Amazon Prime Day 2019: Everything you need to know about Amazon's shopping extravaganza

Amazon's fifth Prime Day approaches.

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Prime Day, Amazon’s summer shopping event, is officially back for a fifth year. On Monday, July 15, Amazon will offer deals for 48 hours on over a million products on its sites around the world. Deal hunters can track all the action starting at midnight Pacific time via the company's Prime Day landing page.

If you still haven't checked out Prime Day, it may sound like an overhyped "Black Friday in July" sale. But while the company did fall flat in its first year with a crop of lackluster deals, the last three years featured a selection of genuinely good tech bargains.

For 2019, Amazon's promising an even bigger blowout of sales. More is the keyword: more Lightning Deals, more exclusive launches, more Alexa device discounts, more hours to shop. The company's even released its first Prime Day deals three weeks early, with the juiciest of the bunch being a 43-inch 1080p Toshiba HD Fire TV for $180. (This particular deal runs through June 30 or while supplies last.)

Read on for what you need to know about Prime Day and how to prepare.

Note: To take advantage of Prime Day sales, you must be a member of Amazon Prime. This service is Amazon’s $120-a-year club that offers free two-day shipping on orders, as well as a litany of frills like free premium video and music streaming, free online photo storage, a Kindle lending library, and various promotional offers. New Prime members get a free 30-day trial, which means you can sign up, get the Prime deals, and then dump the membership before the $120 fee kicks in.

Amazon Prime Day: A brief history

The first Prime Day wasn’t that great. Amazon introduced it in 2015 to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary—and of course increase the number of Prime members. As for the sales, there were a few decent deals, but critics and shoppers largely agreed the day was a bust compared to the holidays.

amazon prime day 2016 infographic usa cropped Amazon

In 2016, the deals got better, but smart shoppers still had to do some legwork to separate the good buys from the bad. Prime Day 2016 was also hit with technical issues surrounding Amazon’s checkout system. There was also some stiff competition for Lightning Deals, with many of them selling out crazy fast.

(For the uninitiated, Lightning Deals generally offer some of the best sale prices on Amazon. They feature limited stock available at a low price for a short time, which makes the demand for them that much higher.)

For its third outing in 2017, Amazon promised Prime Day would offer better deals and higher inventories yet again, plus a focus on new items—the two previous Prime Days were heavy on open-box items. But for the tech-obsessed, the deals on devices, components, and gadgets weren't as expansive as we'd hoped.

Amazon greatly expanded its offerings in 2018, adding new categories and promotions while giving tech enthusiasts plenty to throw their cash at. Not only was everything from cables to TVs discounted, but additional promotions like deeply discounted trials for various Amazon services and a ton of free PC games via Twitch Prime sweetened the pot.

What to expect from Prime Day 2019

For now, Amazon's announcement of Prime Day 2019 (and what it'll bring) is more subdued than last year's. Instead of new initiatives, the company is expanding its efforts to promote Alexa devices, exclusive launches, small and medium businesses using Amazon as a sales platform, and discounts at Whole Foods.

We expect Amazon to continually launch hard-to-resist sale items leading up to Prime Day—appetizers for the main deals smorgasbord. These inaugural deals usually serve as a hint at what categories and products it'll focus on during Prime Day proper.

Currently, active Prime Day deals include:

The official start time is 12 a.m. Pacific / 3:00 a.m. Eastern on Monday, July 15. Prime Day then continues for 48 hours until closing time at 11:59 p.m. Pacific on Tuesday, July 16. (Last year, the event lasted for 36 hours.) For the east coast, that means the deals stop at 2:59 a.m. on Wednesday, July 17.

New for this year

Amazon called out its entertainment benefits of Amazon Prime membership (Music, Prime Video, and Twitch Prime), urging subscribers to "prepare for big surprises from some of the world’s top talent." As part of the teaser, the company's offering movie rentals of Jordan Peele's Us for $2.99.

Amazon also drew attention to its complimentary one-day shipping, which is now available on over 10 million of the products it sells.

Prime Day tips

Let us guide you to the best deals

If you want to avoid doing any legwork, we’ll be posting our own curated lists of the best deals on electronics and tech. Just check back here or the PCWorld homepage for the links. Easy-peasy.

Do your research

If you plan to strike out on your own, it pays to do your research. Like any retailer, Amazon mixes true deals with “sales” that are really just regular prices (or close to it) with a deal tag. To avoid that pitfall, look up historical prices before buying.

The number one site you need to bookmark (besides Amazon) is CamelCamelCamel.com. This is an Amazon price-tracking site with historical charts and a brief summary of recent price changes.

camelcamelcamelprimeday2018 IDG

To use an example from last year: Let’s say you saw a deal on a G.Skill Ripjaws KM780 mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Brown switches. You’d type KM780 into CamelCamelCamel and find the historic pricing of that product (pictured above).

In 2018, CamelCamelCamel says the best pricing on this keyboard was $90 the previous November, and that the highest was $170 in late 2015. With that information and the larger pricing chart, you have the tools to decide whether that keyboard is worth the current sale price.

If the sale price were $85, for example, that would be a good deal—you'd be getting the lowest price ever. A $90 price tag would also still be a pretty good deal, since it'd still hit the current lowest-ever mark. However, the graph also shows that for most of June, the price hovered at $97, which means neither discount would be cause for extreme urgency in purchasing.

However, if the sale price were $60, we would advise snapping up that keyboard ASAP.

Plan ahead for Lightning Deals

Historical price tracking is great, but what about those all important Lightning Deals? That’s where you’ll find most of the very best Prime Day prices, and the more popular ones sell out fast—like hot-concert-tickets fast.

With little time to buy, forget about historical price-checking in the moment. One thing you can do is look ahead, as Amazon often teases its lightning deals in advance. If you visit the Prime Day webpage, for example, you may see a carousel of Lightning Deals. Keep scrolling through those deals, and you’ll soon hit products that are on deck but haven’t yet started as deals.

If you find something in those upcoming Lightning Deals you’d like to buy, that’s the time to do historical price-checking. Then when the product goes on sale, you’ll know right away if Amazon’s limited-time price is worth it.

Get alerts for specific Lightning Deals

Speaking of which, you don’t have to wait around or keep an eye on the clock to know when your deals are going live. The Amazon app for Android and iOS lets you build a deals watch list and then get notifications when your deals are active.

Once you’ve installed the Amazon app and signed in, go to Settings > Notifications > Your Watched & Waitlisted Deals. Activate the slider in that section. You can now add an upcoming item to your watch list—go to the deals page in the app, find the upcoming deals you’re interested in, and tap Watch this deal.

If it’s too good to be true, it might be a knockoff

Remember that it’s not only Amazon that offers sales on Amazon on Prime Day. Third-party Amazon marketplace sellers are also eligible to sell items at low prices. Many of these sellers are great, but sometimes there are less-than-honest brokers out there pushing fake or low-quality products, as The Guardian reported in April 2018.

Before you buy—even with Lightning Deals—take a second to check that the seller and the product appear legitimate. We advise consumers to only buy products that come from, or are fulfilled by, Amazon. That won't protect you from counterfeits, but if anything goes wrong, you're 100-percent covered by Amazon’s excellent customer service. With independent third-party marketplace sellers, you have to deal with them directly and can appeal to Amazon only if that effort fails.

Look beyond Amazon

Check out the rest of the internet on Prime Day. With Amazon building so much hype, other retailers offer their own sales to compete. It’s a long shot to find the exact same deals elsewhere, but it’s always worth checking online shops like Newegg, Staples, and Best Buy for a close match.

Amazon’s a great place to find deals, but not every deal is what it seems. With a little preparation and a good dose of research you can find the truly great deals on Prime Day.

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