Prime-al behavior

Amazon held its now-annual Prime day this week. Three years in, it’s safe to assume the tradition isn’t going anywhere soon; Sales were through the roof, and other retailers even started to piggyback their own deals off Amazon’s hype machine.

Other big shopping days are big shopping days because of consumer behavior. Black Friday became Black Friday because it was a weekday most people had off without any holiday obligations. Car dealerships and mattress stores, who both sell things you want to see and test before you buy, know you have some extra time over a three-day weekend, so they run promotions during Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day.

Prime Day is different. Amazon created a big shopping day at a time when people specifically do not typically shop. Now that news outlets pay attention and other retailers circle the day on their own planning calendars, you could say Amazon has created a holiday out of thin air.

So is Amazon controlling our brains?

Maybe a little bit, but not any more than any other retailer.

A store (that isn’t going out of business or trying to liquidate inventory) generally has two reasons to put out a “Sale!” sign: 1) Everyone is shopping and they want to entice people in; or 2) No one is shopping and they want to entice people in. Amazon clearly opted for the latter – and as the world’s foremost digital retailer has a near-limitless variety of things to put on sale

Amazon clearly opted for the latter – and as the world’s foremost digital retailer has a near-limitless variety of things to put on sale to lure people in off the metaphorical street – a near limitless number of people they can reach, to boot.

A more direct comparison might be so-called “Hallmark Holidays.” Some are lame even if well-meaning. (Grandparents’ Day never really took off, did it?) But look at how Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day affect consumer behavior and cultural trends in February, May, and June, respectively. Mother’s Day offers a particularly good example – after a Presidential proclamation made it “official” in 1914,

Mother’s Day offers a particularly good example of how a made-up holiday can take off. Within a decade after a Presidential proclamation made it “official” in 1914, the mother of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, bemoaned the “profiteering” and opportunism around the day.

It’s easy to say the public is duped into spending money on these days. But the genius behind Hallmark holidays and Prime Day isn’t in creating demand, but focusing consumer behavior. Most people want to express their appreciation for Mom, but Mother’s Day gives them a specific day to do it. Amazon knows that people are usually motivated to buy with good deals, they just picked a day.

Amazon knows that people become motivated to buy stuff when they find good deals. They just picked a day. Now everyone is along for the ride.

 

 

 

 

Black Friday/Cyber Monday: Media Holidays

As much as Thanksgiving kicks off the Christmas/Winter Holiday season of family, friends, and good cheer, Black Friday and its partner Cyber Monday have become the official kickoff of the unofficial shopping season that turns all that good cheer into stress, anxiety, and insomnia.

But it’s all bunk, or at least it is now.  You’ve heard of “Hallmark holidays” – invented celebrations that exist only because greeting card companies want to sell more cards and trinkets.  Right now, Cyber Monday and Black Friday are “Media Holidays”: They exist only because constant media attention feeds the perception that these non-events are actually events.

The evolution makes sense: for years, Black Friday was the most optimum day to do Christmas shopping.  The day after Thanksgiving is either an official day off or a vacation day for many workers, and after a day of turkey and relatives, people wanted out of their houses.  Depending on where you get your information from, the moniker comes from either retail sales finally going into the black for the year or Philadelphia shoppers behaving like, well, Philadelphians.

The advent of online shopping meant online shopping during Advent, and thus came Cyber Monday – that first day back at work when office workers would get back to their desks and shop online.  Part of it was procrastination for those still suffering a hangover from the leftovers (or maybe a leftover hangover), but part of it was because in the early days of Amazon, the best internet connection many people had was the one at their work desk.  Often, the T1 they plugged their business computer into was exponentially faster than the dial-up NetZero that their family used for limited connectivity at home.

The reality is that advances in residential broadband, smartphones, and mobile networks have made the concept of Cyber Monday ridiculous, especially given that many retailers’ “Black Friday” sales extended from the Monday before Thanksgiving through the weekend and almost all were available online during that same time frame.  And there’s really no reason to go outside at all if most of the sales are available online – you can do just as much shopping in your pajamas watching Christmas movies on Black Friday as you can bundled and waiting in the black of night for some kid making just over minimum wage to unlock the doors at Target.

What keeps these non-holidays going is the media element. Much like many places of business that aren’t selling things, Thanksgiving weekend is slow for many media outlets.  Black Friday deals and images of shoppers camping out make for ready-made content on every news program, from the local news up to the national networks.  Social news helps too: tweets and status updates that come with the voluntarily miserable experience of shopping at some insane hour with family and friends are fun to read.

Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) provide an interesting yearly phenomenon that fills time on the news – so interesting that both days continue to outlive their original purpose.