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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

In July 2022, Amazon hosted its most successful Prime Day yet — despite retailers 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 sale, the retailer said. This is in line with the trajectory Prime Day has taken since it was first held in 2015 — Amazon continues to scale Prime Day to record-breaking heights every single year.

This fall, Amazon is expanding Prime Day even more. For the first time ever, the retailer is hosting two member-exclusive Prime Day-esque events in one year — the Prime Early Access Sale is happening Oct. 11-12, just three months after Amazon’s summer mega sale. Positioning the sale in October is Amazon’s attempt to kick off the holiday shopping season, said Jessica Young, director of research at market research firm Digital Commerce 360. In recent years, retailers have been offering deals earlier in the fall to give shoppers ample time to purchase gifts, and early Black Friday promotions have continued to creep into October. Amazon noticed this trend, and it’s responding with a sale of its own.

“This is about grabbing consumers who increasingly demand sneak-peek, Cyber weekend-level deals,” Young said. “The [holiday shopping] “season” has been lengthening for years, and Amazon’s updated calendar will certainly help cement the earlier start time in people’s minds.”

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

Amazon has not disclosed sales from July’s Prime Day, but Digital Commerce 360 estimates that the retailer hit $12.09 billion globally. This marks a 8.1% increase compared to 2021 and is in line with the more moderate year–over-year growth the retailer saw between 2020 and 2021: 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. Experts said this may be another reason why the retailer decided to host another mega sale before 2022 comes to an end — to try and boost overall sales this year.

As we wait to see how shoppers respond to two Prime Day-level events in one year, we charted the history of the mega sale and its impact, plus 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 second mega sale this year

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 perks. 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 was available to members in nine countries: the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Canada and Austria. Since 2015, Amazon Prime Day has grown “exponentially,” said Annie Palmer, a technology reporter at CNBC. In 2020 and 2021, Amazon hosted Prime Day in 20 countries around the globe, and opened 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 previously oversaw 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,” like access to music and video streaming services and grocery delivery. “A Prime member probably doesn’t just shop from Amazon.com,” 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. It’s 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 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 called Prime Day 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 explained. “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 of another.

“I don’t know what the secret sauce is to becoming the bestselling item on Prime Day,” Palmer said. But she pointed to factors like the deal itself being well advertised, or just that “it’s a good deal, plain and simple.” 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 four years, we compiled a few bestsellers. 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 specific dishwashing detergent brand, for example. We chose to highlight a handful of Prime Day bestsellers that are widely available. For 2019 through 2022, we included top selling products globally and in the U.S. We also added a few bestsellers by country for 2019 through 2021 so you can see what items people are shopping for on Prime Day worldwide — Amazon has not released bestsellers by country for 2022.

Amazon Prime Day 2022 bestsellers

Apple Watch Series 7 (global)

The Apple Watch Series 7 — which senior editor Morgan Greenwald and I purchased during July’s Prime Day — has a built-in GPS system to track workouts like runs or walks. The brand says the watch’s always-on Retina display offers almost 20% more screen area compared to the Series 6 watch. You can measure your heart rate and blood oxygen level, take an ECG and monitor your sleep cycle. It's IPX6 dust and water-resistant and comes in two sizes: 41mm and 45mm.

Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask (global)

The Laneige lip mask is formulated with coconut oil, shea butter and murumuru seed butter to moisturize, as well as antioxidants like vitamin C and a berry fruit complex to nourish and condition lips, the brand says. Each container is packaged with a tiny applicator and you can purchase the lip sleeping mask in flavors like berry, gummy bear, vanilla, pumpkin spice and more.

Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides Powder (global)

Vital Proteins says its collagen powder supports hair, nail, bone and joint health and can be mixed into hot or cold liquids. The unflavored powder comes with a scooper to help you measure servings. You can purchase the collagen powder in a 9.33-ounce container or a 1.2-pound container.

Crest 3D Teeth Whitestrips (United States)

Crest whitening strips are formulated with hydrogen peroxide, an ingredient the American Dental Association says is commonly used in whitening treatments to penetrate tooth enamel and break down discoloration. The strips come in a box with 22 sets, giving you enough for 11 treatments. They are designed with a no-slip grip to help them stick on teeth during the application period, the brand says.

Beats Studio3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Over-Ear Headphones (United States)

These Beats over-ear headphones are built with the Apple W1 headphone chip, making them compatible with iOS and Android products, the brand says. The Bluetooth headphones block out external noise thanks to their active noise cancelling technology and provide up to 22 hours of battery life on a single charge, according to Beats. You can also use the on-ear controls to answer calls, control music, activate Siri and more.

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 explained that 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 often hosts a handful of promotions leading up to Prime Day, like the chance to win prizes if you buy from specific sellers. July’s Prime Day 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 the company. Customers also purchased more than 100 million small business items in the three weeks leading up to Prime Day, Amazon said.

Additionally, some brands discount products on Prime Day 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). 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 all 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 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 its Prime member benefits, adding things 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.”

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