Why the Story of Prime Day 2020 Is What Didn’t Happen

Consumers had a lot of distractions this year

Other retailers stole Amazon's thunder. Amazon
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

Amazon is typically coy the morning after Prime Day, offering allusions to its success with broad strokes. 2020 is no exception.

Amazon called Prime Day 2020 the “two biggest days ever” for its third-party sellers, who sold $3.5 billion worldwide, marking a 60% increase from 2019.

For numbers on actual spend, we have to rely on outside sources like eMarketer, which estimated Americans would spend $6.2 billion—up from $4.3 billion in 2019—but it won’t have actual figures until 2021.

So you have to really read between the lines to figure out how consumers responded to a delayed Prime Day. Here’s what we’ve determined so far:

It was a little ho-hum

The biggest takeaway may actually be what didn’t happen this year. In fact, according to Zach Weinberg, director of Gartner’s Amazon Advisory group, there was a distinct lack of buzz among both consumers and the media.

In 2019, on the other hand, Taylor Swift headlined a pre-Prime Day concert emceed by Jane Lynch and pre-orders for Lady Gaga’s Amazon-only makeup line began.

“I thought consumers might be more conscious about their total spending on Prime Day this year,” Weinberg said. “I actually think that that somewhat came true because the buzz around so many different things and what happened … was a lot less.”

That lack of excitement and star power left the event feeling more like the inaugural Prime Day in 2015, when customers repeatedly complained it was just an online yard sale.

It may be too early for holiday shopping

To be fair, Americans have a lot of distractions right now between the pandemic, the election and economic anxiety. But retailers—Amazon included—were hoping to jumpstart early holiday shopping with October deals. And while the holiday season is certainly underway from a retail perspective now—that’s not necessarily true for consumers.

Look no further than Amazon’s top products, which were much the same as previous years, including Alexa-enabled devices, Roombas and LifeStraw water filters. In fact, the Echo Dot was the most popular item purchased for the fourth straight year.

Data from Profitero shows Amazon made a clear push for its own products—especially on Day 1—and it was offering the steepest discounts. The only products offered for more than 50% off were Amazon’s devices, which made up the top 15 products, Profitero said.

“I think because of so many distractions, consumers may not have been willing to lean in as much as they typically would have in another year,” Weinberg said.

But that’s not to say Prime members weren’t in the holiday spirit at all. Per Numerator, 29% of consumers purchased holiday gifts, which is up from 8% when the event was in July 2019. Of those shoppers, 25% said they completed at least half their holiday shopping on Prime Day.

Amazon also made more of a push to sell gift cards this year, dedicating 28% of its ad budget to them—compared to just 1% in 2019, Numerator said. As a result, both new gift cards and gift card reloads were among the top six most-purchased items—and 17% of consumers said they expect to spend less on Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year.

Other retailers stole Amazon’s thunder

The biggest story may actually be what happened off of Amazon on Prime Day this year. RetailMeNot said more than 350 retailers offered promotions, which is up from 250 last year. Per Forrester, that includes more than half of fashion retailers and department stores, as well as a majority of multi-category retailers like Walmart, Target and Overstock.com.


@lisalacy lisa.lacy@adweek.com Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.
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