• Sat. Nov 28th, 2020

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Technology

Amazon’s very different Prime Day could render Black Friday an afterthought

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In Amazon’s Prime Day ad this year, even the cartoon dog walker is wearing a mask.


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This story is part of Amazon Prime Day, CNET’s guide on everything you need to know and how to make sure you get the best deal.

Last year’s Amazon Prime Day TV ad featured geometric cartoon townspeople — who built their trucks, parade floats and houses out of Amazon delivery boxes — at a boisterous parade, with a liveried band showing off all the great deals on fashion, home goods and electronics. In 2020, the backdrop is a suburban neighborhood where the same fictional characters are home, socially distanced watching a movie from a backyard projector or celebrating a new shipment of pajamas. Those on the street are wearing masks.

That’s right, even Amazonville appears to have been stricken by the COVID-19 lockdown, highlighting what an entirely changed Prime Day it will be in 2020.

“Amazon in years past, they have been promoting Prime Day as a celebration. It was more of an uplifting tone,” said Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert for deals site RetailMeNot. “This year it will be different, it will be more practical — more things that people need and less things they want.”

There’s no rulebook for how to throw a giant company-invented sales event during a pandemic, but Amazon is making a go at it, with Prime Day coming on Tuesday and Wednesday. It will have to set the right tone for a US beset by grief, social unrest and a sour economy and a world in the grips of the novel coronavirus. Consumers will get an early jump on holiday shopping and hopefully get a chance to save on stuff they need like work-from-home equipment, home entertainment and maybe even toilet paper.

It will be an important opportunity for Amazon to show off how it can help customers save money during an economic downturn and support small businesses on its platform while its facing a series of antitrust investigations into the power it wields over those very small businesses.

Prime Day is also expected to be a huge moneymaker for the e-commerce juggernaut, bringing in $9.9 billion worldwide in just 48 hours, according to researcher eMarketer. That’s a 43% increase from last year and will mark the biggest Prime Day yet (though that record is broken every year).

But some of the biggest beneficiaries may end up being brick-and-mortar merchants, who are pushing their own sales to coincide with Prime Day in hopes of getting a financial boost during a tough year filled with retail bankruptcies.

Changing times

The biggest change to Prime Day this year is its timing. The sale is typically held in the summer to prop up an otherwise sleepy retail season. This year it was delayed to October so Amazon could respond to a surge in online orders during the pandemic and retrofit its warehouses with new safety protocols to protect its workers.

“This will result in a different focus: de-emphasizing products for summer and back-to-school, and making the event an early lead-in to the holiday season,” eMarketer retail analyst Andrew Lipsman said.

Many retailers are expected to offer some of their lowest prices during Prime Day, RetailMeNot said, so they can get a jump on holiday sales and try to steal away customers from Amazon. Walmart, Target and Best Buy have already announced Black Friday-like discounts at the same time as Prime Day, making the sale the unofficial start to holiday shopping.


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Retail experts recommend customers shop early to avoid out-of-stock items, which will be especially likely this year due to supply chain disruptions during the pandemic, and delivery delays due to much more online shipments.

In a nod to the difficulty of 2020, Amazon is emphasizing its social awareness so it can present Prime Day as a platform to help others and not just to sell mountains of Roombas and giant tubs of Vaseline. If you spend $10 at a small business on Amazon’s site ahead of Prime Day, the e-retailer will give you a $10 credit to spend during the sales event. Amazon is also promoting Amazon Smile, its charitable-giving feature. 

“It’s not the purpose of Prime Day,” Lipsman said of these efforts to give back. “I do think the context is very different these days and they’ll have to be conscious of that.”

Chris McCabe, founder of Amazon seller consultancy ecommerceChris and a former Amazon employee, said Amazon will certainly benefit from Prime Day, but said the online seller has already seen a bump up in sales all year. Considering that, he said, Amazon doesn’t really need to throw a big sale.

“In October, people are already shopping for Christmas, so you don’t need to boost sales,” he said. “Everything has been elevated all year, all week, all month.”

Stimulus potential

Prime Day coming so close to the holidays may take some of the oomph from Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as more customers do their holiday shopping early. But expect those holiday season sales to still be huge and provide lots of discounts.

One reason customers may want to wait to buy for the holidays is that a huge federal stimulus plan is still being negotiated and could be approved before the end of the year. The previous stimulus checks sent to Americans in April provided a big boost to retailers and the economy, as consumers bought up clothing, appliances, electronics and plenty more. 

Another stimulus, while uncertain due to a fraught election and an unpredictable president, could have a big impact on Black Friday, which falls on Nov. 27, if it arrives in time.

After all the sales are done and the delivery boxes are opened, here’s hoping that on Prime Day 2021 the denizens of Amazonville will be able to safely come out for another rousing, confetti-filled parade along Bezos Boulevard. But for now, enjoy the pajamas.

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