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Amazon's Prime Day overcomes a long delay to post better sales

The online retailer says independent merchants did great, but it doesn't say much about overall Prime Day sales.

This was the first Prime Day in October, with the sale usually in July.

For a different kind of Prime Day, Amazon decided to offer a different measure of its success.

On Thursday, the e-commerce titan's press release about Prime Day 2020 -- unlike in the four previous years -- didn't headline with how the overall sale went. For example, Prime Day 2019 was such a smashing success that Amazon said it "surpassed the previous Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined."

This year, instead, Amazon said the independent sellers on its platform posted nearly 60% better sales from last year. Since these small and medium-sized sellers account for about 60% of Amazon's total sales, that indicates the company had a strong showing. However, the different statistics make it hard for folks outside the company to rate this Prime Day against others.

The world's largest online retailer has been reporting huge revenue growth this year, as millions of customers have turned to Amazon for deliveries so they can avoid going into stores during the coronavirus pandemic. Prime Day was expected to keep that growth going, with research firm eMarketer predicting Amazon would rake in $9.9 billion during the 48-hour sale, up 43% from a year earlier.

But there were lots of challenges Amazon faced. The sale came in October, just before the holiday shopping season, with Amazon forced to delay the event due to the pandemic. Prime Day was previously held in July. The first day of the sale coincided with Apple's iPhone 12 launch event, which may've stolen attention away from Prime Day. Added to that, a lack of additional stimulus from the federal government is putting a drag on the economy and likely dampening sales for retailers.

Read more: Prime Day 2020: Is that deal really the best deal?

A clear benefit for Amazon this year was that the prevailing storyline about Prime Day was the actual deals. Things haven't always gone this smoothly. For the first two years of Prime Day, the hashtag #PrimeDayFail gained prominence as website glitches and uninspiring products disappointed customers. Prime Day 2018 faced a disastrous start, with Amazon's website and app both crashing for more than an hour. 

Last year, a coordinated multicity protest against Amazon took place, making the sale a platform for activism against the company's ties to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and its treatment of its warehouse workers.

Some of those protests and worker strikes returned this year, but they were far more muted, likely because the coronavirus is dissuading many people from large gatherings.