Ecommerce 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? Shoppers enjoy the benefit of getting a product they want at an irresitible price. Countless ecommerce retailers use this promotional pricing strategy to generate sales with plenty of success.
In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about creating profitable flash sales and see examples from real ecommerce brands.
What is a Flash Sale?
A flash sale is a discount or promotion that is offered for a limited time only. The goal of a flash sale is to foster a sense of urgency amongst shoppers to take advantage of a deal before the time is up. 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 take a look at one example. Let’s say an artist who you only slightly like is playing in your city this weekend. Even though you only like that one song, you feel compelled to get dressed up and head over to the venue because your 10th favorite band is in town.
Or perhaps Trivia Night has rolled around once again, and even though you would 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 capitalize on this psychological phenomenon to capture qualified leads and drive impulse buying decisions.
The best-known flash sale event of the year is Black Friday (and the following Cyber Monday). In 2021, Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales topped $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.
Flash sales aren’t just limited to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, though. An effectively implemented flash sale will massively boost sales, help clear out inventory, and bring additional customers to your site who may purchase non-sale items as well. To help you launch 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 goal of your sale.
A flash sale can accomplish many things besides just boosting sales and revenue. Do you want to clear out inventory to make room for next season’s products? Or perhaps you want to increase overall traffic to your site and generate hype over a new item? Understanding the goal of your flash sale is important when crafting 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. Although it might be tempting to run a flash sale on any old item you want to get rid of, it is important to make sure your offer provides value to the customer and encourages your target audience to join in on the sale.
3. Promote the sale ahead of time.
Launching a flash sale is like dropping a new song. You want to generate hype amongst your customer base ahead of time and get them rushing to your site as soon as the sale goes live. Consider using social media and email marketing to give your shoppers a heads up that a sweet deal is coming their way 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 percent-off discount is more appealing to customers than money off. 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 bit sweeter than 10% off. Both offers are the same, but how you say it 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 hit that buy button. Missing out on a great deal can cause frustration and pain; we’ve all been there. The drive to avoid that pain is often enough to fill up carts. This is called anticipatory regret, and setting an urgent expiration date on your flash sale will trigger those feelings and boost sales. A 24h 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 stock numbers to fulfill your expected amount of orders. 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 merchandise on hand to send enough customers home happy while maintaining an air of exclusivity.
7. Prepare for shipping and delivery.
Online shoppers expect their items to ship as soon as possible — on the next day or even same day if possible. When designing your flash sale, make sure you are prepared ahead of time to fulfill and ship all your expected orders in a timely manner.
Customers are also far 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 deal. Even if you need to dial back the discount or implement a cart minimum to trigger it, free shipping can influence your customers’ purchase decision.
Examples of Great Flash Sales
1. Abercrombie & Fitch
This is a textbook flash sale example that checks all the boxes. Abercrombie & Fitch is offering a double whammy of a discount: 50% off of items that are already on sale. That deal is sure to get customers excited, and the limited time frame pushes shoppers to check out now and avoid any future regret of missing out on such a deal.
Your flash sale doesn't just have to be a direct monetary discount. Starbucks is offering a creative deal where customers get twice the stars by purchasing through their loyalty program for one day only. As opposed to a targeted flash sale on a specific product, this one is aimed at driving 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 appealing for items over $100 by offering $50 off of guitars, as opposed to a percentage. Just like any good flash sale, it's a limited-time-only deal.
Meta's Oculus flash sale creates a sense of urgency by letting the customer know the discount is about to expire. This goes one step above simply stating the time frame of the deal, and in a personalized manner tells the customer that the time is now to take advantage of this discount. I don't know about you, but I don't want to regret letting this deal slide by!
DoorDash's DashMart is offering a classic flash sale: a percentage discount with an expiration date. What makes this flash sale stand out is the clean and concise design. The expiration date of the deal is front and center, paired with the offer and a simple, attractive image. This flash sale is also focused on a specific DashMart offering, not just all orders. If you have a new product or service, you might want to consider running a flash sale on that one offering to raise awareness and drive traffic.
6. Nordstrom Rack
Not only can flash sales boost sales, but they can help clear out inventory as well. Nordstrom Rack is strategically using a flash sale to make more space at the warehouse, and you can too. Nordstrom is offering a percentage off of already-on-sale clearance items, which is doubly exciting for customers. It's wise of them to quantify this double discount as up to 75% off to drive the deal home. The bold red color of their banners, coupled with the limited time nature of the deal, maximizes the FOMO customers might feel if they fail to make a purchase.
Flash Sales Provide Value & Boost Revenue
Along with increased revenue, flash sales can help your ecommerce business get rid of excess inventory and stabilize your existing inventory. Most importantly, flash sales often drive a large audience to your site and incentivize viewers to purchase non-sale products, too. Use flash sales periodically, and both your revenue and customer base will grow to unprecedented numbers.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in April 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.