business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Amazon found itself in the dog house with a multitude of Americans at the start of its much-ballyhooed Prime Day, including me.

Prime Day has gotten enormous publicity, both in earned and paid media - this year represents Amazon’s fourth Prime Day event, which has gone from generating what then seemed to be an impressive $.9 billion in sales to what is expected to be roughly $3.4 billion in sales this year. There even have been studies suggesting that more than three out of four online shoppers are likely to visit Amazon during its Prime Day promotions this year.

In addition to generating enormous traffic and sales for Amazon, the Prime Day concept also has been begin generating ride-along efforts by the likes of eBay, Target, Kohl's, Macy's and others, which have begun offering their own special promotions to customers who seem to be primed - pun intended - to make purchases in the same way the Black Friday did back in the old days.

And Prime certainly is an enormous engine for Amazon - a recent study by IHL Group suggested that 55 percent of US households are Prime members, and 69 percent of US households with more than $100,000 in annual income.

But none of that matters if the system collapses, or suffers from glitches that impact its ability to deliver on the promises that it has made to its shoppers … especially its Prime shoppers, who spend more on its site with greater regularity, and are the foundation upon which it is building its ecosystem.

I’m one of those shoppers. And that’s what happened.

This week, for the first time, Amazon was able to use its Whole Foods retail stores as a mechanism to drive Prime Day sales even further. Use of an Amazon QR code embedded on the Whole Foods app gives customers access to Prime member-only sales, and a $10 e-coupon that could be used on Amazon during Prime Day hours. Use of an Amazon Visa card gives cardholders the ability to get cash back.

I arrived at my local Whole Foods on Monday afternoon, just as Amazon launched its fourth summer Prime Day – this year a 36-hour event promising “great deals” for those of us who pay $119 a year to be a Prime Member, which gives us, among other things, access to various content services as well as expedited shipping.

This was a first for Whole Foods, which Amazon scooped up for $13.7 billion last year. I eagerly anticipated shopping the Prime specials (including 10% off organic chicken breasts and fresh strawberries) and earning a $10 Prime credit for $10 spent at Whole Foods. I planned to write about the prices, the signage and the event’s mission to convince more shoppers to join Prime.

I had a cart full of groceries when I went to link my Whole Foods app with my Prime account and it all went to the dogs - literally.

Amazon’s site was unable to handle the surge of traffic and crashed. Both mobile and desktop users landed on a default page featuring one of the cute “Dogs of Amazon” and the words “Uh-Oh Something Went Wrong on Our End.”

Users were urged to “try again” and the result was: yep, another dog, this time a cuddly Corgi named Waffles. Followed by yet another well-meaning mutt with the moniker Muffin. And a French Bulldog by the name of Biscuit.

The Twittersphere lit up immediately with comments such as: “#PrimeDay2018 Amazon using cute dogs to control people’s rage when the website won’t work” and “I know we have bigger fish to fry, but can we pause for a second and acknowledge that it's not cool that Amazon makes employee's dogs the face of all technical failures?”

I’d have to agree. I find it astonishing the most powerful e-commerce force in the universe wasn’t prepared to handle Prime Day traffic. This is Amazon, after all, not a start-up or a struggling brick-and-mortar store. I was also surprised there weren’t even more complaints or headlines about such a stumble by a digital Goliath. Patrons and the media were tougher on Target when its website crashed in 2015 during the launch of its Lilly Pulitzer line.

It took Amazon about two hours to issue a rather tepid response on Monday, noting “some customers are experiencing difficulty” but orders were up compared to the first hour last year. That doesn’t mean much to someone who has hit the refresh button 20 times to no avail. Or is about to get to the head of the checkout line, where even the cutest canine won’t scan for your discount.

I think Amazon should have apologized, just as Nordstrom did last week when it encountered checkout issues during its much-awaited Anniversary Sale. The retailer not only said “We’re sorry for the inconvenience” but also offered Nordstrom card members 10 points per dollar on purchases made online or at stores on July 11-12.

I returned to Whole Foods yesterday, functional app in hand, and overheard one customer venting his frustration about all the time he wasted chasing those “great deals.” It will take more than Waffles, Biscuit and Muffin to fully win him back.

Comments? Send me an email at .

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