We are now entering the final hours of Prime Day, an alleged sales “event” from Amazon that is actually two days long. The catalyzing idea of Prime Day is ostensibly to conjure a shopping holiday out of thin air, which manifests in reality as “let’s just choose two days in which we bombard people with things they might impulse buy.” The problem with this is that Amazon.com, as far as I can tell, was designed by madmen who were challenged by the richest man on earth to build the most insane website on the planet.
This is not a new concept. Last November, BuzzFeed illustrated the many ways that Amazon, as a page that you view in a browser, sucks beyond comprehension. But Prime Day is supposedly Amazon’s biggest sales event of the year (“Join Prime! Here’s why!”) and yet its main hub is also Timecube-level nonsense. At the top of the Prime Day page is a video stream Amazon has been running nonstop as a sort of QVC parody. Next to it is a rotating carousel of deals that are obviously not curated by people. Around noon, the carousel was offering me three nearly identical deals on protein powders and supplements, as well as some Jojo Siwa merchandise.
Below this carousel is another carousel, showing different product categories that are not arranged in any discernible order. What is the difference between “Deals You’re Watching” and “Upcoming Deals”? Why is the icon for “Top Brands” a donut?
Below this, we get to what I call “the Grid.” The Grid is the beating heart of Prime Day, and it also makes no sense. Gaze at it too long and it might melt your face Raiders of the Lost Ark–style. The Grid is a sortable list of all of the deals. By default, it only shows you current deals and expired deals, but not deals that are coming in the future. Just baffling.
Let’s drill down. I like electronics, so let’s filter for electronics. The top three listings in the Grid are Amazon’s proprietary Fire TV stick, a Fire TV-branded television set, and … “Furniture, Mattresses and Area Rugs.” This is just great stuff from the product responsible for the richest man on the planet and vice versa.
The next three listing are omnibus listings for product categories, whose individual listings fall on a wide pricing spectrum. For instance, I can score “Up to 50% off select PC Gaming Laptops, Desktops, Monitors, and …” with products running between $18.99 and $1,249.99. How is this supposed to help me find what I want? A few rows down is a category where I can “Save big on select PC components, monitors, and accessories,” which is somehow different from the other PC category. It has items from $6.99 to $423.99. Sometimes, the Grid doesn’t even show you prices, even on listings that are just single products. It just offers a certain percentage of savings.
It genuinely seems like Amazon is making it as difficult as possible for someone to discern actual deals. It’s like panning for gold, only the gold is minimal savings that make the endeavor not worth the effort. Amazon offers no help in trying to navigate this nightmare. The company has a “guide” for Prime Day, but it’s only got marginally useful tips like “set up notifications,” “go to Amazon.com,” and — I kid you not — “check for deals on specific items on Prime Day by searching for the item on Amazon.com.” Also, all of the tips are compressed GIFs that function as hyperlinks, but the unclickable text within them is also formatted as a hyperlink. This is like Geocities-era web design.
(Amazon employees, who are not officially unionized, are striking in order to improve their working conditions, and have asked consumers to show solidarity by boycotting Prime Day. The boycott extends to other Amazon-owned services as well, like watching streams on Twitch.)
That Amazon makes Prime Day so awful to take advantage of feels almost intentional. That’s thanks to the rise of e-commerce affiliate operations that get kickbacks every time they refer a customer to Amazon. These editorial operations (like New York’s Strategist, the New York Times’ Wirecutter, or Kinja Deals) make money by culling the avalanche of “deals” — 99 percent of Prime Day discounts are not worthwhile, according to the Wirecutter — to create lists of product recommendations for their users. Amazon’s horrible website itself creates a business niche for these places, particularly during days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Prime Day, which step in and do the scouring for you, linking directly to listings so that you don’t have to try looking through Amazon yourself.
Perhaps you’ve seen numerous articles hawking “The Best Prime Day Deals,” or “Here’s What’s on Sale This Prime Day,” or whatever. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship: Amazon doesn’t have to redesign its product and it gets tons of extra press for Prime Day, and e-commerce sites perform a useful service for readers that leads directly to revenue for themselves. If Amazon, the website, were actually usable, it might not get all that free advertising from e-commerce posts.
Maybe there’s a method to Amazon’s madness. Or maybe I’m overthinking it.