John Lawson of Watching Amazon: Despite Letting the Dogs Out, Prime Day Was A Success for Amazon and SMBs

Amazon Prime Day 2018 started with a whimper,  a dog whimper, due to the site going down causing Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) to post pages with pictures of dogs on them while they tried to get the site back up.  But even with that inauspicious start (and an estimated $99 million of lost business), PD ’18 was still the biggest selling day in Amazon history — estimated at $4.2 billion by Wedbush Securities Inc. analyst Michael Pachter.  And, according to Amazon, small and midsize businesses sold over $1 billion dollars on the platform in the first 24 hours of the company holiday.

A Closer Look at Amazon Prime Day 2018 Results

While those are impressive numbers, my Watching Amazon co-host John Lawson and I dig in a bit deeper on what we thought of the results, and more to the point the lack of results Amazon has provided this time around.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.  To hear the full conversation watch the video below or click on the embedded SoundCloud player.

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John Lawson of Watching Amazon: A Closer Look at Amazon Prime Day 2018 ResultsSmall Business Trends: It’s over, we’ve made it.

John Lawson: Yes, we made it through Prime Day.

Small Business Trends: What was the most memorable part?

John Lawson: Bow wow. The dog days of Amazon.

Small Business Trends: Who let the dogs … Jeff [Bezos] let the dogs out.

John Lawson: He let the dogs out, that was awesome.

Small Business Trends: I’m sure you’ve already noticed this, especially if you were trying to buy something in the first hour. You just couldn’t do it.

John Lawson: It was more than an hour. It was damn near most of the day there was issues.

Small Business Trends: Which makes this even more of an astonishing thing that took place. Even with all the issues, the first estimate I’ve seen-

John Lawson: The first one.

Small Business Trends: … I’m sure we’re going to see more because we’ll never get the actual number from Amazon. So I just picked up this article from Bloomberg. This says that shoppers spent an estimated $4.2 billion during Amazon’s Prime Day, up 33% from a year ago. I’m going to caveat this because we don’t know exactly how much was spent.

John Lawson: Nobody does.

Small Business Trends: And we see all these different estimates. I have no idea how they got 4.2 billion or up 33% to be quite honest.

John Lawson: Yeah, I don’t know what kind of stats they’re quoting, and how they came up with that.

Small Business Trends: So what we can say-

John Lawson: It was bigger.

Small Business Trends: From the Amazon press release, they said it was not only the biggest Amazon Prime Day, it was the biggest sales day in Amazon’s history. They sold over 100 million products over that actually 36 hours period. Small-, mid-sized businesses sold over $1 billion worth of stuff in the first 24 hours. And more than 2 million independent merchants took part in it.

John Lawson: One of the things I thought, the statements coming out of Amazon were kind of interesting the way they worded it, because last year they said, okay, Prime Day was 60% bigger than last year’s. This time they didn’t put out that kind of a number and so it’s impossible to really take 2017 and compare it to 2018 other than they said it’s bigger. But of course it was in 17 countries, right?

Small Business Trends: 17 versus 13.

John Lawson: Right, so it had more countries, it had longer hours. I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to really determine other than, yeah, I’m sure they sold a lot of stuff.

Small Business Trends: Here’s what I’m thinking. It ended 3:00 in the morning on the 17th or 18th, I think it was on the 18th-

John Lawson: 18th, yeah.

Small Business Trends: Within, I think within seven or eight hours they had this press release out with these stats. To me, I’m hoping that was just preliminary,

John Lawson: Could be.

Small Business Trends: … the level of detail in the 2018 release is nowhere near what we got for 2017 or for Holiday season of 2017. I saw nothing in there that talked about how much came through voice shopping. The last one they at least said millions of transactions took place via voice.

John Lawson: Voice, yeah.

Small Business Trends: There was none of that in there. They didn’t give us any of those, “We did 7x more than last year.” We didn’t get any of those details.

John Lawson: Do you think that’s a testament to the dogs? Because somebody let the dogs out. Woof, woof.

Small Business Trends: I’m hoping, seriously, I want to see some …

John Lawson: Hard data. I need hard data.

Small Business Trends: Yeah, I mean, because right now the only thing we’re getting is estimates from folks who really don’t know. And it’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy about it. I want to know, particularly, is voice shopping coming in at a higher increase over what they did last year but also, is it more of a percentage of overall sales this year as opposed to last year. Because that would give me some idea of if this is really taking off or not.

John Lawson: And that’s what they don’t want to give you.

Small Business Trends: They don’t want to give it to you unless it’s really good.

John Lawson: It’s really, really good.

Small Business Trends: Like they didn’t tell us …

John Lawson: What was the number you came up with that they said that the estimated that they lost because of the glitch?

Small Business Trends: It’s 99 million bucks.

John Lawson: 99 million.

Small Business Trends: Which is a pretty small percentage of 4.2 billion.

John Lawson: That’s not that much, I would have to say it’s still higher.

Small Business Trends: I would think so, too.

John Lawson: Here’s what I did. I went to all of my Amazon contact groups. We, as sellers, couldn’t even get into the back-end of the system. So the system was not only down on the front end but the seller central system was also down. And then some people said they were having trouble getting into their AWS accounts.

Small Business Trends: And I would also say Alexa was having issues, too.

John Lawson: Really?

Small Business Trends: I asked Alexa to turn my TV on and Alexa said, “Your TV is not responding.” It wasn’t the TV, it was Alexa.

John Lawson: It had to be pretty substantial.

Small Business Trends: Yes. And even with all that, they still …

John Lawson: They still found nice highlights to pull out of it. But I think maybe the reason why you’re not seeing some of these data points is because of, maybe the outage.

Small Business Trends: As the outage was still a happening, they put out a press release about the small businesses-

John Lawson: Selling.

Small Business Trends: … doing as well as they did. So we got some real-time stats out of them. We just didn’t get a lot of detailed stats out of them. And to me, I’m hoping that maybe later this week they give us the more traditional, “All right, we sold X% or 2x more of these over last year, we did more transactions through voice shopping.” Because I want to know how many dollars, came through the voice shopping, I want to know how many transactions came, I want to know the average per transaction, I want to know because that tells me … I’ve got to write a damn column, okay.

John Lawson: That’s all he wants, you want something to write about.

Small Business Trends: I want something to write about.

John Lawson: Exactly.

Small Business Trends: But seriously, I’m hoping they’ll give us a little bit more to go on because this could be a great story, the stock price at an all-time high, Bezos is worth about 200 billion [jokingly] more than the next person, now. So they’ve got everything going for them. Give us a little something to wet our beaks.

John Lawson: Here’s one of the things I do find important that came out. It said customers’ most popular purchase this Prime Day was the Fire TV Stick. Alexa with voice remote-

Small Business Trends: With voice remote.

John Lawson: … which was not only the best-selling Amazon device but also the best-selling product from any manufacturer in any category across Amazon world-wide globally.

Small Business Trends: So last year that was the Echo Dot that had that.

John Lawson: Which brings me to the point that while the numbers of items sold are important, this holiday is all about Amazon capturing more and more people into their systems.

Small Business Trends: Their attention ecosystem, that’s what I call it.

John Lawson: Their attention, and to get more brand loyalty.

Small Business Trends: Well, the other things that came up, I think they said it was more Ring devices were sold than ever before, more Blink devices were sold, the Cloud Cam was the best-selling security camera, all of these things are Amazon devices.

John Lawson: All Amazon devices and I think, more than anything, all the other sales are really just to help boost this.

Small Business Trends: I say that Echo system thing all the time, so they sold a lot of these devices, they sold more types of Amazon devices than ever before. Then they had all these deals like special 99c for Amazon Unlimited Music for three or four months, the Kindle Unlimited was 60% off, was I think 60% off.

John Lawson: Was that on sale?

Small Business Trends: Yeah.

John Lawson: Darn. I should of got that.

Small Business Trends: So, what did they do? They discounted their hardware, they discounted their services. Ties it all together.

John Lawson: And not only that, if you spent money in the Whole Foods, you got to spend that kind of money, or you got a credit for that online sale. You know what, now that I just brought that in there, too. What was going on in Whole Foods? To me, maybe the 3.4, or the 4.2, that could happen if you put all of the things that might have happened offline.

Speaking of offline, Target-

Small Business Trends: They had a good day.

John Lawson: … at the same time said they had the best sales day of the year online on So good on Target for jumping in there.

Small Business Trends: And then Walmart announced the big deal with Microsoft. So we’re seeing how Prime Day is basically lifting all boats at this point.

John Lawson: Pretty much, or everybody’s really trying to get their announcements out at the same time.

Small Business Trends: The one thing, I didn’t see this mentioned anywhere, Amazon Prime sign-ups.

John Lawson: The number of sign-ups.

Small Business Trends: Yeah, they didn’t mention that because last year they said they had the most sign-ups on any day in their history on last year’s Prime Day. Nothing about that and to me that’s — especially after what happened with Netflix, they’re missing their subscription numbers — that’s a big target.

John Lawson: Yeah, I guess. It is, right now, one in every five households have a membership, right, 20%.

Small Business Trends: What we do know is it’s not just about being a Prime member, Prime members who own these devices spend even more money than just Prime members. So for Amazon, it’s all about stacking these devices and putting these services in, they keep folks’ attention all wrapped-up in the attention ecosystem. Because that’s how they convert it. Attention to transactions. So that subscription number for Prime is an important thing.

John Lawson: It’s huge.

Small Business Trends: If it didn’t grow as expected.

John Lawson: But that’s why they put out the number for and say about Fire Stick TV, I mean you’re going to join if you’ve got the Stick. You’ve got to keep that Prime going on.

Small Business Trends: But that just means folks who do have Prime-

John Lawson: Maybe.

Small Business Trends: … got one Stick.

John Lawson: Possibly.

Small Business Trends: Why would you buy a lot of that if you weren’t a Prime member on that day? Because you aren’t getting a discount if you’re not a Prime member.

John Lawson: True, because most of the discounts come from Prime members, so, yeah, you’re right. I think it was a good day, overall. It was a great day, overall.

Small Business Trends: I need more. I need more.

John Lawson: I know, me too, but it was a great day overall even with all of the dog days.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.