Cat treats and Liquid I.V.: What do Amazon Prime Day’s most popular items reveal about Americans? Quite a lot.

You are what you buy. If that’s true, Americans have revealed a lot about what’s meaningful to them during Amazon Prime Day’s two-day online shopping festival on July 11 and 12.

The top five items: Temptations cat treats, Amazon Fire TV Sticks, Liquid I.V. packets, Apple Watch Series 8 and Melissa & Doug toys, according to Numerator, a consumer data and analytics company.

“It’s a very eclectic collection,” said Charles D. Lindsey, associate professor of marketing at the University of Buffalo. Like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Prime Day gives people an opportunity to purchase big-ticket items like electronics — many of which are promoted heavily by the online retail giant — while the popularity of cat treats reflects the rise in and importance of pet ownership during the pandemic, he added.

The most popular purchases offer an insight into the priorities of U.S. consumers three years after a pandemic upended people’s lives — at least for those who can afford to shop, consumer psychologists and marketing experts say. Nearly 9 in 10 Prime Day shoppers said they were longtime members of Amazon Prime
which costs $139 a year or $15 a month to join.

Those shopping on Amazon Prime Day — and those purchasing items from rival retailers like Walmart

and Target
which have their own summer discount events to rival Prime Day — were, it seemed, gung-ho for convenience, connection, cord cutting, children and, yes, cats. These consumers are seeking meaningful experiences online — and in real time.

High-quality cat treats

It’s clear the dog days of summer have proved to be a boon for cats. So what about those cat treats? Consumers are hungry for a discount, as pet food prices have risen significantly since 2020, along with the cost of raw materials such as meat and grains, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. A price analysis by the website, TruthAboutPetFood, found that one 12-pound bag of cat food actually doubled in price from 2020 to 2022.

There was a surge in pet adoptions during the pandemic. Then, when many people returned to away-from-home workplaces, animal shelters reported an increase in people returning their pets. Owners were feeling challenged to arrange and afford care for their pets, and that was compounded by the effects of inflation.

“Cats,” though, “are low-maintenance,” Sharmin Attaran, a professor of marketing and director of the digital marketing program at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., told MarketWatch. “The popularity of Temptations cat treats shows the really significant role that pets play in the lives of American consumers. They’re also willing to prioritize high-quality treats. We saw a rise in pet ownership during COVID. Cats are easier to take care of and are more independent than dogs.”

It’s clear the dog days of summer have proved a boon for cats.

The willingness among owners to prioritize pets and their needs appeared, at least anecdotally, to surge during the long and lonely early days of the pandemic.

But the relationship between people and their pets has not always been a smooth one over the last three years, researchers say. While dog walks provided people with an outlet during the early days of the pandemic, a study published in the journal Animals last October concluded that pets have also been a source of stress for many owners during this period. 

One survey respondent reflected on their pets interrupting their work: “Our cats can be very vocal when they want stuff, so that can get irritating when working. Our dog barks whenever people walk by, so that gets distracting while working as well.”

With that in mind, it pays to keep them happy. “Seeing something as seemingly odd as cat food does make sense to me,” said Benjamin Wright, a professor in the marketing department at American University in Washington, D.C. “Cat food is something you’re going to buy a lot of, so if you can get it delivered, and delivered for free? I see why people are making that choice.”

The importance of hydration 

“Liquid I.V. is a bit of an oddball,” Lindsey said. Liquid I.V. — a powder to help with hydration, and another top-five item during Prime Day — is used by athletes and people who want to stay hydrated and/or need to rehydrate. It’s also used as a hangover cure, he said. But he does not read too much into the latter. “It’s summer, and people are trying to stay hydrated,” Lindsey said.

Indeed, a recent report by Goldman Sachs found that beer and liquor sales do not tend to be dramatically impacted by a rise or fall in economic growth. During a recession or times of economic contraction, however, the Goldman

report said that people tend to drink at home, which provides a cheaper alternative to boozing in restaurants and bars.

Marketing obviously plays a part. Attaran recently received a free Liquid I.V. in a goodie bag from Whole Foods. “I’ve never had one before,” she said. “Consumers place importance on health, awareness of proper hydration and how important it is.”

The product appears well-positioned for a revenge-travel, post-lockdown world. (Its slogan: “Fueling life’s adventures!”) 

Minding one’s hydration is an easy way to stay healthy, and it helps reduce the level of sodium in your body. A National Institutes of Health study published earlier this year in the journal eBioMedicine found that adults who stay well-hydrated “appear to be healthier, develop fewer chronic conditions, such as heart and lung disease, and live longer compared to those who may not get sufficient fluids.”

Burned by higher prices

Prime Day was an opportunity for those feeling burned as retail prices have climbed over the past couple of years. “In an event typically dominated by electronics, we instead saw many shoppers stocking up on everyday essentials like pet food or pantry staples,” said Amanda Schoenbauer, a Numerator analyst. Many people demonstrated a desire to save money on everyday purchases and held off on buying big-ticket items.

Americans do appear to be feeling more confident about cash outlays, though. U.S. consumers spent $12.7 billion on online purchases over the July 11–12 period, up more than 6% from last year, according to an analysis of over a trillion visits to online stores by Adobe Analytics
Electronics topped the list, followed by apparel, toys, home goods and furniture, computers, appliances, sporting goods, and TVs.

“Consumers have felt the effects of persistent inflation and an uncertain economic environment, and it has pushed shoppers to embrace more flexible ways to manage their spending,” said Vivek Pandya, lead analyst at Adobe Digital Insights. Wholesale-level inflation slowed in June to the lowest rate since 2021, but analysts say that may not stop the U.S. Federal Reserve from raising rates.

But people were also buying on buy-now-pay-later plans. BNPL, as such plans are sometimes called, accounted for 6.5% of online orders, equating to $927 million in revenue, up 20% from 2022, Pandya said. BNPL is driven by essentials, including apparel, furniture and home items, and electronics. It also provides a preview of how people will spend and what they buy during the holiday season, Pandya added.

Wearable tech and cord cutting

That the Apple Watch

topped the list of Prime Day purchases was — for most observers — a no-brainer. “The Apple Watch reflects America’s fascination with wearable technology and how we can integrate these devices into our daily life,” Attaran said. “It can be like your personal assistant. I always feel like Inspector Gadget talking to my watch, and telling it to do things for me.”

Ditto Amazon’s Fire Stick, a media streaming device. Americans want an on-demand, personalized viewing experience, and this is a direct result of the surge in cord cutting. Total pay-TV subscribership in the U.S. and linear-television subscribers have fallen by millions over the last year, continuing a growing trend over the last decade. 

But the real charm lies in Melissa & Doug toys, which are made from sustainable materials, Attaran said. “I have two kids. I totally get it,” she said. “I buy all their stuff. This highlights traditional hands-on experiences for kids. Even with the rise in digital entertainment with the Fire Stick, we still value imaginative play and the cognitive development of children.”

It’s also good timing: Most children are at home during the summer, and they need distractions. Attaran’s daughter received a Melissa & Doug pasta set made of felt when she was 2 years old. “She still plays with it at age 5,” she said. “It lasts a long time, and she can play at being a restaurant owner or a chef.”

And as with most online toy sales: “You’re not paying the toy-store markup.”

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