What's the future of Amazon Prime Day during a global coronavirus pandemic

A new memo that just leaked from Amazon reportedly explains the current plan to delay it. That could have some significant ripple effects on small businesses.

Last year, Amazon Prime Day accounted for 175 million items sold on Amazon in 18 countries, and sales exceeded "Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined," according to Amazon.

  • It's a key opportunity for independent businesses that sell on Amazon, too. Amazon said last year that globally its platform facilitated $2 billion in small and medium-sized business sales during Prime Day.
  • One of the best examples I've been able to document in some detail is how the company behind the Instant Pot used Prime Day to sell $14.8 million worth of product in a single day.
  • Moreover, according to reports last year, Amazon Prime Day has grown to the point that it has a "halo effect" on other big retailers: perhaps billions more in sales for other vendors outside Amazon that benefit from the annual online shopping habit. 

But now it seems this year will be different. 

According to Amazon notes reviewed by Reuters and other media, the plan for 2020, as a result of the pandemic, is to delay Prime Day from its normal July date "until at least August. 

(This is apparently the same trove of notes that revealed an Amazon executive's plan to cast a fired Amazon worker as "the face of the entire union/organizing movement.")

There's not much choice regarding a Prime Day delay, of course.

If Amazon were to try to run Prime Day as usual, it would almost certainly be doing so during a time of supply chain disruption, restocking restrictions, and potentially an ongoing global pandemic.

However, the second and third order effects of a delay could pile up fast.

The traditional timing of Prime Day, around July 15, is supposed to commemorate the date on which Amazon launched in 1995, but it also provides a boost during "the summer shopping lull." 

Moving it to August or beyond means it could easily bump up against other traditional high volume shopping days and seasons.

A Prime Day closer to Labor Day would mean Amazon's big annual shopping day comes just a few weeks before the traditional back to school shopping season.

Delay it even more than that, and it gets closer to the traditional holiday shopping season.

It's hard to war game this out too deeply of course.

We can't be sure when the Covid-19 crisis will begin to ebb, and we can't be sure what the economy will look like then, or how quickly (if ever) consumers return to pre-pandemic shopping habits.

We also can't be sure whether pent-up demand would mean greater sales, or whether a later Prime Day would cannibalize sales that would already happen otherwise.

I asked Amazon to weigh in on all of this, but the company declined comment.

But if your business sells on Amazon, and you're hoping that Prime Day will help you revitalize sales after the recent crisis, the takeaway is to keep your eyes open, and your options flexible.