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Amazon's Prime Day breaks single-day sales record

The July sales event, in its second year, proves a big hit. Take that, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Amazon Prime continues to grow in the US, keeping this company fulfillment center in New Jersey busy.
Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

On an otherwise typical Tuesday in July, Amazon pulled off the biggest single day of sales in its more than 20 years of doing business, outdoing all previous Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

The company said Wednesday that customer orders for its second annual Prime Day sale outpaced last year's inaugural Prime Day by more than 60 percent worldwide and 50 percent in the US. The event, a sales holiday Amazon made up last year, was also the biggest day ever for Amazon device sales globally.

The company's announcement didn't offer specific comparisons to Cyber Monday or Black Friday sales, which kick off the year-end holiday spending blitz, but a spokesperson confirmed that the latest Prime Day surpassed all prior single-day sales for Amazon. Prime Day last year outpaced Black Friday sales, but Cyber Monday historically has remained Amazon's biggest sales day of the year.

"After yesterday's results, we'll definitely be doing this again," Greg Greeley, vice president of Amazon Prime worldwide, said in a statement.

It speaks volumes about Amazon's influence and reach in the retail world that the company could get people spending on a summer day when they're not usually conditioned to look for sales. Also, Prime Day becoming the company's biggest sales day yet shows how powerful Prime membership is for the company, since the sale was only available for people who are part of the loyalty program. Amazon likely benefited from Prime membership jumping 51 percent last year, providing a bigger base of customers for the sale. There are an estimated 57 million to 61 million Prime subscribers in the US, according to Piper Jaffray, who pay $99 annually for unlimited shipping and other perks.

Amazon, the world's largest e-commerce company by revenue, set expectations high for its second Prime Day. It said it would have more discounts worldwide than any other prior Amazon sale yet and invited far more third-party retailers to take part in the event. Amazon representatives also said they learned from criticisms of last year's sale by adding more inventory to high-demand items and making the Prime Day webpage easier to navigate.

Trouble in Prime-adise?

There were still hiccups along the way, with customers complaining during the early rush to grab sales Tuesday morning that they couldn't add items to their carts to purchase. Amazon responded a few hours later with this statement: "The issue that some customers had this morning, adding certain Lightning Deals to their cart, has been resolved."

Additionally, the hashtag #PrimeDayFail, in which customers vented about problems with the sales event, returned this year after marring the first Prime Day.

Midday Tuesday, doubts were raised about whether this year's Prime Day would be a success. ChannelAdvisor, which provides tools for third-party sellers on Amazon, said US sales from its customers were flat compared with the first Prime Day.

The sale, though, did better than expected. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said the 60 percent rise in sales easily beat his prediction of a 37 percent increase from last year, with an estimated 54.4 million total unit sales worldwide.

"Prime Day is now solidified as an annual shopping holiday," he said in a note Wednesday.

As with prior Amazon sales days, the company released a handful of big sales numbers, saying it customers bought more than 90,000 TVs worldwide. In the US, Amazon sold over 200,000 headphones, 23,000 Roomba vacuum cleaners and 215,000 Instant Pot 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cookers.

Unlike last year, Amazon didn't reference how many new people signed up for Prime on Prime Day. For the first Prime Day, the company said it signed up more new members than any single day in Amazon history.

A study on online consumer sentiment from Adobe Digital Insights, which tracked over 4 million social engagements, showed customers were much happier with this year's Prime Day. The analysis found that 39 percent of overall sentiment on Prime Day related to sadness, down from 50 percent last year. Folks expressed joy 30 percent of the time, up from 23 percent during the first Prime Day.

Adobe said the main contributor to sadness involved people having issues adding items to their cart and checking out, while last year people complained most about the lack of blockbuster deals.

Other retailers sought to take advantage of the Prime Day buzz by kicking off discounts of their own. Walmart, which is offering free shipping with no minimum purchase through Friday on Walmart.com, played up the point that it's offering deals to all customers, not just loyalty program members. Still, the retailer declined to provide specifics on how it stacked up Tuesday.

"I can tell you millions of customers have been saving all month long on Walmart.com," a Walmart representative said in an email. "Yesterday was no exception."