How Walmart and ShopRunner Capitalized on Prime Day’s Downtime Fail

The companies used social media to win over consumers

Brands were quick to capitalize on Amazon's downtime. Getty Images
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

Fast and quick service with a smiley face emoji: that’s the strategy Walmart and ShopRunner decided on when Amazon went down on Prime Day.

Both the retail giant and the ecommerce upstart, which is 40 percent owned by Alibaba, took to social media to offer upset Amazon customers a chance to shop somewhere else. Walmart touted its free two-day shipping and own sales, while ShopRunner offered a free year-long membership to anyone who tweeted at them on July 16 during the Amazon outage.

It’s always smart for brands to take advantage of the outage as it at least puts them in the conversation,” said Ben Gaddis, president of T3, an innovation agency. “Because more brands prepared deals to combat Prime Day this year, they actually have offerings to compete.”

ShopRunner came up with the promotion in about 10 minutes, said Chris Milone, CMO. The response from consumers was positive, with consumers liking and retweeting. Milone didn’t provide any final customer signup numbers, but said a number of people signed up for the service.

It was done in real time really to react to what was happening because we [are] sort of allergic to shopper frustration,” Milone said. “It’s core to our mission to eliminate [that].”

A social media manager first flagged the negative conversation around Prime Day to Milone and then a conversation unfolded in the company Slack of what to do. After deciding to offer free memberships, the company could see the reactions to their tweets on Slack, thanks to a social integration into the platform. 

The company already had promotions lined up to combat Prime Day, but Milone said this was completely “reactive” and it was easy to offer free memberships, than something like a promotion code.

“It’s moments like these its important to emphasize there’s still a lot of choice out there for consumers,” Milone said. “When something goes wrong with one of the larger players, it’s comforting to me as a consumer that there are hundreds of other places that I might be able to get a sale item.”

Walmart’s strategy didn’t offer any promotion, other than telling frustrated customers that they could shop Walmart’s “summer savings” without paying for a membership (and still get two-day free shipping). Walmart declined to comment any further on its tweets.

Other companies, like Office Depot, also took advantage of the downtime, by sending an email reminding customers about the deals that were “up” on its site and ready to purchase.

“While the timing on this and the fact that it was so rare meant that it was likely only the quickest competitors could take advantage of the outage,” said Eric Heller, CEO, Marketplace Ignition, a Wunderman Commerce agency. “That said, those that did certainly accomplished the impressive, such as Office Depot, who managed to get in a swipe about Amazon’s outage page featuring dogs.”  

However, capitalizing on the downtime isn’t necessarily a great strategy, said Mudit Jaju, global head of ecommerce at Wavemaker, a media agency. 

“Generally, retailers don’t exploit these types of scenarios among their competitors, as they too suffer from uncontrollable events that hurt sales,” said Danny Essner, svp of marketing at NuOrder, an ecommerce platform. “I think this is especially true here, where Prime Day is a manufacturer event. Consumers aren’t out in force with money to spend for other retailers to try to capture.”

Whether the strategy from these companies (and others who ran promotions during Prime Day like Target) had a dent in Amazon sales remains to be seen, as Amazon has only stated so far that Prime members bought more than 100 million products. However, Amazon hit $900 billion in market cap, so maybe these strategies don’t matter at all. 

@itstheannmarie Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.