E-commerce stores use flash sales to boost revenue, generate brand awareness, take advantage of consumers’ “fear of missing out,” and compel shoppers to make impulse purchases.
Sound manipulative? Buyers enjoy the benefit of getting a product they want at an irresistible price. Countless e-commerce retailers use this promotional pricing strategy to generate sales with great success.
In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about creating profitable flash sales and see examples of real eCommerce brands.
What is a Flash Sale?
A flash sale is a discount or promotion offered for a limited time only. The purpose of a flash sale is to foster a sense of urgency among shoppers to take advantage of a deal before time runs out. This sense of urgency should result in a large number of sales over a short period of time.
To illustrate the effect of a flash sale, let’s look at one example. Let’s say an artist you like just a little bit is playing in your city this weekend. Even if you only like that one song, you feel compelled to dress up and go to the venue because your 10th favorite band is in town.
Or maybe Trivia Night rolled around again, and even though you’d rather stay home, you go out anyway because all your friends will be there and you don’t want to feel left out. What do these scenarios have in common? FOMO. The fear of missing out.
Flash sales take advantage of this psychological phenomenon to capture qualified leads and drive impulse buying decisions.
The most famous flash sale event of the year is Black Friday (and the following Cyber Monday). In 2021, Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales were $14.04 billion and $10.7 billion, respectively. For most businesses, this Mother of All Flash Sales is the highest grossing sales period of the entire year.
However, flash sales are not just limited to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. An effectively implemented flash sale will significantly increase sales, help clear inventory and bring additional customers to your website who can also purchase non-sale items. To help you start a successful flash sale, we’ve created a list of easy steps (and examples too) to inspire your strategy.
How to do a flash sale
1. Determine the objective of your sale.
A flash sale can accomplish many things beyond just boosting sales and revenue. Want to clear out inventory to make room for next season’s produce? Or maybe you want to increase overall traffic to your site and generate hype about a new item? It’s important to understand the purpose of your flash sale when setting up your strategy, especially regarding the type of promotion or discount you want to offer.
2. Choose the right product for your ideal market.
When choosing the product(s) for your flash sale, you want to make sure your selection is aligned with your target audience and your goals. While it may be tempting to hold a flash sale on any old item you want to get rid of, it’s important to make sure your offer provides value to the customer and encourages your target audience to join the sale.
3. Promote the sale ahead of time.
Starting a flash sale is like dropping a new song. You want to generate hype among your customer base ahead of time and have them rush to your website once the sale goes live. Consider using social media and email marketing to let your buyer know that a great deal is coming soon.
4. Optimize your wording.
Your discount needs to stand out in your customers’ feeds and inboxes, and choosing the right language for your offer can make or break your flash sale. For items under $100, a percentage discount is more attractive to customers than a cash discount. However, for items priced over $100, a set dollar off amount tends to catch the eye.
$5 off a $50 shirt doesn’t sound quite as appealing as 10% off. Meanwhile, $50 off a $500 cookware set sounds a little sweeter than 10% off. Both offers are the same, but how you say them matters. When planning your flash sale, consider the price and variety of your items when choosing the copy for your subject lines and captions.
5. Keep the time frame short.
The “limited time” aspect of a flash sale is what really lights the fire in customers to push that buy button. Missing out on a lot can cause frustration and pain; we’ve all been there. The drive to avoid that pain is often enough to fill cars. This is called anticipatory regret, and setting an urgent expiration date on your flash sale will fuel those feelings and boost sales. A 24 hour time frame is typically enough to drive purchases.
6. Check your inventory.
An effective flash sale requires effective preparation. You want to make sure you have the inventory numbers to meet your expected order quantity. Selling out of a product too early in your flash sale can leave customers with a negative experience with your brand. It’s important to make sure you have the goods on hand to send enough customers home happy while maintaining an air of exclusivity.
7. Prepare for shipping and delivery.
Online buyers expect their items to ship as soon as possible – next day or even same day if possible. When planning your flash sale, make sure you are prepared ahead of time to fulfill and ship all of your expected orders on time.
Customers are also much more likely to complete a purchase if free shipping is included, and may even increase their order to meet a minimum for a free shipping offer. If you can afford it, consider throwing in free shipping as part of your flash sale. Even if you have to dial back the discount or implement a cart minimum to activate it, free shipping can influence your customers’ purchase decision.
Examples of large flash sales
1. Abercrombie & Fitch
This is a textbook flash sale example that ticks all the boxes. Abercrombie & Fitch is offering a double discount: 50% off items already on sale. That deal is sure to get customers excited, and the limited time frame pushes shoppers to get out now and avoid any future regrets of missing out on such a deal.
Your flash sale doesn’t have to be just an outright cash discount. Starbucks is offering a creative deal where customers get twice the stars by shopping through their loyalty program for one day only. Unlike a targeted flash sale on a specific product, this one aims to drive traffic and sales across the board. If you have a loyalty or rewards program for your customers, consider offering an alternative type of flash sale using points and rewards as the incentive.
As we mentioned earlier, the wording of your flash sale matters. Fender takes advantage of the fact that a dollar amount discount is most attractive for items over $100 by offering $50 off guitars, as opposed to a percentage. Just like any good flash sale, this is a limited time only deal.
Meta’s Oculus flash sale creates a sense of urgency by letting the customer know that the discount is about to expire. It goes one step above by simply indicating the time frame of the deal, telling the customer in a personal way that now is the time to take advantage of this discount. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to regret passing this deal up!
DoorDash’s DashMart offers a classic flash sale: a percentage off with an expiration date. What makes this flash sale stand out is the clean and concise design. The deal’s expiration date is front and center, paired with the offer and a simple, attractive image. This flash sale is also focused on a specific DashMart offer, not just all orders. If you have a new product or service, you may want to consider running a flash sale on that one listing to increase awareness and drive traffic.
6. Nordstrom Rack
Flash sales can not only boost sales, but they can also help clear out inventory. Nordstrom Rack strategically uses a flash sale to make more space at the warehouse, and you can too. Nordstrom is offering a percentage off already-on-sale clearance items, which is doubly exciting for customers. It is wise of them to quantify this double discount as up to 75% off to seal the deal. The bold red color of their banners, coupled with the limited time of the deal, maximizes the FOMO customers may feel if they don’t make a purchase.
Flash sales provide value and increase revenue
Along with increased revenue, flash sales can help your e-commerce business get rid of excess inventory and stabilize your existing inventory. Most importantly, flash sales often drive a large audience to your site and encourage viewers to purchase non-sale products as well. Use flash sales periodically, and both your income and customer base will grow to unprecedented numbers.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April 2018 and has been updated for completeness.