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David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Brad Tuttle
July 13, 2015

With the arrival of Prime Day on July 15, Amazon is trying to steal the thunder of the world’s best known made-up shopping day: Amazon is billing Prime Day as “a one-day global shopping event on July 15, 2015, with more deals than Black Friday.” And analysts think that Amazon’s summertime imitation of Black Friday will no doubt be followed by competitors trying to imitate Amazon’s imitation with manufactured shopping days of their own.

Theoretically, Prime Day is being held this summer to celebrate Amazon’s 20th anniversary as an e-retailer. Yet the deals are not available to all Amazon customers; only members of Amazon’s $99-per-year Prime subscription service can partake in the sales.

What Prime Day is really all about, then, is boosting membership in Prime, the service that includes unlimited streaming video content and two-day free shipping on most Amazon purchases. Prime, which celebrates its 10th year of existence this year, has proved to be a remarkable sales tool for Amazon. When someone signs up for Prime, their Amazon purchases tend to soar, as members try to get the most out of their subscription and basically stop shopping elsewhere.

“It’s absolutely core to our retail business,” Amazon Vice President Greg Greeley, who runs Amazon Prime, said of the service to the Seattle Times earlier this year. Greeley said that worldwide, paid Prime membership increased 53% last year, and the obvious hope is that Prime Day juices the subscription numbers further.

If Amazon simply wanted to bump up overall sales, period, it would have opened up Prime Day deals to non-Prime members. Instead, it’s pumping up Prime Day as the perfect time to sign up for a free 30-day trial of Prime, with the idea that many new members will turn into paying subscribers in a month. Amazon is feeling the urgency to get more shoppers on board with Prime right now, as new online discount competitors like Jet.com emerge and older rivals like Walmart introduce Prime-like subscription services to win over deal-seeking shoppers.

Overall, what we have here is a giant scrum in which multiple players are trying to secure the business of as many online shoppers as possible—not just on a single day like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Prime Day, but over the long haul, via subscription services like Prime. It’s unsurprising, then, that Amazon is rolling out a Prime-enhancing sales event like Prime Day. And it will be equally unsurprising when the competition tries to steal away business from Amazon with big discounts that just so happen to also take place on July 15, as well as other Cyber Monday/Black Friday-like sales on random days in the future.

“If this works this could be the start of a many more days like this from Amazon,” Sucharita Mulpuru, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., told InternetRetailer.com. “Others will of course try to piggyback on it.”

Look back at the history of Cyber Monday, which is only a decade old, and it’s easy to see how a made-up shopping event can quickly shift from a gimmick with few participants to an ingrained tradition that virtually every retailer feels compelled to participate in with gusto. More and more such contrived “shopping events” have followed, with Green Monday and Regifting Day around the winter holidays, “Black Fridays” in spring and summer, and now, Prime Day in July.

So Prime Day is hardly the first attempt at repeating Black Friday’s retail magic, and it will certainly not be the last time a retailer tries to grab the attention and dollars of the masses with a random day of big sales. “We believe a new annual or periodic shopping ‘holiday’ for Prime could drive additional new memberships, and emulate the success seen with other manufactured shopping days, such as Cyber Monday and Alibaba’s Singles Day,” Colin Sebastian, an e-commerce analyst with Robert W. Baird and Co., said in a research note, according to InternetRetailer.com.

Speaking of which: Singles Day, held on November 11 (11/11) every year in China, with online sales that roughly double that of Cyber Monday in the U.S. and has become an epic day for shopping at Alibaba.com, might be considered the original Prime Day.

Also, for what it’s worth, there’s no point in debating whether one shopping day is more genuine or less crass than the others. They’ve all been created by retailers with the express purpose of getting consumers excited to buy stuff. Some might seem more like respected cultural traditions, but that’s only because they’ve been around long enough for consumers to embrace them as such.

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