eCommerce Insiders

Amazon Prime Day: Learning To Manage Customer Perceptions

It was supposed to be the blow-out sales event designed to break the internet while also solidifying Amazon’s brand as the current king of all things eCommerce.

Amazon’s marketing and PR team was so certain of their inevitable win that they advertised the event as, “The 24-hour sales event that featured more deals than Black Friday!”

That was quite a lofty claim, but if there was any e-retailer up to the challenge, then certainly, it was Amazon, right?

Unfortunately, while Amazon is in fact still the reigning king of all things eCommerce, its brand wound up looking like a court jester last year when it unveiled its first annual Amazon Prime Day sales event, held July 15th, 2015.

The purpose of the event was simple:

Offer current Amazon Prime members exclusive rights on curated, supposedly-premium products that were deeply discounted below their already favorable Amazon pricing.

The event was primed (no pun intended) score a major win for Amazon for a couple of reasons:

  • The event generated an influx of new Prime memberships
  • The frenzy of the event’s promotion would boost vast revenues on the event’s products alone (nevermind the impulse purchases on regularly priced items)

It was all intended to go well, but as every company knows, sometimes the best laid plans don’t turn out as intended. But what seemed to happen in Amazon’s case was a lack of preparation for the worst, in favor of assuming that the best outcomes would take place.

Below are key reasons why Amazon’s Prime Day event turned out to be such a huge miss for the brand:

1. The discounts were deceptively low.

There were reports of Amazon Prime shoppers who set their alarm clocks (or in some cases, stayed up through midnight on the morning of the event) to score the most fabulous sales deals…only to learn that many of the items were’t as deeply discounted as they were lead to believe.

In some unfortunate cases, there were products that were simply discounted by pennies!

Michael Andronico shares his thoughts about this in an op-ed penned for Tom’s Guide:

I spent most of my Wednesday glued to Amazon, primarily in hopes of finding good deals to share with our readers, and also to possibly scoop up some cool stuff for myself.

I was disappointed on both fronts. Sure, Prime Day wasn’t completely devoid of decent deals, but unless you planned on buying a Kindle, many of the discounts were deceptively minor, or so good that they were gone before you got a chance to click on them.

“Thank God I stayed up for this!” one angry shopper commented on social media.

2. The inventory selection was poor.

Nothing quite angered Prime Day shoppers more than waiting for so-called sales than learning that the inventory available for the promotion was highly undesirable!

Many angry Prime members vented on Twitter, likening the inventory to shopping at a garage sale. One angry Prime member’s tweet went viral after proclaiming that the bait-and-switch feel of it all was akin to their grandmother offering them candy from her dish, only for them find raisins and sugar-free salt water taffy!

But the worst, most humiliating product available in Amazon’s Prime Day inventory was the infamous 55 gallon drum of personal lubricant!

That in of itself invited viral comments, such as:

Free shipping on your next gallon of lube!


Somewhere out there, there’s a UPS driver loading up 55 gallon drums of lube and 64oz jars of peanut butter thinking #PrimeDayFail

The sheer ridiculousness of some of the items being sold lead Prime members to believe that they were being rewarded for their membership with junk inventory that had been sitting in the bowels of Amazon’s warehouses, just waiting to be cleaned out.

In turn, angry Prime members rewarded Amazon’s PR team with the #PrimeDayFail hashtag on social media outlets!

3. Not enough quantity on quality items.

This came down to an all-out inventory management fail! Prime members complained that there was no inventory left that they’d consider worthy of a purchase. Or worse, they complained about landing pages that weren’t being updated with inventory quantities in real time.

This meant that shoppers would prepare to make a purchase, only to learn that the product had already sold out, despite what the sales page reported.

4. Sales promotions weren’t being updated in real time.

Closely tied to point number three, members learned that sales promos that were actively being advertised has already ended.

Michael reports in his op-ed:

There were also some major problems with Prime Day’s presentation. The Prime Day landing page provided a convenient glance at the day’s current deals, complete with how long the discount would be available and how many people have claimed it. While that information would normally be helpful, it wasn’t accurate — some deals appeared to be 50 percent claimed on the landing page, but were completely gone once I clicked through.

Even worse, the Upcoming Deals page was littered with promotions that were already over. I can only imagine the kind of traffic load Amazon has to deal with on days like this, but if any company has the means to properly prepare for it, it’s Amazon.

Lessons for Smaller Retailers

A mega-brand such as Amazon was able to recover from this well-meaning debacle, but smaller retailers could face the certain death of their business if the same were to happen to them.

Therefore, make sure you’re properly managing your shopper’s expectations. You should certainly manage your inventory properly, and make sure that your site’s customer experience is superb, and up-to-the moment.

Terri is a content marketing storyteller and strategist. She teaches marketing and entrepreneurship through stories for marketers of all stripes. Her specialty is creating narrative and she writes essays and memoir in her spare time.

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