Amazon Prime Day 2018: The Day We Warned About and the Day Amazon Went to the Dogs

On July 16, 2018 Amazon customers across the nation were looking forward to Amazon Prime Day specials. Other than Black Friday, there is no other day of the year that Amazon offers the kind of deals that Amazon offers to its Prime members during the annual Prime Day event. Last month we had discussed the caution Amazon should take to ensure there were no problems with overloaded servers or website downtime. Unfortunately, when Prime Day commenced, numerous customers saw Amazon’s dog pages (pages of pictures with actual employee dogs indicating there is a problem with the website). Could this have been avoided? Yes. Where did Amazon go wrong? How were customers affected by this website downtime? The answers to these questions are below.

Prime Day Commences

On July 16 of 2018 Amazon’s 2018 Prime day commenced at approximately 3PM EST. At that very same time, Amazon’s website began to crash and literally went to the dogs.  When customers tried to access the highly anticipated Prime Day deals, most were directed to pages with pictures of dogs (dogs that belong to Amazon employees) with messages like “Uh Oh. Something went wrong on our end. Please go back and try again or go to Amazon’s home page.” These messages continued for many hours, with customers becoming increasingly frustrated with the Amazon website and the seeming lack of concern for its customers as the day went on.

Amazon did reach out via social media, including Facebook and Twitter, which is exactly what we here at Alertra suggest you do when your website runs into issues with website or server downtime. By posting information about the issues and keeping your website visitors in the loop about what is wrong with your site and what you are doing to fix it as well as when it is expected to be up and running, you offer a level of transparency that consumers appreciate and you also ensure that visitors to your site know you do indeed know about the issues and are attempting to fix them. There is, however, a wrong way to go about posting such messages via social media and it appears that Amazon took one of the not-so-brilliant roads when addressing customers via the social media platforms.

Amazon Customers Become Irritated and Even Enraged

The message Amazon posted stated, ““Some customers are having difficulty shopping, and we’re working to resolve this issue quickly. Many are shopping successfully – in the first hour of Prime Day in the U.S., customers have ordered more items compared to the first hour last year. There are hundreds of thousands of deals to come and more than 34 hours to shop Prime Day.”

Unfortunately, due to the way the message was worded, some customers became quite furious. Many customers were having difficulty, not just a select few. Amazon didn’t narrow it down to who was affected, but the social media buzz indicated that it was a nation-wide problem and not isolated to a single location. There was no word why the site was experiencing issues and no time frame given as to when the issues would be resolved. Furthermore, instead of addressing the fact that customers couldn’t even access the deals, the statement touted about the hundreds of thousands of deals that were yet to come and noted that there were 34 hours of shopping on Prime Day 2018. The problem is that some deals were time sensitive or had limited quantities. Because of this, many customers were out of luck in addition to being in the dark about the website issues. Furthermore, there was no statement that the issues would be resolved before the 34 hours were up. Customers fled to social media sites to vent their frustration and anger.

By looking at the social media sites it was evident that Amazon was losing face with many of its customers, but it just simply didn’t seem to care since sales were still flying in at a rate higher than the year before. Some customers felt that Amazon didn’t care that they couldn’t access the site as long as sales were steadily coming in from other customers who could access the site. Many customers replied to Amazon’s statement, saying they didn’t care about how many sales Amazon was making compared to the year before. They wanted to know when they would be able to get in on the deals. Here are some examples of what was being said on Twitter…

Andy Pierson stated, “Hey @amazon try unplugging your servers and waiting 10 seconds then plug them back in. Laundry soap is all I need, not dog pic #primedayfail”

Joshua Stenhouse tweeted, “If only @amazon had unlimited access to a global, resilient, auto-scaling, cloud service. This kind of outage wouldn't happen. #primedayfail”

Maureen MacGregor tweeted, “Amazon victim of DDoS attack of its own making”

Maurielle Lue tweeted, “RECLAIMING MY TIME!!!!! How will #Amazon pay ME for a year of wasted anticipation for #AmazonPrimeDay  2018 ... the website crashes every time I click on my shopping cart.  #primedayfail #PrimeDay2018”

Office Depot even jumped in with a comment saying, “Tired of looking at dogs? Our deals are still up.”

There are so many similar posts it would take hours upon hours to relay them all to our readers. To make things nice and concise and to sum it all up, Amazon customers were extremely unhappy about the website issues they faced on Prime Day and many were wondering why they even pay for a Prime membership when the company fails to handle issues that are easily avoidable, like the issues with Prime Day website downtime.

Adding Insult to Injury

One tweet mentioned that Amazon was victim of a DDoS attack that it created. Exactly what was meant by this? Amazon wasn’t exactly suffering a DDoS attack. They were, however, experiencing a huge influx of traffic, which was to be expected on Prime Day, as we discussed last month. Also, as we discussed last month, Amazon should have been prepared for this traffic influx. Apparently they weren’t. What makes this so infuriating to knowledgeable Amazon customers is that Amazon has access to an auto-scaling cloud service that it offers to its cloud service customers. With the website having such access to auto-scaling technology in terms of website traffic, one would think they would have used that technology for its own site to avoid the Prime Day issues the website faced.

To make matters worse, Amazon never really communicated what the issue was and why so many customers were running into dog pages and other error pages when trying to buy things from the website. The level of transparency that helps gain customer trust definitely wasn’t seen by the visitors who wanted to know when they’d be able to access the deals. While the problems were resolved in a few hours, those few hours cost Amazon’s reputation quite a bit and it also impacted the number of sales the site was able to make. Yes, the first hour of sales beat the last years, but those sales could have been even more impressive if all customers had been able to access the website, something Amazon seems to have overlooked.

The consensus seems to be that Amazon’s servers simply couldn’t handle the influx of traffic from Prime members wanting to access the annual deals. Considering Amazon’s access to its AWS services, many customers felt there was no excuse for the downtime and that Amazon is becoming too big for its britches, not caring at all about the sales that were lost and the customers who were infuriated. Instead, the company focused on the sales it was able to make compared to the year before. As long as sales increased, Amazon was happy. The customers who couldn’t access the deals Amazon had to offer didn’t really seem to be given even a secondary thought.

In Conclusion

Last month we gave warning that this was a possibility for Prime Day 2018, even though we all hoped for the best. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t seem to see customers as living, breathing human beings who get fed up with being dismissed as numbers that don’t count because sales were still being made. Amazon has had many publicity issues lately, with many concerned that as the ecommerce giant grows customer service will decline. If Prime Day 2018 is any example, it seems those concerns are valid. There is something, however, the ecommerce giant should remember. The bigger you are, the farther you can fall. Customers made Amazon what it is today. If Amazon doesn’t take its site’s uptime and customer accessibility and service seriously, those same customers can go to Amazon’s competitors for a better site experience and better customer service.

This recent ordeal can serve as a warning to all of us. No matter how big our businesses become, we can’t forget about the customers and clients who made our businesses what they are today. No matter how big a website becomes, it is important to remember that all online businesses live and die by the customer experience. Website downtime is one of the issues website visitors are least likely to forgive. If your site runs into downtime, learn from Amazon’s mistake and don’t tout about what great experiences the customers who can access your site are getting. Instead, simply allow for transparency, explain to customers what is going on, and give an ETA as to when the site will be accessible. Show concern for the visitors who can’t access the pages of your site. This way you can retain much of your reputation even if your site is facing challenges that affect your customers’ experience.