Demystifying Prime Day

Written by:



Amazon’s Prime Day has become a truly unique retail event since its launch in 2015. In anticipation of Prime Day 2018, Marshal Cohen and Stephen Baker got together to discuss the event’s performance, characteristics, evolution, and future potential. Here are the key takeaways from that conversation.

Priming the Pump


Prime Day isn’t typically announced until the last minute, which curtails the potential for planned purchasing. In 2017, Prime Day took a new format and spanned three days. NPD’s Checkout E-commerce Tracking information shows that the few hours allotted on the lead-in day did not impact that day’s dollar sales nearly as much as they may have on the two days that followed. It is likely, though, that those lead-in hours helped to offset the lack of longer-term advance planning, priming the pump for the main day of the event. Marshal Cohen explains, “The mystique of Prime Day may add some allure, but the lack of definition certainly curtails some of the opportunity for consumers to have planned purchases. The anticipation effect can do more for sales than the mystique of when it is.”

The expansion of Prime Day into a three-day event in 2017 amplified the comparisons to Black Friday. The key difference is that the extension of Black Friday into more than a one-day promotional event has been going on for years. During Black Friday week more sales/purchases are happening Thursday and Friday and fewer over the weekend. Black Friday is a known day that consumers can plan on and prepare for. While this kind of evolution will take time, Amazon is looking to speed-up adoption of Prime Day by quickly evolving its day of sales into a larger event. Stephen Baker adds, “Just as Amazon started to do last year, quickly expanding Prime Day from a day to a three-day event, putting some framework and a bit more structure around it, would allow consumers to plan and could prove beneficial.”


Category Performance Isn’t a Universal Fit

Category performance during the Prime Day event is heavily dictated by daily promotions, but the online association is also a big piece of the puzzle. As we analyze consumer omnichannel shopping movement we are gaining a better understanding of distribution of spending online vs. in-store. NPD’s Checkout data shows that, in general, e-commerce buyer penetration varies by category. Baker says, “Last year we saw comments on social media that the items included in Prime Day sales are just low-priced products, but that’s not the reality of what’s selling.”

Tech and small home appliances were the big Prime Day 2017 event winners, with housewares not far behind in terms of sales. The tech industry also stood out as a segment that had much higher revenue growth than unit growth, illustrating that Amazon is driving sales with more expensive tech products than normal. However, the same isn’t true in other product segments where the average prices of items sold during Prime Day 2017 were similar or even less than the Q3 2017 average. Cohen adds, “As seen by the top Prime Day performers, we’re not just selling more stuff, we’re selling it at different prices, and even at higher prices. Consumers aren’t waiting for lower priced product, they’re waiting for higher priced product at lower prices. That’s the real cause and effect.”

The Intersection of Online Growth and Social Influence

The dramatic growth in dollar sales compared to unit sales speaks to Prime Day’s premium focus, and subsequent nature of its impact on consumer engagement. “Word of mouth, or in this case ‘word of online’ communication plays a huge role in Prime Day successes – when consumers say, ‘look what I got’, their social networks respond,” says Cohen.

Online growth is outpacing that of in-store sales, so Prime Day will inevitably continue to gain steam. It will also expand and become more sophisticated as additional brands are engaged, and it becomes an expected piece of the consumer’s shopping vocabulary. Baker notes, “It’s easier to make an impact with products that are priced a little higher – the consumer can see substantial savings and is more inclined to spread the word.”

We already know one element of Prime Day 2018’s expansion – an additional six hours of promotions. Cohen says, “Retailers need to focus on offering a wide array of product, and not just discount their way to compete with Prime Day.” The mystery lies in what other aspects of its growth will look like, this year and in future years, and how the rest of retail will respond. Baker adds, “Counter promoting is hard. Just as during the holiday, the best way to compete, especially for specialty retailers, is to leverage their familiarity with their categories and promote and merchandise in order to exploit that advantage.”

Source: The NPD Group / Checkout E-commerce Tracking



Scroll to Top
the Daily Report

Insights + Interviews right to your inbox.