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Why Amazon Prime Day Is a Huge Missed Opportunity

Commentary: Instead of a sale on stuff Amazon wants to unload, Prime Day could be a personalized gift-idea lollapalooza.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
3 min read
Amazon box with Prime Day tape

Few companies have marketed a sale as well as Amazon has with Prime Day. The online retail giant has managed to whip up its own two-day-long, Black Friday-like holiday, raking in the cash, garnering tons of free press coverage and even inspiring other retailers to imitate it.

My World War II Marine dad, raised during the Depression and never once sucked in by Madison Avenue, would never have gotten on board with Prime Day. He was bemused by any form of shopping excitement and never failed to see a line of shoppers waiting at a store without cracking, "Are they givin' the stuff away?" 

Watch this: Amazon Prime Day 2023 Tips: Invite-Only Deals and More

He couldn't understand people getting up early to shop Black Friday, or me writing an article about Prime Day, any more than he could have comprehended why the Kardashians were famous. (I am happily confident he lived his full 93.5 years without ever hearing that clan's name.)

I don't have a problem with a shopping site creating hype to get people to shop. I've indulged in some retail therapy myself over the years and leaned heavily on Amazon, especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But I've inherited a bit of Dad's skepticism, and what stands out to me about Prime Day is how antiseptic it is.

Prime Day deals are dull 

According to Amazon's own Prime Day history site, its bestselling products are things like car-wash products, dog food and Levi's. What's fun about that? That's not holiday-worthy products, it's my mom's shopping list from 1977.

Electronics and Amazon's own devices are also always big sellers. And while those may be useful, they're not exactly novel. There's for sure a group of techies out there just waiting to upgrade their phone, headphones, laptop or tablet, and this might be their shopping dream. That's fine. It's just not mine.

When Prime Day first launched, I thought it might be something akin to those gift guides every magazine used to do back in the day when print magazines ruled the newsstand. Whatever you think of Oprah Winfrey, she nailed the concept with her annual Oprah's Favorite Things roundup.

Aprons your kids can design themselves. Wine chiller cradles. Stuffed animals you heat up in the microwave for bedtime comfort. Outdoor movie projectors. These items catch my attention, even if, for some of them, I look at the price tag, bark out a oh-yeah-Oprah's-a-billionaire laugh, and then move on. They're at least imaginative and fun, which is what I look for when I'm shopping.

Which is maybe a "me" problem. I'm wishing that Prime Day was personalized gift idea inspiration, when really it's just sales on stuff that Amazon wants to unload. 

Prime Day, I guess, is mostly aimed at gifting mass-produced things to yourself, not buying the kind of idiosyncratic and offbeat gifts that I want to give to my nearest and dearest. In my Chrome browser, I keep a "gifts" folder of websites that I bookmark as I see interesting items throughout the year. 

Etsy sellers who carve your mom's handwritten recipe onto a cutting board, in Mom's own distinct handwriting. Custom Lego minifigs you can personalize to look like your best friend. Shirts and mugs from the beloved hometown department store where you and your sister whiled away so many goofy hours. (RIP, Dayton's.)

Amazon and other mega-corporations already maintain all kinds of information about our shopping habits. It seems likely they could utilize AI and their massive databases and recommend more personal, entertaining purchases for all of us -- with big discounts, please.

Passing on Prime Day

We just turned a basement storage room into an extra bedroom, and all the stuff we used to store there now has to find a new home. I've been driving around my city donating books to Little Free Libraries, creating clothing donation bags for Goodwill, calling animal shelters to see if they'll take old cat carriers or extra blankets. 

The storage-room clean-out has slapped me right in the face with how much stuff we already have, stuff that was just sitting on a shelf, mostly unused. I never watched Marie Kondo's show, but I can really relate to her "thank it for its service, then get rid of it" mentality.

Even the custom Lego minifigs and kid-designed aprons will end up on the recycling pile some day. So while I won't begrudge any Prime Day fanatics their shopping sprees, I won't be joining them. The allure escapes me. Kinda like the appeal of the Kardashians.