Prime Day 2021: A seminal moment in the online retail sector?

June 23, 2021

Amazon Prime Day is normally associated with a heavily publicised drive to encourage people to shop with the world’s biggest retailer, with consumers readily obliging. But this year felts totally different. 

Set in the context of the last 14 months, a nominal ‘event’ to encourage online shopping felts like a drop in the ocean. This is because, to all intents and purposes, it’s been Amazon Prime Day since March 2020 – the point at which we were all forced indoors and online. The data bears this out too. 

 

Pandemic profits  

Earlier this year it was reported that Amazon has turbocharged profits since the start of the pandemic. The multinational tech company reported a 70% increase in earnings in the first nine months of 2020, up US$5.8 billion from a year earlier. As per a New York Times study, Amazon reported a near 200-percent rise in profit. But this boom in online retail goes way beyond one retailer. 

According to Ofcom’s latest online snapshot of the nation’s e-habits, Online Nation 2021, UK online shopping sales rose by 48 percent to nearly £113billion in 2020, up from £76.1billion the year before. A separate report by Osome found that in the UK, 2020 was the biggest mobile shopping year to date, with consumers collectively spending 82 billion hours in shopping apps – 30% up from 2019. 

 

Make 2021 about experience 

Aside from the major changes to socio-cultural behaviours when it comes to shopping we’re still experiencing the impact of other world events in the supply chain, most notably Brexit and the blockage in the Suez Canal – both of which have conspired to impact goods that are available and the cost of those products to the consumer. We’re paying more for stuff now than we were a year ago, and some items are scarce. 

The fact that Prime Day 21 has arguably not carried the razzamataz of yesteryear, and that the problems of product availability are beyond our control, online retailers have essentially been forced to turn their attention to another point of difference this year – experience.  


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There is no doubt that Amazon has excelled in service delivery since Prime was introduced, which makes now an ideal moment for brands to not only match its commitment to speed but go one step further with personalisation, tracking and post-purchase aftercare. 

Point of no returns 

Emerging from the pandemic should not mean reverting to type when it comes to how brands prioritise the customer experience. The landscape, consumer expectation and technology has evolved beyond all measure since the start of 2020. There is no doubt that Amazon has excelled in service delivery since Prime was introduced, which makes events such as Prime Day an ideal moment for brands to not only match its commitment to speed but go one step further with personalisation, tracking and post-purchase aftercare. 

When it comes to deliveries consumers should be afforded much greater flexibility of time and location. After months of rapid and tailored drop offs, anything less would be beyond retrograde for the industry and something consumers will not tolerate. We’re now seeing people return to work and therefore without the capacity to simply take deliveries at the time and behest of the carrier. Indeed a study by independent retail consultant Graham Soult found that nearly half a million parcel deliveries will be missed each day once we return to the workplace. 

One of the biggest pressures and cost drains on customer service teams is for ‘where is my order’ (WISMO) enquiries. If retailers do not have the measures in place to ensure total customer visibility with regards deliveries this is something that’s only going to get worse as we transition our society back to being away from home so much.  

But it is not a one way street. Returns too, will also play a massive role for the same reason. It’s not an area retailers have wanted to focus on historically, but it cannot be ignored and the experience must mirror the ambition of delivery to be fast, frictionless and free. Failure to do so only exacerbates a disconnect and will lead to increased customer frustration. Indeed, according to recent data from Klarna, more than eight in ten (84%) online shoppers would turn their back on a retailer after a bad returns experience, highlighting the power of returns as a customer acquisition and retention tool, and the repercussions of getting them wrong. 

 

A baseline for customer service 

Our own research found that 1 in 5 delivery experiences are still considered ‘underwhelming’ for consumers. It also found that 30% of deliveries are still below expectations in terms of service. It underlines that tracking, returns and delivery communications will become an increasingly vital differentiator when it comes to keeping shoppers brand loyal. We found that some brands are still relying on email as a sole method of customer communication – fine if this is what the customer has requested but, in an era defined by choice and convenience, surely a baseline of service should be to communicate on a flexible, customer-defined channel?  

And this is just one area of many for retail to address as the world of shopping finds a new equilibrium. And that’s what Prime Day this year ultimately needed to be about. It’s not about simply encouraging consumers to buy more stuff – certainly not from Amazon. It’s about addressing historical pain points in relation to online shopping, creating better processes and giving consumers a great experience. Doing so could have made this the most successful ever Prime Day for retail as a whole.