How US Retailers Fought Back — and Captured Traffic — on Amazon Prime Day 2017

August 01, 2017

Note: This post originally appeared on MediaPost.

While Amazon is counting its money from its third annual Amazon Prime Day — the e-commerce giant’s midsummer event generated an estimated $1 billion in sales, its biggest single day ever — other U.S. retailers didn’t simply watch from the sidelines. Some counter-attacked, and built momentum that will carry forward into the critical holiday shopping season.

Signal’s site tracking data shows that retailers experienced an average 13% lift in traffic on Prime Day 2017 versus the same days/hours over the prior two weeks, with a peak boost happening around 9 pm on July 11, as the 30-hour sale neared its end. Retailers that heavily promoted their own specials fared even better than these averages.

Although only the retailers themselves can say whether these bumps in site traffic translated to incremental sales and profits, these figures definitely reveal that shoppers are not looking exclusively to Amazon for online deals. Some are visiting rival sites to compare prices and check out product ratings and reviews. Shoppers are still turning to their favorite physical stores as well. Among the highlights:

  • Best Buy promoted “Big Deals Day: Huge Savings for Everyone,” countering Amazon bargains that required Prime membership (and in some cases voice ordering via devices powered by Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant). Since 70% of Americans live within 15 minutes of a Best Buy store, the home electronics retailer leveraged its physical locations by promoting items that people want to size up in person, such as major appliances and Ultra HD 4K TVs. Best Buy also capitalized on the smart home trend, where it aims to excel with installation and troubleshooting services, by promoting Alexa rival Google Home.
  • Apparel chain Express declared an “Express Day” with 40% off everything and free shipping.
  • Kohl’s offered an extra 30% off on a variety of items for 30 hours straight. Like Best Buy, the department store leveraged its brick-and-mortar locations for store pick-ups, appealing to people who don’t want to wait for goods to be shipped.
  • Macy’s ran “Black Friday in July” specials on and after Prime Day, through July 17. The department store also offered free shipping with no minimum purchase through midnight of Prime Tuesday, with a countdown clock running at the top of its web page.
  • JCPenney ran a “Cyber in July” sale via coupon code that offered an extra 30% off select items through July 16.
  • Footwear retailer DSW emailed customers announcing 30% off in stores and online, declaring “Now that’s a prime deal.”

Our best advice to retailers — for both Prime Day and the holiday season ahead — is to take advantage of traffic peaks to scale your customer email database. To turn new, unrecognized visitors immediately into identified customers, you have to offer a strong value exchange. For example, highlight special features only available to registered users, like access to an interactive “Find the perfect product for you” tool, an entry into an instant-win contest, a sign-up bonus, the ability to save and distribute a wish list, and (longer-term) earning loyalty rewards. Once you have their identity, you can directly address these first-time shoppers with a nurturing stream of one-to-one communications, to convert more of them to returning customers.

Which, admittedly, is taking another page out of Amazon’s playbook. The point of Prime Day, after all, is to get more people to sign up for the Prime service, one of the most successful loyalty programs ever (not to mention one of the most lucrative: Prime subscribers spend roughly twice as much annually on Amazon as non-subscribers, according to recent estimates).

But as many of the aforementioned retailers are proving, it’s a complicated world and there’s still room for specialists who appeal to specific lifestyle groups (like the achievement-oriented, spirited 20- to 30-year-olds that Express targets) and product types (like Best Buy’s focus on complex technology that consumers need help understanding). Maybe only Amazon has the power and influence to create new shopping holidays out of thin air, but it’s not the only retailer capable of creating a shopping experience that keeps customers coming back.

Kathy Menis

Kathy is an expert in technology marketing, with 20 years of experience creating and leading strategic, results-driven marketing programs. As SVP of Marketing at Signal, she oversees all marketing initiatives, including the company’s brand, product marketing, and go-to-market strategy.