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Email Scale and Sophistication Key Drivers of Amazon’s Prime Day Success

Article by John Landsman

2018 Amazon Prime Day Recap

Accounts vary, but whatever you hear about Amazon’s recent members-only Prime Day event, the one certainty is that it has become a worldwide retail phenomenon generating huge buyer interest and industry attention.

Yes, there were the usual glitches:  Amazon’s website crashed early-on (quickly fixed).  Many deals weren’t all that impressive.  The impressive deals sold out too soon.  But, per Fortune Magazine (7/18/18): “Amazon says this year’s Prime Day was ‘the biggest global shopping event in Amazon history.’ …. Sales … surpassed Cyber Monday, Black Friday and 2017’s Prime Day (which itself improved upon the 2016 event by 60%).”

A key driver of Prime Day was Amazon’s massive and sophisticated email program:  1.9 billion related emails sent during the period, and almost 1,000 campaigns.  Amazon announced on July 3rd that its 2018 Prime Day would start at 3 PM on July 16th, and run through July 17th.  That announcement included a series of high-volume campaigns, most with the subject line, “Prime Day is coming on July 16. Woohoo!”  The largest such U.S. campaign went to 66 million customers, driving a 17.7% read rate.  The campaign to India had an audience of over 200 million, with a 6.2% read rate. Similar campaigns deployed to proportionally large audiences in other countries.  By Amazon standards, read rates were not uniformly strong for these initial announcements (5-25%), but their reach was extensive, considering the audience sizes.

The table below summarizes Amazon’s overall related 2018 Prime Day activity, compared to 2017’s.

  • This year’s event began six days earlier than last year’s, and was announced with 14 days of lead-time, versus 12 days last year.
  • Amazon deployed more than five times as many Prime Day-related email campaigns as last year, but those reflect only twice as many actual emails deployed.
  • That disproportionality is explained by this year’s much lower average campaign send size, and especially by this year’s much larger share of send sizes directing offers for specific merchandise items to the smallest, most targeted audiences.
  • Related read rates underperformed last year’s, reflecting a widespread pattern not unique to Prime Day.

Amazon Prime day Email Rates

The table below shows examples high performing and other significant Amazon Prime Day related emails, sorted by date.   Note especially:

  • Prime Day discounting was selectively available long before Prime Day itself.
  • This discounting stayed in effect for several days after Prime Day. The last five examples below all deployed after Prime Day, four of them with ‘last chance” or “last call” urgency, and one of those only available through Alexa.
  • The table shows three examples of subject lines fronting tightly targeted messages to small audiences, and driving read rates of 38-55%. These messages feature very specific merchandise items or categories.  Amazon deployed more than 500 of these kinds of messages throughout the Prime Day promotion period.  Over 60% of them produced read rates exceeding 20%.
Date Subject Quantity Read %
10-Jul Come back for Amazon Prime Day 127K 39.50%
10-Jul Save $100 on Echo Show, available now through Prime Day 629K 30.80%
12-Jul Double the deals on Amazon Devices for Prime Day 6.7M 27.30%
13-Jul [REDACTED] 18 Inch Doll Furniture Desk and Chair Set... and other top Prime Day Deals happening today 17K 54.60%
14-Jul Only 3 days until Prime Day! 12.6M 23.80%
14-Jul Savvy Savers: 20% off Prime Day starts now 28K 22.20%
15-Jul [REDACTED] Mio Marino Beach Flip Flops For Men -... and other top Prime Day Deals happening today 25K 37.50%
16-Jul It's Prime Day! 2.2M 28.80%
17-Jul [REDACTED] Aingoo Kitchen Chairs Set of 4 Dining... and other top Prime Day Deals happening today 17K 45.50%
17-Jul Prime Day ends midnight tonight. Don't miss out! 2.0M 24.20%
18-Jul You've Got $10 Just for Prime Day 1.4M 47.50%
18-Jul Last chance. Have you shopped Prime Day yet? 40.7M 16.50%
18-Jul Ends TODAY: Prime Day Exclusive Offer 1.2M 28.20%
19-Jul Last call for last chance Prime Day deals 1.1M 14.80%
19-Jul Last chance Prime Day deals, only with Alexa 4.8M 25.10%

And what of Amazon’s competition?  How did they handle Prime Day?   The event is hard to ignore, but Amazon holds the advantage.  Their Prime Day start-date is closely-guarded, leaving competitors waiting — hopefully prepped — to push the “go-button” on their own event(s), with very little lead time.  The table below shows how seven major multi-channel retail brands responded with email campaigns that deployed in immediate proximity to Prime Day. More than 50% of each brand’s email audience overlaps with Amazon’s. All except Staples and Kohl’s ran somewhat themed events around Prime Day:

  • Macy’s: “Black Friday in July”
  • Best Buy: “Big Deals Days”
  • JC Penney: “Cyber in July”
  • Walmart: “Ultimate Summer Specials”
  • Target: “One Day Sale”
  • Macy’s actually ran and apparently ended its countervailing event before Prime Day began.
  • Staples used the Prime Day time-window to push major back-to-school campaigns.
  • Kohl’s ran several promotional campaigns, each featuring a broad merchandise category.
Date Brand % Audience Overlap with Amazon Subject Quantity Read %
15-Jul Macy's 56% Ends tonight! Black Friday in July (& extra 25% off). 29.6M 14.20%
15-Jul Staples 52% How low can these back to school prices go? 7.9M 12.10%
15-Jul Kohl's 57% Save $10 on home essentials for every room. 23.5M 11.20%
16-Jul Best Buy 56% Big Deals Days STARTS NOW. Deals so big it takes two days to handle them all. 43.2M 10.60%
16-Jul JC Penney 58% It's on(line): CYBER IN JULY: Extra 30% off 8.2M 13.20%
17-Jul Walmart 51% Ultimate Summer Specials: [REDACTED] while [REDACTED] last 45.9M 12.10%
17-Jul Target 56% One-Day Sale. Amazing deals here today only. 44.8M 12.70%

They all tried, but even their best read rates only came within seven percentage points of Amazon’s overall Prime Day average.  Thus is it ever.