Fear missing out? Amazon knows it—and uses it to make Prime Day sales

Key Points
  • Amazon Prime Day is an annual day of deals for Amazon Prime members. This year, it will run for 48 hours starting at midnight PT on July 15. 
  • Amazon's marketing for Prime Day plays on customers' fears of missing out on the deals. 
  • "There's this sense that Amazon is for everybody and it's everywhere," said Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist. "They upped the coolness factor associated with Amazon a lot with these campaigns."
Close-up of packaging advertising Amazon Prime Day.
Smith Collection | Gado | Archive Photos | Getty Images

Amazon knows how easily we get FOMO. It uses our fear of missing out to make sales on Prime Day.

This year, Amazon Prime Day will run for 48 hours, starting at midnight PT on July 15. The retail giant said last year's day of deals and discounts was its biggest yet as it sold 100 million products, and having those extra hours this year will likely end in even better results. After all, people don't want to be left out.

"The psychology is really just the fear of missing out and timing," said Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist. Similar to Black Friday being just before the holiday shopping season, Prime Day comes just before the back-to-school shopping season, retail's second busiest shopping season. "People don't just want bargains, they are shopping anyways and have needs."

Amazon makes sure customers will turn to them to satisfy those needs with marketing campaigns that include a Taylor Swift concert, which took place Wednesday night, and a line of beauty products from Lady Gaga, which is sold exclusively by the company. It not only advertises its own surge of deals, its rivals do as well with their own competing events and messaging.

Take eBay's ad where a father asks his teenage daughter, who happens to be named Alexa, if anything good happens on Prime Day to which she responds "Yeah, did you check eBay?" Simply put, Prime Day seems to be everywhere.

"There's this sense that Amazon is for everybody and it's everywhere," Yarrow said. "They upped the coolness factor associated with Amazon a lot with these campaigns."

But Amazon isn't just cool — it's also exclusive. To participate in Prime Day, customers need to be Amazon Prime members, which costs $119 a year, or $59 a year for students.

"Belonging does inspire people to use that service," Yarrow said. She added that although Amazon Prime doesn't necessary feel like an exclusive club now that it is so popular, it does give people a sense of investing in something and wanting to get their money's worth because they've made a commitment.

Because you don't need a Prime membership to purchase from Amazon regularly but you do need one to participate in Prime Day, the day of deals also feels like a reward to members.

"It makes people feel good about being members," said Tom Meyvis, a professor of marketing at New York University's Stern School of Business.

The FOMO Amazon creates with Prime Day also gives people a sense of urgency, Meyvis said.

"It's special because it only happens once a year," Meyvis said. "There are so many brands and retailers that have promotions all the time — often times you don't have a sense of urgency."

That sense of urgency might also come from the fact that people don't want to miss out while their friends and families score.

"It's not just that you didn't get a deal, it's also that other people did," Meyvis said.

There's this sense that Amazon is for everybody and it's everywhere. They upped the coolness factor associated with Amazon a lot with these campaigns.
Kit Yarrow
Consumer psychologist

There may be a downside, however. If customers miss out, they might give up instead of returning to the site another day to buy an item, Meyvis said.

"The fact that you're discounting means people will assume that everything they can buy on Amazon, they may have gotten for cheaper earlier," Meyvis said. "If we didn't buy the Amazon Echo during Prime Day for whatever reason... now I'm definitely not going to want to buy it because I know I could have gotten it cheaper."

Amazon rarely shares specific sales numbers, so it might be difficult to tell. But one thing is clear: the event has brought in huge sales for the company in the past, and this year will likely be no different.

Forrester: About 60% of people did not shop on Amazon's past 'Prime' days