fire TV Stick was down to $34.99 / £34.99

Could Amazon do better?

We think so. One of the biggest problem with Prime Day was actually finding the deals, which involved wading through lots of irrelevant products: Amazon ordered its deals by categories, so for example you could choose Computers & Accessories but you couldn’t narrow the selection further to specific kinds of computers or accessories.

Finding interesting deals meant looking at an awful lot of Lightning cables. We did our very best to help by providing a guide to the very best Amazon Prime Day deals, but it was a right pain if you wanted to browse Amazon's own site? And it was disappointing to see deals we did want, such as Philips Hue bulbs, limited to single orders per customer. Presumably it’s to stop them ending up on eBay at a higher price, but Hue’s a system for smart homes, not a single smart lampshade.

The biggest problems were with availability and delivery, though. Amazon or its logistics partners appeared to underestimate demand, and while part of us thinks “fair enough” the whole point of Prime is its fast delivery. And seeing Lightning Deals disappear before you had time to read them was particularly frustrating. Not everybody is accessing Amazon on a super-speedy broadband network, and logging into the mobile app at the right time to see the deal had already sold out was a particular torture for phone users.

What can we learn about Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

The short answer: not much. Prime Day may have been a big deal, but it’s still small potatoes compared to the annual holiday extravaganza - and you can be sure that while many people still won’t have heard of Prime Day, they’re very familiar with Black Friday and maybe Cyber Monday too. Amazon isn’t going to let the Black Friday / Cyber Monday opportunity pass it by: Black Friday 2016 was the first billion-dollar shopping day for mobile payments, with a total of $3.34 billion sold in the US alone. Expect Amazon to be just as enthusiastic about Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2017 as it was about Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2016.

Tens of millions of Prime members made a purchase on Prime Day 2017, more than 50 percent higher than the prior year

Prime Day 2018: any other days we should be paying attention to?

Have you heard of Singles’ Day? If you aren’t Chinese, you may not have: Singles’ Day, aka Guanggun Jie and recently rebranded 11/11, is the world’s largest online sale. Singles’ Day 2016, which fell on 11 November, saw sales of $17.8 billion for Tmall, operated by ecommerce giant Alibaba. That’s more than the entire annual ecommerce revenues of Brazil. Not bad for an event that only debuted in 2009.

There are lots of interesting things about Singles’ Day, not least the fact that in 2016 some 82.2% of sales were via mobile devices. Even more significantly, 75% of customers were under 35 - and that means we should be looking at how they’re deciding to buy, because it might just be the future of retail. As Deborah Weinswig of Fung Global Retail noted, in the West shopping is a chore. In China it’s a sport. 

If you thought Amazon made a fuss about Prime Day, Alibaba’s efforts will amaze you. It live-streamed an eight hour fashion show featuring the world’s biggest brands and encouraging viewers to pre-order what they saw on the catwalk; Alibaba executive vice-chairman Joe Tsai says that “live streaming is the biggest internet trend in China today”, and most brands do some form of live streaming involving celebrities or stories.

There was an augmented reality game where players could earn prizes and discounts; and most significantly of all, there was a Superbowl-scale countdown featuring Katy Perry, Kobe Bryant and One Republic, live streamed to China as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong, two important new markets. The next step is to take 11/11 truly global.

Come back to TechRadar on Amazon Prime Day 2018 where we'll once again be listing the best deals so you don't have to suffer the pain of navigating the Amazon website!