Here's how to shop Amazon Prime Day—you can start this weekend

During Amazon Prime Day, app users will get exclusive sneak peaks and early access to deals.
Irina | Twenty20

Amazon Prime Day starts on Monday, July 15 and 58% of Americans plan to shop the online retailer's annual discount bonanza.

"The annual shopping event is essentially Cyber Monday meets Black Friday meets Boxing Day in the middle of July," Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot, tells CNBC Make It. "Shoppers who are Prime members can shop from the comfort of their own home and watch for advance alerts of discounts on popular products."

To participate, you do have to be a Prime member. If you haven't already signed up, you can register for a free 30-day trial, after which it's $119 a year. If you don't have access to a free trial and you don't want to pay, check with family members who already have a Prime membership. Amazon lets you set up a Prime household with up to two adult members.

This year, the sale lasts two full days — July 15 and 16 — so it pays to know how to shop to maximize your savings. Here's everything you need to know about Amazon Prime Day, and how to prep in order to snag the best deals.

Be prepared — Prime Day deals go quick

People like to compare Amazon Prime Day with Black Friday, but it's not quite the same. Prime Day isn't like a department store on Black Friday where all the sale items are out on display from the minute doors open and available while supplies last.

Instead, Amazon's Prime Day is really a series of mini sale events. Deals are released at specific times throughout the 48-hour period starting on July 15 at 3 a.m. EST. Some of the discounts are classified as "Lightning Deals," which offer huge savings on a limited quantity of name-brand items. Items that are part of these sales typically sell out within minutes.

Once Prime Day is underway, Amazon also offers Prime Early Access on some sale items so members get 30 minutes of early access before they're shown live on the site.

Get set up before Prime Day starts

Because the deals can sell out so quickly, it pays to plan ahead. If you have the Amazon shopping app (and you definitely should if you're shopping Prime Day), you can turn on "personalized notifications" in the app settings to get push alerts when deals are live.

Another aspect to arrange in advance: payment. Set up 1-click ordering to give yourself a fair shot at snagging one of those Lightning Deals. "This way you won't waste time filling out the shipping/billing address, credit card info, etc.," says Regina Conway, consumer expert for deal site Slickdeals.

Not all of the deals will appear on the site or on the app. This year, Amazon says the biggest deals will be exclusively offered through Alexa-enabled devices, including Echo home speakers. To shop Amazon using Alexa, you'll need to have your shipping and payment methods pre-set. But then you can simply ask the device, "Alexa, what are your deals?" and it will give you a run down on the current specials, including any Prime Day discounts.

Browse Prime Day previews

Amazon releases a preview of some Prime deals starting a week in advance in the app, according to RetailMeNot. You can click the "watch this deal" button under each item and you will get an alert when they go on sale.

Plus, if you use your smartphone's camera between July 8 and July 14 for various functions — search for a product, view an item in a room using augmented reality or scan a barcode — Amazon will give you an extra 20% off early bird Prime Day deals.

If there's a specific item that you're searching for and you don't see it on the previews, you can create your own wish list and Amazon will send you an alert if the product becomes part of a Prime Day deal.

Have a plan for what you really want to buy during Prime Day

With all of the deals, and many happening so quickly, Amazon Prime Day is the perfect storm for impulse buys. In a recent survey from data protection firm Red Points, 60% of people feel Amazon Prime Day puts pressure on them to buy quickly.

But making a snap decision may mean missing out on a better deal, or worse, buying a product that doesn't meet your quality standards. To avoid falling into this trap, have a plan, especially for more expensive times. Familiarize yourself with brands and prices ahead of Prime Day so you know when a sale is really a good deal or not.

Too much work? You can also install a browser extension such as Capital One's Wikibuy, which will tell you when another store has a better price. The extension also automatically finds and tests coupon codes, as well as notifies you when prices drop on products you recently viewed.

Stock up on groceries this weekend

One of the best Prime Day deals is actually in-store. If Prime members spend at least $10 at a Whole Foods store or through Prime Now (which partners with the grocery retailer) from now until July 16, they'll receive a $10 credit to use on Amazon during Prime Day purchases.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey said in a statement that the grocery store will be adding exclusive deals on "peak-of-season produce and high-quality grocery favorites" during the week of Prime Day, including on strawberries, peaches, blueberries, salmon fillets, nut butters, trail mixes and ice creams.

Look beyond Amazon for deals on your favorite brands

Amazon's Prime Day has spurred a whole cottage industry of sales among retailers. RetailMeNot predicts that 250 retailers will be offering deals on Prime Day and throughout the week, up 30% from the number of retailers who participated last year.

Target will run its own "Deal Days" on July 15 and 16, promising "red hot online deals." Walmart is also putting thousands of items on sale from July 8 to 17 And with these retailers, no membership is required.

"As Prime Day has gained more and more traction and massive success over a few short years, it has had a ripple effect with many other retailers jumping in on the shopping buzz and offering competing sales this time of year," Skirboll says.

Check out: Don't make these 6 common mistakes and do Amazon Prime Day right

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