IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Amazon Prime Day: A history of the mega sale and its impact

How Prime Day became the most successful shopping event in Amazon’s history and shook the core of the retail industry.
Illustrated GIF of products popping out of a Amazon Prime Box
A history of Amazon Prime Day, including bestsellers from past events like the Instant Pot, Fire Tablet, Amazon Echo, Nintendo Switch, Fire TV Stick and more.Amazon

Prime Day had its biggest year yet in 2022 — despite retailers recently reporting shifts in shopping habits, in part due to inflation. Prime members worldwide purchased more than 300 million items and saved over $1.7 billion during the two-day event, the retailer said. This is in line with the trajectory Prime Day has taken since the first time it took place in 2015, with Amazon scaling its summer sale to record-breaking heights every single year.

Prime Day 2022 was the first time in two years that the mega sale happened in July. The retailer hosted Prime Day 2021 in June, the earliest the event has ever occurred, and Prime Day 2020 in October, the latest date on record. The event being held in July this year was a sign that Amazon was returning to its “standardized approach” to Prime Day, according to Joseph Hansen, the founder and CEO of marketing agency Buy Box Experts — before 2020, Amazon held every Prime Day in July and shoppers could plan accordingly.

SKIP AHEAD Prime Day 2022 | Prime Day bestsellers | Amazon Prime membership 101

Amazon has not disclosed total sales from Prime Day 2022. And while Hansen said he expects to see year-over-year growth, it may not be by as much as in years past. This is a trend Amazon saw between 2020 and 2021: Market research firm Digital Commerce 360 estimates that Amazon sold $11.2 billion worth of goods during Prime Day 2021, up only 7.7% from $10.4 billion in 2020. Between 2019 and 2020, the retailer saw a 45.2% jump in Prime Day sales year over year.

Regardless of year-over-year growth, Prime Day continues to be a success — it dominates a usually dormant online shopping period, driving traffic not only to its site, but also to other retailers that host competing sales. To chart the history of Prime Day and its impact, we consulted experts about how the event has grown since its inception. We also compiled some of the top-selling items during Amazon Prime Day events worldwide, from Instant Pots to the Echo Dot.

Looking back on Prime Day 2022 — and looking forward to a possible second mega sale this year

While Amazon Prime Day usually only happens once a year, CNBC reported that the retailer plans to hold a second sale event that’s exclusive to Prime members later this year for the first time ever. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment to CNBC, but we’ll update you as we learn more.

The Prime Day that took place on July 12 and 13 of this year was particularly lucrative for the retailer's third-party sellers, most of which are small and medium sized businesses — the event was the biggest one yet for third-party sellers, whose sales growth in Amazon’s store outpaced Amazon's retail business, according to Amazon. Customers purchased more than 100 million small business items in the three weeks leading up to Prime Day, Amazon said.

One factor that Hansen said may boost Amazon’s Prime Day performance each year is that it “penetrates” households very well. Between Alexa devices, the Amazon app, services like Prime Video and Music and more, Amazon has ample opportunities to advertise Prime Day, which can drive shoppers to the sale. In 2022, Amazon said shoppers purchased more than 100,000 items per minute during Prime Day and it reminded members the event was underway through notifications through its app and Alexa devices.

Many other retailers hosted competing Prime Day sales, which Hansen told us is a “headwind” for Amazon. “Their presence is a lot bigger than it was even just last year,” he said. “They now run their own version[s] of Prime Day to try to siphon off a lot of that excitement and traffic.” For example, Target Deal Days, Bed Bath & Beyond’s Beyond Big Savings Event, Best Buy’s Black Friday in July sale and Macy’s Black Friday in July sale all overlapped with Prime Day 2022.

The multitude of sales that happened around Prime Day this July significantly drove up online spending overall. According to the Adobe Digital Economic Index, the second day of Prime Day saw total U.S. online spend surpass $5.9 billion, representing  9.2% growth  compared to e-commerce revenue on the second day last year. The first day of Prime Day was the No. 1 biggest day for U.S. online spending to date in 2022, with the second day of Prime Day coming up behind it. Overall. Adobe said, total U.S. online spend across retailers is estimated to be $11.9 billion across both days, representing 8.5%  growth compared to last year’s  Prime  Day total online revenue of $11 billion.

What is Amazon Prime Day?

Prime Day is an exclusive sale for Amazon Prime members — shoppers pay $139 a year to receive benefits like free expedited shipping on eligible purchases, free movies and TV shows through Prime Video (available on its own for $9 a month) and unlimited access to reading material on any device through Prime Reading, among other benefits. During Prime Day, select products from a variety of brands are greatly discounted, from Amazon-owned electronics to clothing and homewares. Additionally, while Amazon regularly offers Lightning Deals — short-term deals on specific products that could last hours or days — they’re exclusive to Prime members during Amazon Prime Day.

The first-ever Prime Day event took place on July 15, 2015 as a way to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary, according to Amazon’s blog. The first Prime Day lasted 24 hours and gave access to members in nine countries: the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Canada and Austria. Since 2015, Palmer said, Amazon Prime Day has grown “exponentially.” In 2020 and 2021, Amazon hosted Prime Day in 20 countries around the globe, and it plans to open access to Prime members in over 20 countries this year. Prime members in Poland, Sweden and Egypt shopped the sale for the first time in 2022.

Amazon Prime Day total sales have notoriously surpassed those on Black Friday and Cyber Monday for the company, Palmer said. But selling products isn’t the only focus of Prime Day. Amanda Bourlier, who oversees global retailing research at market research company Euromonitor International, said Amazon uses Prime Day as a way to attract new Prime subscribers, pitching to them Amazon’s “ecosystem of consumption,” meaning all of the services Amazon provides shoppers, like access to music and video streaming services and grocery delivery. “A Prime member probably doesn’t just shop from,” Bourlier said. “In addition to shopping on Amazon, they can buy groceries from Whole Foods, listen to audiobooks with Audible, subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, watch Amazon Video and use Amazon Echo speakers.” Prime Day, then, acts as a sort of doorbuster deal to get shoppers close to everything else Amazon Prime.

Palmer said Prime Day is unique in its scale because it’s a manufactured event created by the company. The sale does not coincide with the holiday shopping season, unlike Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Amazon Prime Day is traditionally held in mid-July, which is a strategic decision on the company’s part: The summer is typically a slower period for retailers. Amazon Prime Day is an attempt to remedy that. In fact, Prime Day has become so big that it’s forced Amazon competitors like Walmart, Macy’s and Target to respond by changing the timing of their own sales and deals. Since Prime Day usually falls in July, for example, Macy’s runs its Black Friday in July event then. And with Walmart+, Walmart’s own version of Amazon Prime, the stakes are higher than ever.

“Prime Day is no longer just a day for people to purchase cheap items on Amazon,” Palmer said. “Quite frankly, it has completely altered the retail calendar.”

Additionally, Prime Day is positioned well before the holiday shopping season — usually, anyway. James Thomson, a partner at Buy Box Experts, said Amazon wants to get non-Prime customers to buy a Prime membership during the summer, prompting them to handle their Christmas shopping — and even back-to-school and Labor Day shopping — through the retailer. “The most important thing Amazon can do is drive loyalty to the Amazon marketplace,” Thomson said. “The company wants to get consumers to say, ‘I’m not going to walk into a physical store because it’s so much easier to buy on Amazon.’”

While Prime Day is highly profitable for Amazon and its sellers, Thomson said there’s another reason it’s such an important event for the company. He said Prime Day is a “massive dry run” for quarter four, which is when the holidays take place. Thomson, formerly the business head of Amazon Services, the Amazon division responsible for recruiting sellers to the Amazon marketplace, explained that Prime Day creates an artificial surge in orders, a similar increase to what the retailer experiences between November and December.

“One of Prime Day’s primary focuses is doing a test drive to make sure its operations work properly,” Thomson said. “It’s a nice warm up, and at the end of the day, it’s something Amazon has to do for itself.”

Bestselling Amazon Prime Day products

The bestselling products on Prime Day vary from year to year and differ from country to country, and that’s not just the result of differing buying habits — Amazon’s Prime Day offerings in one country aren’t always reflective in another.

“I don’t know what the secret sauce is to becoming the bestselling item on Prime Day,” Palmer said. But she points to factors like the deal itself being well advertised, or just that “it’s a good deal, plain and simple.” But, consistently, Amazon said they see record-breaking sales for their devices, from Fire tablets to Alexa-enabled tech.

To give you an idea of some of the most successful deals during Prime Day over the past three years, we compiled a few bestsellers by country below. Amazon does not provide information about bestsellers for every country that Prime Day is held in each year, and some products are specific to certain countries, like a certain dishwashing detergent brand, for example. We chose to highlight a handful of Prime Day bestsellers that are widely available. For 2019, 2020 and 2021, we included top selling products globally and in the U.S., as well as in a variety of other countries so you can see what items people are shopping for on Prime Day worldwide.

Amazon Prime Day 2021 bestsellers

iRobot Roomba 692 Robot Vacuum (global)

iRobot’s Roomba 692 Robot Vacuum pairs with a companion app that allows you to set cleaning schedules, as well as suggests cleaning programs based on your habits. It’s also equipped with Alexa and Google Assistant so you can use voice commands to start cleanings. The Roomba vacuum features a three-stage cleaning system to loosen, loft and suction dirt from floors, according to the brand. It’s built with an auto-adjust cleaning head to change its height depending on the type of floor it’s cleaning, and automatically docks itself at the charger after running for 90 minutes.

Waterpik Aquarius Water Flosser (United States)

This water flosser has the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance, which experts previously told us to look for when shopping. Waterpik’s Aquarius Water Flosser allows you to choose from 10 pressure settings and it has a timer built in to help you keep track of how long you should clean your teeth for. The water flosser’s reservoir holds 22 ounces of water and it comes with seven different tips you can attach to the nozzle. You can purchase this water flosser in black, blue, gray or white.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Face Moisturizer (United Arab Emirates)

Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Water Gel Face Moisturizer is formulated with hyaluronic acid to help hydrate dry skin. The brand said it can be used as a daily face moisturizer and quickly absorbs into skin like a gel so you can wear it under makeup.

PlayStation 5 DualSense Wireless Controller (Australia)

The PlayStation 5 DualSense Wireless Controller features built-in microphone and headphone jacks so you can hear and speak to those you’re gaming with while playing. The controller offers haptic feedback, which the brand said means you physically feel it vibrate to simulate the recoil of a weapon while playing a game, for example. It also had adaptive triggers that offer different levels of force and tension throughout the game. You can purchase the controller — which can only be paired with the Playstation 5 game console — in multiple colors like white, Cosmic Red, Galactic Purple and more.

Vaseline Essential Healing Body Lotion (Saudi Arabia)

This body lotion is made with oat extract and Vaseline Jelly to moisturize and soothe dry skin, the brand said. It comes in a bottle with a pump that you can turn to unlock when you want to dispense the lotion or lock when it’s not in use.

Amazon Prime Day 2020 bestsellers

Echo Dot (global)

Compared to its earlier designs, this Echo Dot features a compact and spherical shape, and it’s complete with a front-facing speaker. It’s equipped with Alexa so you can use voice controls to play music, check the weather and more after you connect it to Wi-Fi with the Alexa app. The Echo Dot is available in three colors: Charcoal, Glacier White and Twilight Blue.

myQ Chamberlain Smart Garage Door Opener (United States)

This wireless garage door opener is Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled, allowing you to control your garage door from your phone after you install the myQ app. The garage door opener comes with a wireless garage hub and one sensor. One sensor controls one garage door, and if you want to control additional garage doors, you can purchase individual sensors and pair it with the hub.

Shark Upright Vacuum Cleaner (United Kingdom)

Shark’s cordless vacuum features swivel steering to navigate around furniture, as well as a motorized brush designed to lift pet hair out of carpets. It includes an extra-large dust cup and two speed settings to choose from, one optimized for carpet and the other from bare floors like wood. The vacuum comes with a charging base, too.

Oral B CrossAction Electric Toothbrush (Spain)

Available in colors like black, white, pink and green, this electric toothbrush oscillates and pulsates to clean teeth and gums. It boasts a pressure sensor that stops the toothbrush’s movement if you brush too hard, and its handle has a built-in timer to help you brush for a recommended time of two minutes. The toothbrush comes with one handle, a CrossAction brush head and a charger. You can purchase replacement brush heads separately, and the toothbrush is compatible with all Oral-B refills.

Govee LED Light Strip (Canada)

This light strip comes with a power adapter, a Wi-Fi control box and two rolls of 16 foot strip lights, which you can cut them to fit in any space. After connecting the lights to Wi-Fi and pairing them with the Govee Home app, you can control the lights using your phone. They’re also Bluetooth compatible and respond to Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands. The lights are equipped with built-in microphones, so when you’re playing music, they will respond to the beat.

Amazon Prime Day 2019 bestsellers

Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote (global)

The Fire TV Stick comes with an Alexa Voice Remote and gives you access to streaming apps like Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV, HBO and Peacock (which is owned by NBC’s parent company Comcast). You can use the Alexa Control Remote to change the channel, search for a movie or TV show, or play music. The Alexa Control Remote can be connected to other Alexa-enabled devices like thermostats and video cameras.

Lifestraw Personal Water Filter (United States)

Bring this water filter with you while traveling, hiking or camping to filter up to 1,000 gallons of contaminated water. You can purchase the water filter in one, two, three or five packs.

Nintendo Switch (Mexico)

This gaming device connects to Wi-Fi and allows multiple people to play together, either at home or on the go. The Nintendo Switch comes with a Nintendo Switch console and a Nintendo Switch dock, as well as left and right Joy‑Con controllers that can be detached from the console for dynamic gameplay.

JBL Bluetooth Speaker (Germany)

This wireless speaker can play music for up to 12 hours on one charge. You can connect it to Bluetooth-enabled devices like phones, computers and tablets, and the speaker is water-resistant for up to three feet deep.

Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Light (Netherlands)

After installing these lights and connecting them to the Philips Hue Bluetooth app, you can control the brightness and color of the lighting in your home. Choose from 16 million colors and connect voice assistants like Alexa to control the lights with your voice.

What to shop for on Amazon Prime Day

Although Thomson said Prime Day offers “legitimate discounts” on products, the sale does not offer customers discounts on “a smorgasbord of items.” At its core, he said the sale centers around Amazon products, whether that be a Kindle or a Fire Stick. Brands big and small also offer plenty of deals on other tech, fashion items, toys, beauty products, small kitchen appliances and more, but shoppers don’t know exactly what’s going to be discounted until the day the sale occurs. Because of this, Thomson said, shoppers often buy products spontaneously. Of course, online shopping guides and recommendations from publishers like Select and our friends at Shop TODAY aim to help you and shoppers at-large approach the sale as informed and prepared as can be.

Prime Day also serves as a trial run for small brands. “During Prime Day, shoppers will buy products that may not be from brands they’re familiar with because of big discounts,” Thomson said. “Amazon wants you to try that product for the first time.” To encourage shopping from small and medium-sized businesses, Amazon hosted its Spend $10, Get $10 promotion in the two weeks leading up to Prime Day 2021. Prime members who bought $10 worth of items from small businesses on Amazon got $10 credit to use during Prime Day. Overall, shoppers spent over $1.9 billion on more than 70 million small business products during the two-week period. Amazon said this marks more than a 100% year-over-year increase on sales compared to the same Prime Day October 2020 promotion. In 2022, Amazon also promoted shopping from small businesses by hosting a handful of promotions — from June 21 through July 11, for every $1 spent on eligible small business products, shoppers received a chance to win prizes. The retailer said customers spent over $3 billion on more than 100 million small business items included in the Support Small Businesses to Win Big sweepstakes during Prime Day.

Additionally, during Prime Day, some brands offer products that previously did not sell a lot of units, Thomson said, enabling heavier discounts on those specific items. The same thing happens on Black Friday — brands ask themselves what they have a lot of and sell anything in surplus at a lower margin (a common trope for any sale at any time and by any retailer). For example, a brand may discount a TV on Prime Day but it might be an old model.

Amazon Prime membership 101

Amazon Prime launched in 2005. It offered members benefits like two-day free shipping, which, at the time, seemed like a pipe dream, Bourlier said. Fast delivery was — and still is — a factor that motivates people to become Prime members, in addition to the variety of products Amazon offers shoppers to purchase in one place.

This year, Amazon raised the price of its Prime membership and Prime student membership. It now costs $15 a month (up from $13 a month) to be a Prime member, or you can pay $139 annually (previously $119). The Prime Student membership also increased in price from $59 a year to $69 a year. Amazon also offers a discounted Prime membership ($7 per month) for those who qualify for certain types of government assistance programs, like EBT and Medicaid.

Over the years, Amazon has expanded the benefits Prime members get, like access to Prime Video, Gaming, Music and more. Notably, Amazon bought the grocery store chain Whole Foods Market in 2017, leading to exclusive savings both in stores and online for Prime members. Members were previously entitled to free two-hour grocery delivery through Whole Foods Market and Amazon Fresh, but in Oct. 2021, Amazon added a $10 service fee for deliveries from Whole Foods Market. The price hike for Prime memberships and grocery deliveries may be due to inflationary pressures and the increased cost of gasoline, Hansen said, since this makes transporting products more expensive.

One of the newest Prime membership benefits is Buy with Prime, which allows Prime members to order items through other retailers’ websites using payment and shipping information stored on their Amazon account. The service also extends the free and fast delivery options members get through Amazon.

As Amazon continues to add to the benefits Prime members get, Bourlier said it sets the bar for other retailers looking to start loyalty programs. Added benefits also “lock” shoppers into the Amazon ecosystem. “Amazon Prime wasn’t the first retailer with a loyalty program, but it was one of the first retailers to imagine how loyalty programs might look in an ecommerce landscape,” Bourlier said. “Amazon is also often the first retailer to offer specific features to shoppers, like free two-day shipping.”

Catch up on Select's in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date.