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

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

Monday marks the start of another anniversary for Amazon, as the e-commerce behemoth holds its seventh Prime Day sales event on June 21 and 22.

It may feel like it's always been a thing, 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 now costs $119 per year and 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 expanded Prime Day event 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, including Amazon tech devices (top-sellers again included the Fire TV Stick streaming media device and the Echo Dot smart speaker) and groceries, with Amazon offering Prime Day deals on organic strawberries, red cherries, and blueberries at Whole Foods Market, which the company acquired for $13.7billion in 2017.

The Covid-19 pandemic delayed last year's Prime Day event until October (and, this year's event will be delayed in India and Canada only, with Covid-19 currently spreading faster in those countries). Amazon did not disclose total Prime Day sales for the 2020 event, but the company did note that third-party sellers on Amazon's marketplace earned more than $3.5 billion in sales during last year's two-day event. That marked a 60% spike from the previous year, as Amazon heavily promoted sales from the small and midsize businesses on the marketplace last year, at a time when many smaller businesses had suffered during the pandemic.

For this year's Prime Day event, Amazon is promising "over 2 million deals across every category," including over a million deals from the small and medium-sized businesses selling products on the Amazon marketplace. Amazon added that customers will be able to search those marketplace deals for products offered, specifically, by "local Black-owned, woman-owned, military family-owned, and many more small businesses."

This year's event now also stretches across 20 countries, more than double the number of the first event in 2015.

CNBC previously reported that this year's Prime Day sales are expected to feature limited-time offers on a lot of products, with a potential focus on travel and entertainment-related items (think 25% off products like air fryers, smokers and backyard games along with the usual TVs and Amazon devices) as shoppers prepare for a world with fewer Covid-related restrictions.

Meanwhile, Amazon's success with Prime Day has even inspired retail rivals like Walmart, Target, Best Buy and others to offer their own mid-summer sales events in an effort to appeal to online shoppers looking for discounts. Both Walmart and Target have already announced plans to offer multiple days of deals, with both events starting June 20.

Don't Miss:

How this high school dropout went from $100K in debt to bringing in $18M selling stuff on Amazon

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

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