Retail

Amazon Launches Prime Day; Walmart Counters

Amazon Prime Day on smartphone

In addition to their joint desire to dominate the whole U.S. paycheck, Amazon and Walmart are trying to dominate October. Several credible sources reported on Tuesday (Sept. 22) that the long-postponed Prime Day will be now be held Oct. 13-14. Walmart countered with an announcement that it will focus on toys and other gift categories as the retail industry prepares for an early start to the holiday season.

First, Amazon. Many of the sources have quoted an internal Amazon email that sets the date. Amazon normally holds its big Prime Day of special sales in July, but has been postponing this year’s date since the pandemic began, saying only that it would happen in Q4.

The Oct. 13-14 date isn’t a complete surprise. But seen in the context of Amazon’s previously announced plans to hold Black Friday sales every Friday beginning Oct. 26 and running through Thanksgiving weekend, the company now has at least two major sales events in October.

That will also be the month that Walmart, eBay and Target have committed to starting early holiday shopping sales to prevent crowds in stores during Thanksgiving weekend, and to get a head start on moving inventory during the all-important Q4.

The company has not officially confirmed or denied the date. In a separate internal email obtained by The Verge, Amazon warehouse workers were told “no new vacation requests would be accepted between October 13th and October 20th, which suggests that the company needs all hands on deck for Prime Day.”

“The second week of October makes a lot of sense for Amazon,” says TechRadar. “It has waited long enough to see shipment times improve on non-essential items across most regions, but not so long that it’ll compete with its own early Black Friday 2020 deals. Essentially, Amazon is starting the Black Friday deals season incredibly early and will get a jumpstart on its rivals. Expect a lot of Prime Day deals counterprogramming from the likes of Walmart in the US, which just launched Walmart Plus to compete with Amazon Prime.”

It makes a lot of sense for Amazon also because the Oct. 13 date doesn’t cannibalize the company’s own Thanksgiving-to-Christmas business. When Prime Day was in the spring it was not an issue, but now that Amazon has set Black Friday dates as well as Prime Day, it has done a masterful job in owning the calendar.

Counter-programming, as TechRadar points out, is likely to start showing itself over the next few days. It started Wednesday (Sept. 23) with Walmart’s announcement that it will hire more than 20,000 people for its eCommerce fulfillment centers during the holiday period. The retailer also announced that in preparation for the October start to the season, it will increase its inventory of holiday gifts to address the “new normal,” according to the company. Those product lines will  include athleisure, loungewear and sleepwear, outdoor grills, bicycles and exercise equipment and outdoor sporting equipment. The company will also make a concerted push to increase its toy business, promising more than 800 exclusive products.

“Over the past six months, our customers have been shopping differently, and we expect that will continue into the most important shopping season of the year — the holidays,” said Scott McCall, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, Walmart U.S. “We’ve heard from our customers that many plan on starting their holiday shopping well before Black Friday, and that they’re looking for gifts that fit their current lifestyle. So, we’ve adjusted our strategy to adapt to these new shopping preferences — we’re offering more of what they want now, earlier than ever, and all at the best prices.”

Counter-programming will undoubtedly continue from Target and other big box retailers like Home Depot and Costco. This year, those counter-programmers will have some new company. Supermarkets like Kroger have a reason to compete with Amazon as it continues to make inroads into the grocery business. Kroger has also partnered with marketplace technology provider Mirakl, and has expressed interest in working it into its standard sales and marketing processes.

“Obstacles” are usually not in the same sentence as “Amazon.” But this Prime Day is as close to a risk as the company is used to taking. The pandemic, which boosted eCommerce and by extension Amazon, is hardly over. But some experts doubt that Prime Day can command the kind of disposable income it has taken in past years, especially with the consumer economy just starting to come back from the economic shutdown of March and April.

“It’s unclear whether people have an appetite for non-essential items and expendable purchases right now,” said CNBC. “People are tightening their belts, unemployment is at record levels, there is a lot of economic uncertainty, and the United States is clearly not out of the worst of the pandemic yet.”

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