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Amazon.com suffers outages at start of Prime Day 2018

At least the 404 pages have cute dogs on them.

Screenshot by Joan Solsman/CNET

All eyes in retail are on Amazon this Monday, and not just for good reasons.

The world's largest e-commerce company kicked off its annual Prime Day sale today with a series of glitches that plagued its site and mobile app for over an hour in the US, based on visits from CNET staff and a host of reports on social media. Outage reports spiked around noon PT, according to DownDetector.com, just as Amazon Prime Day officially started. Amazon.com in the US appeared to be hit the hardest. Lesser issues were reported in parts of Canada, Mexico and Europe.

Now playing: Watch this: Prime Day 2018 and the 404 dogs of Amazon

As of 1 p.m. PT, a full hour into the sale, there appeared to be a handful of errors on the site. The homepage was generally available, but errors were coming up at checkout, items in shopping carts were disappearing, mobile alerts were delayed, products searches were sometimes offering no results, and some shoppers were caught in a "Shop All Deals" loop. Soon after, it appeared the site was beginning to recover, with the main Prime Day homepage becoming available.

Roughly two hours after the outage began, Amazon acknowledged the ongoing problems in short statement: "Some customers are having difficulty shopping, and we're working to resolve this issue quickly." It added that US customers ordered more items in the first hour of Prime Day than last year, despite the outages. Amazon didn't offer an explanation for what was causing the issues. 

Monday's problems weren't the first time that Amazon experienced a notable website error during Prime Day. In 2016, a computer glitch prevented people from checking out their purchases online in the early hours of the sale.

When asked about the site running properly during the increased demand, Jamil Ghani, vice president of Prime international, earlier this month told CNET: "We feel prepared for what's to come."

The problems could be due to an early rush of web traffic, though for now that's uncertain.

Amazon is used to surges of consumer traffic following over 20 years operating its website during the height of holiday shopping. The company is also a leader in operating server farms and cloud computing, thanks to its highly lucrative Amazon Web Services business. AWS runs Amazon's sites and appeared to be working normally Monday, according to its online status page.

However, Prime Day offers significant challenges for even Amazon, since the sale is consolidated to a short period of time -- not a whole shopping season -- kicks off at a set period across the globe and is focused on just one retailer. Amazon also added four new countries to Prime Day this year: Australia, Singapore, Netherlands and Luxembourg.

That scenario invites a big wave of shoppers to arrive at Amazon right at the beginning of the sale, which could temporarily overwhelm its capacity. Additionally, Prime Day offers its own set of over 1 million deals globally and a customized homepage, adding to the complexity of operating the sale.

"We've seen this sort of thing happen on Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the past with other retailers," said eMarketer retail analyst Andrew Lipsman. "In many ways, it's a double edged sword. On the one hand, you don't want to erode consumer trust by having an outage. On the other side, it's often a reflection of higher-than-expected demand."

He added that consumer shopping tends to recover if an outage is fixed fairly quickly.

Because Prime Day is going on for 36 hours this year -- up from 30 hours last year -- Amazon has an opportunity to come back from the weak start. But, the problems may make it harder for the company to break its single-day sales record, which it managed to do for the past two Prime Day sales.

Amazon last year said Prime Day sales grew by 60 percent from the year earlier and that more new members joined Prime than on any other day in Amazon history. Overall, Prime Day raked in an estimated $2.5 billion to $2.9 billion in global sales, including sales from third-party vendors, financial firm Cowen said last year.

First published at 12:19 p.m. PT.
Updated at 2:21 p.m. PT: Adds more background throughout and updates the site's performance, as well as an official statement from Amazon.

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