#PrimeDayFail: Amazon’s Brand Blowout…or Blowup?

Inspired by Ali Baba’s knockout Singles Day revenues and touted as a summertime Cyber Monday, Amazon Prime Day was a sales hit. But poor market prep – coupled with getting caught up in its own puffery — resulted in its buoyant sales balloon being a social media bust. Amazon may have achieved the sales, but at what cost to brand reputation? And what could they have done to avoid this?

Created to help the company boost its Amazon Prime membership base, Amazon Prime Day saw unprecedented sales but was called out on social media for its many service failures. From being accused of appearing “like a dollar store going out of business sale” offering “a bunch of old inventory stock that’s been piling up in their warehouse” to the site being unavailable to thousands of potential shoppers, it was a sale with as much blowback as blowout.

Until last week, Amazon was a standout for superior customer experience, offering lower prices and a transparent way of transacting business. But last week, at a time when the world should have been showering the company with praise, negative brand mentions were nearly even with positive brand mentions. For a company trying to be “Summer Santa,” this must’ve been quite a shock… but is illustrative of how a little simple marketing planning can make a huge difference.

We want to be really clear: we love Amazon. It’s spoiled us for shopping forever by making whatever we want just a click away. We’re as disappointed by the response as they must be. So what are a few marketing guidelines we can carry away from from #PrimeDayFail?

Prep the market. Amazon simply didn’t spend enough time prepping the market for Prime Day with both their existing Prime members and with their prospects. They didn’t prime them for success, nor did they prime them for failure… and they should have done both. People work beautifully when they can operate within a framework they can understand. But without structure, things often go awry.

  • To prepare them for success, the company should have set up clear guidelines on how the sales would operate. There was an obvious reason to do this: they had never done a sale like this before. For example, Amazon should have been clear as to the types of products that would be offered and if there would be a limited supply (and what alternatives people had if the supplies were depleted). Instead of posting all the things on sale at once – a convention for sales — the Amazon spokesperson said that the company staggered the deals “to make sure the fun will last.” But who knew this? No one. What’s naïve about this approach is that those who don’t find good deals the first time just went away disappointed… and they didn’t come back again.
  • To prepare them for failure, Amazon should have been honest with itself. With a little pragmatic forecasting, the company should have foreseen issues like running out of products or the site getting too much traffic and prepared the audience properly. Not being able to scale with a huge traffic influx is a problem every web-based service has experienced… why couldn’t Amazon predict that for its audience? Again, a simple statement like “This is the first time we’ve done this… you may have to wait in a virtual line” would have been realistic, genuine and perfectly set up consumer expectations.

Know what you’re trying to sell. In our opinion, Amazon was sending out mixed messages. While they were trying to boost $99 Prime memberships, non-Prime customers were looking for sales bargains. Amazon could have better presented the value of Prime memberships by offering things like $99 sales credits they could use through the site. They could have also better leveraged their existing Prime membership base by offering them lower-cost Prime memberships for their friends and family. By not tying the sale directly to Prime memberships, we believe they lost the long-term value of the message they were trying to send.

Offer a range of product options that reflect your real value. For many, Prime Day came across as a bargain basement sale that really didn’t reflect the scope of products available. This was another opportunity lost that was compounded by the “insult” noted by Matthew Kirkwood of Bens Bargains: “Amazon Prime Days was a bad deal for consumers because it offered better deals in the recent past on its own products than it did on Prime Day.”

Don’t shop-block. And when you do, have a back-up offer. As a consumer, you don’t want to learn at the point of satisfaction that the company is going to shop-block you; i.e., prevent you from getting the bargain you want. Amazon offered no recourse for those people who were doubly frustrated by slow site performance that resulted in their bargains being lost.   A simple gesture – even something cost-free and simple as notifying them when the item is on sale again– could have saved a lot of resentment.

Use the opportunity to benefit all areas of the business. In our opinion, the golden missed opportunity was Amazon being fully ready for the influx of traffic it received   Arguably, a huge flow of customers can overwhelm any site, but managing web traffic is a cornerstone Amazon offering. In fact, Amazon Web Services is its largest money-making business. This could have been a terrific time to showcase the scope of Amazon’s strengths with great sales on its e-commerce site and perfect uptime provided by an AWS back-end.

If you count sales as being the most important metric, Amazon won the day in the end. However, is the erosion of customer confidence in a brand that – until now – had been impeccable, really worth it?


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