Amazon’s Prime Day Fail

Crash-landing pages, torpedoed search, and checkout delays longer than an extreme coupon hobbyist paying in coins: welcome to Amazon Prime Day 2018!

For at least two hours on Monday, Amazon’s annual price slashing holiday was nearly derailed by bugs and outages. Glitches are common during high-volume sales, but from the world’s largest retailer, shoppers expect more. Unhappy would-be customers took to Twitter to bemoan lost deals, report specific bugs, make terrible dog puns, and play Dogs of Amazon Bingo.

So what the heck happened? And what can we learn from Amazon’s big sale-turned-fail?

What Happened?

I’m a Prime member and frequent Amazon shopper, so I was looking forward to this year’s much-hyped Prime Day deals. My Prime Day experience started out great with a trip to Whole Foods for some sweet in-store bargains. But the savings high didn’t last once I got home and hit the website.  

I’ve been in the market for a new TV for quite some time, and there it was: The perfect TV for me at a price that knocked my socks off. Score! I immediately added it to my cart and tried to check out.

Instead of the familiar payment screen, I met Muffin, an adorable but apologetic Corgi with a message: High volume, please try again later. So I did. And I met Cannoli, and then Waffles, and then Biscuit. Again and again, same issue, different dog. It took over an hour to finally get through and complete my purchase. Lots of shoppers told the same story.

More issues surfaced throughout the day, including a now-infamous Instant Pot that magically emptied any cart it was added to. Social media was abuzz with complaints and snarky jokes. I hadn’t encountered many of the issues myself, but curiosity got the better of me. Sure enough, I could recreate almost every problem reported on social media.

Why Did it Happen?

For a second my mind went to conspiracy theories. Did someone intentionally sabotage Amazon? Were they under attack? But I quickly came back to reality and realized there’s a simple explanation: Amazon was (1) bombarded with traffic, and (2) underprepared.

This is a big blow to Amazon, and we’d bet money that its competitors rejoiced. Amazon rivals like WalMart, Macy’s, and Target were running competing sales, minus the outages and errors. Some even capitalized on the chance to snag frustrated Prime shoppers with pointed marketing, like this email message from Office Depot.

What Can We Learn?

Amazon’s Prime Day fail is a good reminder for all retailers. There are some valuable lessons we can take away from this customer service debacle.

Lesson 1: Be Prepared

This is the biggie, and it comes at a critical time. You may not have a Prime Day for your brand, but the holidays are quickly approaching. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holiday shopping season are high-traffic periods for most online retailers. Now is the time to prepare your site and team.

Lesson 2: Bugs Happen

We all do our best to keep our sites working in prime condition (no pun intended). In a perfect world we’d have zero bugs or issues, but let’s be real. That’s nearly impossible, even for an industry giant like Amazon.

My advice: Do the best you can to prepare for the worst, but accept the fact that there will always be bugs. A huge sale that encounters only a handful of customer issues is a success. If 99% of your customers can find what they want and check out with no issues, you’re on the right track.

Some things will be out of your hands, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a successful sale. When you prepare your site, focus on preventing the most critical problems—outages, checkout failures, and long delays.   

Lesson 3: Communicate

One of the biggest social media complaints was Amazon’s lack of communication. Prime Day kicked off at 3pm ET. Shoppers reported problems almost immediately, yet Amazon didn’t issue a statement until nearly 5pm. In Frustrated Customer time, that may as well be days.

The simple principle here applies to all relationships: spouse/spouse, parent/child, employer/employee, or brand/follower. When something goes wrong, be quick to acknowledge it, apologize, and fix it.

Both Sides of the Coin

Our Gauge Retailer Book Club is taking a closer look at the rise of Amazon and Jeff Bezos. We’re reading and discussing The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. I’m sure this mishap will pop into our conversations; how could it not? In today’s competitive digital marketplace, it’s easy to feel like David taking on industry Goliaths. It’s nice to be reminded that even the giants don’t have it all figured out.

Amazon has had many successes, but it’s also had its failures. We can learn invaluable lessons from both.

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