Despite glitches, Amazon Prime Day 2018 manages another record

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Million of boxes are on their way.

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Amazon botched Monday's kickoff of its fourth annual Prime Day sale, with a broken website and app redirecting customers to pictures of dogs on its error pages. For many shoppers, the problems persisted for hours.

But the screw-up didn't change the final outcome: a third Prime Day in a row that broke all previous Amazon sales records.

On Wednesday, Amazon said his year's Prime Day surpassed all prior sales records in the e-commerce giant's 24-year history, including every Black Friday and Cyber Monday. For apples-to-apples comparisons, that record was weighed against other 36-hour periods since the sale this year was a day and a half.

This record shouldn't last long, though. Due to Amazon's rapid growth, the company is likely to break the record again during the upcoming holiday season.

Prime members worldwide ordered over 100 million products during Prime Day 2018, Amazon said. The best-sellers this year were Amazon's own devices: the Echo Dot and the Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote. As with last year, Prime Day resulted in another new record for new customers joining Prime, the $119 annual membership that includes two-day free shipping.

However, Amazon generally offers only vague information on its businesses, so it avoided specifying how big the sale was or the percentage growth from last year. 

In 2017, Amazon said the Prime Day sale grew by 60 percent over the previous year. This year, Amazon did mention that small and medium-sized businesses selling on Amazon exceeded $1 billion in sales. Coresight Research estimated that shoppers would spend $3.4 billion on Prime Day this year, up more than 40 percent from a year earlier.

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Amazon trumpeted this year's Prime Day as a financial success, but it could face fallout for the fumbled execution. Customers may view the company's website as less reliable and cloud-computing clients could see Amazon Web Services -- which runs Amazon.com -- as flawed.

Or it's possible that customers will quickly dismiss the problems, especially if Amazon avoids a repeat during the holiday season.

"People will forget about it. It's more something that the news will repeat than people will care about," said Victor Rosenman, CEO of Feedvisor, a software provider for Amazon sellers.

One thing seems certain: Despite the shaky opening, Prime Day is likely to return for a fifth year. July tends to be a slow month in retail, but Prime Day has managed to change that.

Monday's problems weren't the first time that Amazon experienced a notable website error during Prime Day. In 2016, a computer glitch prevented people from checking out their purchases in the early hours of the sale.

Perhaps the most memorable part of this year's sale came from the cute dogs. The company populates its error pages with pictures of some of its employees' pups. While those pages aren't new, Prime Day made these dogs temporarily famous, with frustrated shoppers posting images of the dogs on social media.

The glitches even sparked a highly unlikely conspiracy theory that President Donald Trump -- who's repeatedly criticized Amazon's business practices -- worked with Russia President Vladimir Putin in their summit meeting Monday to cripple Amazon's website.

For its part, Amazon sent out statements acknowledging the problems but didn't say what caused them. It appears likely that the rush of shopper traffic at the start of the sale crashed Amazon's site.

Other retailers, including Walmart, eBay and Macy's, took advantage of the attention to Prime Day and Amazon's problems by offering competing sales. They also pointed out that -- unlike Prime Day's deals -- their offers didn't require a $119-per-year membership fee. Target on Wednesday said it saw its highest traffic and sales day of 2018 on Tuesday thanks to its rival sale.

Despite this year's Prime Day problems, Rosenman said independent sellers on Amazon he's spoken to were happy with the sale.

"We're seeing a really large increase in sales, something around 60 percent on average," he said in an interview Tuesday afternoon, citing his company's data of US Feedvisor customers. "That's a massive increase."

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