On July 12, 2004, an extremely 2004-named website called W00t.com debuted on the internet. The digital retail outlet's schtick was simple: one killer deal per day — usually tech-related — for its customers, attached to a 24-hour countdown clock marking the time until the next sales event.
Items were available in limited quantities, meaning once the inventory was exhausted, visitors would have to wait until the next reveal for a chance at new discounted wares. The company's tone was generally cheeky, often acknowledging its own cheapskate conceit — for a time, the site offered a "Bag of Crap" with random (nonreturnable) odds and ends. W00t would soon abandon its l337-speak spelling for the simpler "Woot.com," but the perfected gimmick needed no improvement — the Age of the Internet Flash Sale had begun. Rinse, refresh, repeat.
Six years and hundreds of copycat sites like Groupon and LivingSocial later, Amazon acquired Woot for $110 million. By 2013, six of Woot's founding members and execs begrudgingly left the company, reportedly unhappy with Amazon's now-widely known ruthlessness and demands of corporate uniformity. "The business will no doubt continue to grow because Woot can leverage Amazon systems, but Woot will look more and more like Amazon until it is unrecognizable," a source told Tech Crunch upon resigning. Another five years passed, bringing us to 2015 and Amazon's twentieth anniversary.
“More deals than Black Friday.”
To celebrate, the Cult of Bezos unveiled its first Prime Day, a retail event promising "more deals than Black Friday." While the responses to the first year's offers were mixed, the stunt was a mega-hit, ensuring subsequent, annual Prime Days.
It's as fitting an origin story as one can get for the year's most American holiday — and note, "most American," not "most patriotic." With Amazon firmly established as one of the most profitable, influential, and culturally imposing corporations in world history, Prime Day has quickly become an inescapable, ritualized commercial occurrence, a culmination of modern capitalism observed by millions that rivals Black Friday. But unlike that uniquely problematic retail phenomenon which evolved over the decades across a wide swath of markets, Prime Day is a singular, rapidly rising, creative exploitation of retail trends. In less than five years, Prime Day has become as American as mass-produced, over-processed, frozen apple pie.
For countless consumers, Amazon, and thereby all its advertising and influence, are now inescapable parts of life, especially during this pandemic. Its media blitz reminded you of Prime Day's imminent arrival in the weeks leading up to the holiday. The website's digital decorations promoted the fast-approaching day, so much so that, chances are, you already knew this year's sales began on October 13 whether or not you cared to know its date in the first place.
While other religious services and rituals have been dramatically affected by quarantines and social distancing guidelines, Prime Day was largely immune to the disruptions, even after being delayed by months. In all likelihood, it will actually benefit from the current, tragic national disaster. When the deadly COVID-19 pandemic reached its first (of likely many) peaks near the company's mid-July anniversary, Amazon decided to delay this year's Prime Day to October. The holiday's original timing was not only unsafe, it was unprofitable, and therefore unacceptable. Prime Day is celebration built around the appeasement of free market gods, rewarding their most faithful, dutiful adherents with material gains, while corporate priests can expect increased market shares and stock returns. The country's "most American holiday" wouldn't live up to its title if it didn't ensure to maximize its profits.
“In all likelihood, it will benefit from the current, tragic national disaster.”
And to accomplish all this, Prime Day's success rests on the backs of the working class. Exploitative factory conditions and dangerous environments are fair trade-offs to make sure the most American holiday can continue.
It's yet another example of a country willing to sacrifice its lower-tier citizens for the sake of the stock market. But even those morally opposed to Prime Day often find themselves swept up in the celebration. People can hate the genocidal implications of Thanksgiving, but that often doesn't stop them from winding up seated across the table from family members every year. Likewise, in an economy and culture in the throes of climate disaster, racial reckoning, and socially distanced living, most can't help but use Amazon in their daily lives.
As our dystopian era "progresses," there is a solid likelihood the U.S. government will not so much collapse as become absorbed by corporations like Amazon. Who needs a post office when there's Prime Delivery? Why bother with funding private schools when Google will provide us with virtual classrooms? In 2010, Amazon saw the potential in Woot.com, paving the way towards the first distinctly "American" holiday. Unfortunately, it probably won't be the last.