Leaked Documents Reveal What Really Happened to Amazon on Prime Day

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By Published On: July 23, 20180 Comments

Internal memos have revealed what went wrong with Amazon’s e-commerce site on Prime Day and how the business responded to the site outages.

In an internal email that’s reportedly been seen by CNBC, Amazon’s CEO of Worldwide Retail, Jeff Wilke said he was “disappointed” with the site issues that plagued Amazon’s US operations on July 16. According to the email, the company is already working on ways to prevent similar problems from arising in 2019.

“Tech teams are already working to improve the architecture, and I’m confident we’ll deliver an even better experience next year,” he reportedly wrote in the email.

When the sale launched at 12 pm local time in Seattle and across the US, the American platform started experiencing glitches. According to the leaked internal documents, the glitches were a direct result of its software program, ‘Sable’ malfunctioning. The e-tailer reportedly uses Sable for its computation and storage services for both its retail and digital businesses, with Prime being one of a number of services that rely on Sable’s functionalities.

Alexa, Prime Now and Twitch also experienced problems, while warehouse staff had trouble processing stock orders, as they were unable to scan products or pack orders during the outages.

Customers who were able to load the marketplace’s US homepage were greeted with a simplistic, poorly designed site, as Amazon switched its standard home page to a simpler “fallback page”. It’s believed this was done to minimise the load on Amazon’s servers.

Within 15-minutes of the sale going live, Amazon also decided to cut off all international traffic to its American marketplace, to “reduce pressure” on the Sable software. Shortly after, at 12.37 pm, the standard home page was re-opened to 25 percent of traffic and by 12.40 “certain changes” had been made to improve Sable’s performance. These improvements seemed to be short-lived, however, as roughly five percent of traffic from international locations went back to being blocked within a couple of minutes.

Internal site performance charts indicate that problems continued to arise until just after 1 pm, with conditions beginning to improve after that.

Anonymous inside sources have also said that as many as 300 employees tuned into an emergency conference call, with scenes in the office being described as “chaotic”.

Mathew Caesar, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois believes that the root cause of Amazon’s site issues and Sable malfunctions stem from failures in the e-tailer’s auto-scaling feature, which detects fluctuations in traffic and adjusts server capabilities accordingly. Caesar claims this is evident in the company’s decision to add server power manually instead of automatically.

Amazon Records Strong Sales Despite Glitches

According to a US-based analytics firm, Jumpshot, Amazon’s early technical glitches significantly impaired the marketplace’s conversion rate. When the sale kicked off on July 16, the site’s conversion rates increased by a modest four percent; hardly the threatening figures most online retailers would expect to see. However, at the sale’s peak on July 17, conversions soared from 11.1 percent to 15.5 percent, equating to a 40 percent increase. Estimates put the dollar value of this loss at roughly $70 million.

Although, despite these issues, Amazon is now believed to have raked in $4.01 billion in revenue, above earlier estimates of $3.5 billion, making the 2018 shopping event its most successful yet.

It’s also believed that sales during Prime Day were up 89 percent compared to 2017 within the first 12-hours of the 36-hour sale.

While Amazon hasn’t released any confirmed sales figures, the online marketplace has revealed that Prime members purchased more than 100 million items across the globe. In Australia, the PlayStation 4 Pro 1TB console was the most popular product among consumers, followed closely by FIFA 18 for PlayStation 4 and Philips Hue lightbulbs.

Amazon also says that its membership base increased tenfold, as the company reportedly welcomed “more new Prime members on July 16 than any previous day in Amazon history”.

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