Prime Day becomes a battleground for critics but Amazon scores big sales regardless

Benjamin Romano, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

SEATTLE -- It was the biggest Prime Day ever – because it always is, and this time it went on for two days. It was also the noisiest, as Amazon's critics and competitors tried to co-opt the retailer's annual summer sale Monday and Tuesday for their own goals.

Amazon did not sit idle, however, countering its critics in real time even as it touted deals on millions of items to its most loyal customers.

The size and success of Amazon and its Prime sale are what create the platform for criticism, said Eric Schiffer of Reputation Management Consultants, which provides crisis communication services to major brands and celebrities.

"The media will follow (Prime Day) like a magnet and then if you add controversy, these groups and advocacy organizations know they'll capture a share of voice," he said.

The drama took the form of the first strike at an Amazon warehouse in the U.S., which Amazon said included only 15 workers, though many more expressed support online and in person; larger work stoppages in Germany; rallies at other company locations, including its Seattle headquarters; and messages of support for strikers from politicians, including presidential candidates such as U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris.

Schiffer said there had been "rumblings" from Amazon critics around past Prime Days – European unions, in particular, have held actions around the sale – but "nothing like this year," which he described as an organized effort to hijack of the event for political purposes.


Amazon, with former Obama administration press secretary Jay Carney as its head of global corporate affairs, had its communications strategy in place. And it looked "far more like a political organization than like a brand," Schiffer said.

"They're aggressive and they're proactive and they don't want to be defined ... Not unlike what you'd see in a presidential campaign," he said.

It's difficult to determine what, if any, impact the strikers, the politicians and the attention paid to them had on sales.

Amazon, as it has after previous Prime Days, touted just how big a sale it was: 175 million items purchased; more sales on July 15 and 16 than during the two capital-letter shopping days of the holiday season, Black Friday and Cyber Monday; $2 billion in sales by small and medium businesses using Amazon's platform to reach customers.


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