A Primer on Amazon’s Prime Day

The retail giant promises deals greater than on those Black Friday.

By Liane Cassavoy

When you think of the best days for shopping—the ones when you’ll get the best deals and discounts—you probably think of Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Amazon is hoping that you’ll think of Prime Day in the same way. Amazon’s second annual shopping extravaganza, which the retailer says will offer low prices on more than 100,000 items, takes place today, Tuesday, July 12.

Who

Prime Day is a "one-day global shopping event exclusively for Prime members." So, yes, you need to be a member of Amazon’s $99-per-year Prime service to take advantage of the deals. I’ve used Amazon Prime for several years, and I recommend it for anyone who buys on Amazon more than casually. The service offers a host of benefits, including free shipping on many Amazon items, access to 1- and 2-hour delivery in some locations, music- and video-streaming services, photo storage, early access to Kindle books, and more.

In case you’re not sure that you want to subscribe, Amazon offers a free 30-day trial that you can activate to take advantage of Prime Day. Just remember to cancel before the trial period is up.

And if you’re an Amazon Echo owner, you can take advantage of Prime deals on that device and get $10 off your first eligible order over $20.

What

Amazon isn’t revealing exactly what items will be on sale, nor is it saying how deep the discounts will be. But popular opinion among retail experts is that Amazon’s own items—Fire tablets, Kindle e-readers, and Echo devices—will be among the products available at the steepest discounts. 4K HDTVs are expected to be offered at low prices, too, along with video games, other TVs, GoPro cameras, and Fitbits.

List $500

Echo

by Amazon
List $200

Tech products and gadgets aren’t the only items that will be on sale; Amazon says it will offer discounts on more than 100,000 items across all of its product categories.

But not all deals are created equal, and you should do your homework before making a purchase. To see if a discount is really a deal, check an item’s typical selling prices, and not just the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for it.

Where

You can shop online at Amazon.com, through your Echo device, or via Amazon’s mobile app. If you use the mobile app, you can create a watchlist, and the app will alert you when the price drops on any of the listed items. Ordering directly from the app or from the site is faster if you set up one-click ordering, which saves your shipping and billing info, and lets you complete purchases with a single click.

Alternatively, you can use a third-party service such as Slickdeals.net to set deal alerts, which will notify you when a certain item is on sale. But deals may go fast, so adding extra steps to the process can decrease your chances of shopping success.

When

Time is of the essence when shopping for Prime Day deals.

Amazon has been rolling out deals in the days leading up to Prime Day, but the biggest savings will appear on Prime Day itself, which began at 3 a.m. Eastern Time/Midnight Pacific today (Tuesday, July 12). Amazon is offering three kinds of deals throughout the day: Prime Day Spotlight Deals, Amazon Lightning Deals, and Prime Savings and Sales.

Spotlight Deals will feature deep discounts on "top brands and popular items," and the offers will last throughout the day until the item is out of stock. Retail experts recommend that you shop early, as inventory can be limited—and Amazon Prime memberships are popular. (The company doesn’t say how many Prime members it has, but researchers estimate that the number is north of 50 million.)

Lightning Deals are promotions that will last only a short time—typically a couple of hours—and involve items in limited inventory. Amazon will post a countdown clock for these offers, and the status bar will show how many items are left. If all of the items are claimed, you’ll be able to join a waiting list for one. Prime Savings and Sales are discounts on other items that you can see when you visit product category pages throughout Amazon’s site.

Why

Amazon launched Prime Day last year to celebrate its 20th anniversary, but the day wasn’t the smashing success the company had hoped for. Instead, many shoppers claimed that too few items were available and that prices weren’t as low as they had hoped. This year, Amazon is promising a better experience for shoppers, and rival retailers are taking note. So don’t restrict yourself to Amazon if you’re deal hunting on Tuesday. Walmart, for one, is offering free shipping on all orders for five days, as well as price "rollbacks" on some items. Expect other retailers to follow suit as Prime Day gets underway.

Photo credit: Amazon