Amazon Prime Day might represent Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his team’s greatest retail triumph. Thanks to them, with Prime Day, we now have a midsummer, two-day Cyber Monday that’s generating billions of dollars. The fact that Target, Nordstrom, Walmart, eBay and around 250 other retailers this week mimicked the e-commerce giant with their own sales events speaks volumes about the impact Amazon has on merchandising.
More importantly, Amazon is advancing the notion of what "the big sales event" means. For decades, we’ve seen mass advertising for not only Cyber Monday and Black Friday but also retailers touting "Christmas in July" and car brands pitching "a December to remember." This year, Amazon—which has offered recommendations to site visitors for a few years—continued its march toward more individualization by prioritizing relevancy at a higher level than before for Prime Day. Even for a flash sale, blanketing consumers with ads is fading away as the customer experience must now always be individualized.
After reviewing my offers and polling family members and friends about theirs, Amazon made Prime Day more personal than in years past. If you recently searched Amazon for golf clubs, your Prime Day deal included a discounted set of irons. If you had searched for makeup, you were served lipstick and eyeliner kits. If you had searched for a mattress, Amazon tried to take a bite out of Serta, Casper and Helix’s sales by making you a cushy offer.
Indeed, across marketing and advertising channels, Prime Day was the latest signal that individualization is now a customer experience initiative for every single occasion. Here are three more takeaways from the digital sales bonanza.
Maximize first-party data
The individualization of "flash sale" events highlights how important first-party data has become for brands. Amazon likely gained millions of new Prime customers in just two days, and their patronage will not only bring their purchase data to the platform but also, eventually, their Amazon search data. And through machine learning, the company will take such data and make more relevant and timely offers to customers.
To best leverage this first-party data, Amazon—as well as any retailer, financial brand, travel brand and publisher—should always let customers choose how and when they want to be contacted. In its preference center, Amazon provides 83 product categories that subscribers can individually select to curate the offers they get in their emails. Its mobile app on Prime Day let users opt-in to receive specific push notifications for when a desired 'lightning deal' went live as well.
Amazon could take these efforts steps further, though, and likely will. A granular preference center that lets customers dictate whether they’d like to get messages via email, text or push notification, should soon be table stakes for big retailers. Before long, customers should be able to decide if they’d prefer to hear from the brand in the morning, afternoon or evening.
Embrace ‘Wholelistic’ customer journey
Amazon used its grocery brand, Whole Foods, in about every way imaginable for Prime Day. It began marketing Whole Foods specials for Prime Day several days in advance while also offering $10 Prime Day credits for anyone who spent $10 or more in one of the grocery stores.
Amazon could do more with its grocery chain. Whole Foods was reportedly going to be a drop-off point for Amazon orders in 2017, but that situation has yet to manifest. Though Amazon has partnered with Nordstrom and Rite Aid to offer a convenient offline returns option. Given Amazon’s focus on combining the online and offline shopping experience, it seems likely that that option with Whole Foods will be available in the not-so-distant future to make the customer journey more holistic. Digital communications will be at the heart of that experience, as messages about order returns and refunds getting processed will be as valuable as ever.
At the same time, the company clearly understands that keeping customers in the know empowers their path to purchase. Amazon for Prime Day offered an elaborate set of options for getting web and mobile notifications about what the brand calls Lightning Deals, which were only available for a brief amount of time earlier this week.
Why Apple should copy Amazon
Amazon Prime Day this week was projected to bring in a whopping $5.8 billion, which compares very favorably to Cyber Monday ($8 billion) as a whole. And many of those sales surely came by way of individualized offers based on first-party data and Amazon’s ability to deliver a seamless online-offline experience with Whole Foods.
Are there other brands that could have a similar impact as Amazon? One of them is Apple, which could iterate on the concept while staying true to its brand. Why doesn’t Apple parlay its annual, buzzy September reveals for the new iPhones, Apple Watches and iPads with a follow-up event centered on the for-sale release of the actual products? It wouldn’t have to slash prices; it could add value with perhaps live entertainment on Apple’s media channels and offer other perks to buying an Apple product that day. Apple should take a page out of Amazon’s playbook, which included partnering with mega pop star Taylor Swift this year. What’s more, Apple’s 1:1 messaging could be powered by first-party data to create a halo effect in conjunction with the splashy event.
What Amazon proves is that if you have the brand, the hoopla works. It’s why the digital giant could take the traditional sales-event concept and turn it into a midsummer extravaganza that had 250 other retailers trying to keep pace.
Mike Stone is SVP of marketing at Airship, a customer engagement company.