On Monday, Amazon held its fourth annual Prime Day, its summer answer to the infamous Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping holidays held every November.

On Prime Day, Amazon rewards Prime members – of which there are now more than 100m – with deals galore, including deals on items sold by Whole Foods, which Amazon acquired last year for nearly $14bn.

But Prime Day 2018 wasn't smooth sailing for the retail giant that now accounts for close to half of all online sales in the US. As customers logged on to peruse the Prime Day deals, even Amazon, whose AWS service provides computing infrastructure for some of the world's biggest websites, struggled to cope with the traffic.

According to DownDetector.com, Amazon's website began experiencing issues minutes after Prime Day launched, with some shoppers reporting "sorry something went wrong on our end" pages and others reporting glitchy behavior.

In a tweet, Amazon confirmed that there was a problem, but adding insult to injury for those shoppers unable to spend their money, Amazon stated that "Many are shopping successfully – in the first hour of Prime Day in the U.S., customers have ordered more items compared to the first hour last year."

While some pointed out the slight arrogance of the statement, it appears that Amazon's boastfulness wasn't totally misplaced. We now know that Amazon generated more than 100m sales on Prime Day, surpassing sales on Cyber Monday, Black Friday and Prime Day 2017, making it "the biggest shopping event in Amazon history."

In addition, Amazon says that it signed up more Prime members on July 16 than any previous day in its history.

A missed opportunity for Amazon competitors

Of course, it's difficult if not impossible to know just how many more sales and Prime signups Amazon could have generated if not for the technical problems it experienced.

Those problems presented an interesting opportunity for other retailers, many of which today attempt to piggyback on Prime Day to boost their own sales.

Retailers such as Walmart, Target, Macy's and Best Buy are among those that ran or are running their own promotions in clear efforts to capitalize on the summer shopping spirit Prime Day creates, and perhaps, to in some way counter an Amazon that increasingly looks unstoppable.

But none of those retailers pounced when Amazon stumbled. As some Prime members struggled to access the Amazon site, the Twitter accounts of Walmart, Target and Best Buy were silent. Instead of using the opportunity to remind customers of its Big Deal Days promotion, Best Buy chose to tweet a cat meme.

Would posts on social media poking Amazon for its downtime allow retailers like Best Buy to win sales from Prime shoppers who were left behind? It's hard to say. But coupled with, say, a quickly-launched coupon code ("AMAZONSDOWN" anyone?) competing retailers would have had a low-risk opportunity to capitalize on a rare Amazon slip-up.

Brands like Oreo have used agile marketing to great effect and if there was ever a time for retailers to demonstrate some agile marketing chops of their own, this was it.

Econsultancy subscribers can download our new Best Practice Guide, Ecommerce: Third-Party Marketplaces for Retailers.

Patricio Robles

Published 19 July, 2018 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2646 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (4)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

26 days ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

But Wendy's is not a retail competitor to Amazon. :-)

26 days ago


Stefan Misaras, webmaster at Sparks Electrical Wholesalers Ltd

I checked Amazon quite a few times during Prime Day, especially since they had lots of notifications on the app on my phone...but nothing there interested me :( so I didn't buy anything. It's almost like they are trying to sell old stock that otherwise won't sell...

But you're right, some offline retailer should have taken this opportunity and slash their prices also, and market this. I think google did this by cutting down on some of their products like google home, home max, etc.

26 days ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Amazon failed to secure enough servers to handle Prime Day traffic surge, causing it to launch a scaled-down backup site and temporarily kill off all international traffic within 15 minutes of the event, according to internal documents seen by CNBC.

BTW re: But Wendy's is not a retail competitor to Amazon. :-)
Indeed. The retail competitors didn't react because they have such poor engagement numbers on Twitter that it would have probably sunk without trace. Not worth the effort. Also Best Buy is a frenemy of Amazon - their previous two tweets, before the one you quoted, showed Amazon smart speakers. Wendy's reacted because they have good engagement, a reputation for snark to maintain, and someone goaded them into it.

25 days ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.