Amazon's Prime Day Boosts Sales (and Social-Media Griping)

Walmart.com Sees Brief Site Outages As It Counters Amazon Deals

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Amazon's first Prime Day sales gave the e-commerce giant a substantial one-day boost, despite sniping from rival Walmart.com and critics in social media who were underwhelmed by the deals.

Amazon, which billed the Christmas-in-July-style event on Wednesday as offering more deals than Black Friday, saw its U.S. sales rise around 80% as of noon eastern time vs. a relatively slow July day a year ago, according to ChannelAdvisor, with sales in Europe up around 40%.

"Prime Day peak order rates have already surpassed 2014 Black Friday," said an Amazon spokeswoman in a late afternoon email. "Prime members have bought tens of thousands of Fire TV Sticks, 35,000 Lord of the Rings Blu-Ray sets, 28,000 Rubermaid sets and 4,000 Echos in 15 minutes. The Kate Spade purse was gone in less than a minute. The [1,200] of $999 TVs sold out in less than 10 minutes, and there are thousands more deals coming."

Despite those results, Prime Day spawned a fair amount of backlash on social media, fueling such hashtags as #UnhappyPrimeDay, #AmazonFail, #Primedayfail and #AmazonSucks, the latter of which briefly became a Twitter trending topic. Complaints were a mix of people being underwhelmed by the offers and others being annoyed that items sold out before they could order them or reporting trouble loading them into their shopping carts.

"I'm starting to think #PrimeDay wasn't really intended for me," said MaryCatherine Finney on Twitter. "There's a waitlist to save 25% on GARBAGE BAGS."

Indeed, one distinguishing feature of this sale was the unusual breadth of assortment compared to Black Friday. The New York Observer noted one of the odder deals – a 55-galon barrel of Passion Natural Water-Based Lubricant for $1,361.80 – and it did qualify for free Amazon Prime shipping.

Many offers were aimed at driving Prime membership and new subscriptions, with even lapsed members offered 30-day free trials to rejoin a group that now numbers a whopping 44 million in the U.S. alone, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. Among the offers, with two layers of Prime Day discounts, were Rockport shoes priced at $52, less than half the $110 L.L.Bean was charging.

Among Amazon suppliers getting in on the effort were RB (Reckitt Benckiser), whose Lysol disinfecting wipes and Finish dish wash detergent were available at 20% off with new subscription orders, and whose Amope Pedi Perfect Sander was prominently featured in a deal that provided a $25 Amazon gift card for orders of $75 in beauty and personal-care products. That deal also included big-ticket diaper packs from Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Huggies and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Pampers.

Walmart's counter-programming
Walmart.com saw some success of its own by counter-programming against the first Prime Day with Rollbacks on thousands of items, lowering its usual threshold for free shipping to $35 from $50, and touting "no upfront fees," unlike Prime's $99 annual membership.

At one point just before 11 a.m. eastern time, the traffic to Walmart.com led to slow load times (slower than 93% of sites accessed from New York according to Pingdom.com) and at least periodic outages for some users. But by noon, complaints about site problems appeared to dissipate to near normal levels, according to Downdetector.com.

A Walmart.com spokesman declined to comment directly on the site issues, but in an email said, "It seems like the word is spreading fast. Our customers know that every day is a great day to save at Walmart and they are flocking to our site."

Among top selling items Wednesday were the iPad Mini 2 for $265 (a $164 savings) and the RCA 55-inch RCA TV for under $400.

"Our prices aren't over after just one day," the Walmart spokesman said. "These rollbacks will be available for up to $90 days while supplies last."

Some Walmart.com visitors saw this error message as they tried to access the site Wednesday morning.
Some Walmart.com visitors saw this error message as they tried to access the site Wednesday morning.

Walmart at least temporarily won a pricing battle on some items, such as a Fitbit Charge HR for just over $117, compared to $142 on Amazon. Later, however, Amazon began offering a $25 credit on the activity monitor for Prime members. While Amazon offered its Kindle Fire for $79 for a time, Walmart.com offered RCA tablets for as low as $39.99.

-- With contributions from Bloomberg --

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