How Amazon Prime Day came to be and its very first best-sellers

A contractor working for cleans a delivery truck in Richmond, California, Oct. 13, 2020.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Tuesday marks the start of another anniversary for Amazon, as the e-commerce behemoth holds its eighth Prime Day sales event on July 12 and 13.

It may feel like it's always been around, but the first Amazon Prime Day was on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the site's launch in July 1995. Now a 48-hour event, at the time Amazon promised a one-day sales event for the site's Prime subscribers that would be "one of the biggest deals extravaganzas in the world," according to then vice president of Amazon Prime, Greg Greeley.

The first Prime Day included 24 hours of deals for shoppers in the U.S., U.K., Spain, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Canada, and Austria. Prime members ordered 34.4 million items during the event, which became the biggest sales day in Amazon's history, topping 2014's Black Friday, the company wrote in a blog post.

Among the most popular sales items in the U.S. that first year was the Instant Pot 7-in-1 programmable pressure cooker, which sold 24,000 units (compared to just 182 the previous Wednesday), according to Amazon. (The following year, Amazon sold a whopping 215,000 Instant Pot cookers, helping to build the product's cult following.)

Instant Pot on sale on Prime Day 2019

In addition to the Instant Pots, on Amazon Prime Day 2015 in the U.S. the following were sold: 56,000 "Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy" sets; 47,000 televisions; 12,000 "Fifty Shades of Grey" unrated edition Blu-rays; 51,000 Bose Headphones (compared to eight a week earlier); 14,000 iRobot Roomba 595 Pet Vacuum Cleaning Robots (compared to 1 the previous Wednesday); and 10,000 Meguiar's X2020 Supreme Shine Microfiber Towels, to name a few.

Top sellers around the world included Huggies Diapers in Canada, Green Smoothie mix in Japan, Monopoly in France and Croc sandals in Germany and Austria.  

When the first Prime Day launched in 2015, Amazon reportedly had an estimated 40 million U.S. members of its Prime subscription service, which at that time cost $99 per year. Today, Amazon boasts more than 200 million paid Prime subscribers around the world, with an annual membership that recently jumped from $119 per year to $139, and which provides members with exclusive access to certain deals as well as free two-day shipping.

Amazon Prime Day is projected to make $5.8 billion in global sales
Amazon Prime Day is projected to make $5.8 billion in global sales

Amazon expanded Prime Day to 36 hours in 2018, and it became the e-commerce giant's largest-ever shopping event at the time. Prime members bought more than 100 million products during that year's 36-hour event, the company said, with top-selling items including Amazon-made products like the Fire TV Stick streaming media device and the Echo Dot smart speaker.

The event then expanded again, to 48 hours, in 2019. That year, Prime members bought more than 175 million products, with Amazon adding Prime Day deals on organic strawberries, red cherries, and blueberries at Whole Foods Market, which the company acquired for $13.7billion in 2017.

More recently, the event has endured even with delays from the Covid-19 pandemic that pushed the 2020 Prime Day back until October of that year. In 2021, sales for the two-day event topped a record-high $11 billion, according to Adobe Analytics data, and Amazon says its members bought more than 250 million items worldwide during the event (another record).

Amazon now promises "over 2 million deals across every category," while continuing to offer a heavy dose of promoted sales from the small and midsize businesses on the Amazon marketplace. Many smaller businesses suffered during the pandemic.

This year's event stretches across 20 countries, more than double the number of the first event in 2015. Prime members have already had access to some early deals, including discounts on certain Amazon tech devices, since June 21. And, this year, the company also introduced a new feature where digital assistance Alexa will give customers advance notice on deals 24 hours before the item goes on sale if it is already on your wish list, in your shopping cart or saved for later.

In recent years, Amazon has seen greater competition from some of its biggest rivals running their own competing deals events to coincide with Prime Day, including Walmart, Target and Best Buy. Those rival sales events have somewhat dampened the enthusiasm around Prime Day in recent years, and high consumer prices stemming from record inflation could turn away some shoppers this year. Some retail experts are advising customers to consider shopping around for better deals or even skipping the event altogether.

While Walmart is skipping its own Prime Day rival event this year, Target's 72-hour "Deal Days" event kicks off Monday ahead of Prime Day and the retailer says it will price match certain Amazon deals. Amazon will also hold a new "Prime Fall" shopping event in the fourth quarter of 2022, meaning shoppers will face less pressure to get all of their deals shopping done during this week's two-day event.

Still, experts are expecting deep discounts this year on Amazon's in-house brands, including the Echo smart home devices, Ring video doorbells and Fire TV products. Other big-ticket sale items include deals on Google's Pixel phones and Apple products like the Air Pods Pro and Apple Watch Series 7.

This story has been updated to reflect the dates of Amazon's Prime Day 2022.

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How Instant Pot became a kitchen appliance with a cult following and a best-seller on Amazon

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How much I saved at Whole Foods with the new Prime discount
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