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Zyro Glossary eCommerce

Flash Sale

What is a flash sale?

A flash sale is a discount or other kind of promotion that a retailer offers for a short, fixed amount of time. 

Usually, a flash sale will include a fixed quantity of goods to be sold, and will feature discounts greater than those offered normally by eCommerce stores. 

In this way, a flash sale encourages customers to make a purchase in three ways:

  • Offering a large discount which ‘can’t be missed’
  • Creating competition with other consumers to buy the limited supply 
  • Applying a time pressure that encourages snap purchase decision making. 

How Long Does a Flash Sale Last? That’s entirely up to the company running the promotion. By definition, flash sales run for a short period of time, but they could be anything from 24 hours to a week or more. Generally, however, they’ll last for only a day or two. 

Most companies will leverage flash sales to attract attention or clear stock. Other companies, on the other hand, will regularly run flash sales as a core sales technique. 

Pros and cons of running flash sales

As with pretty much all marketing and sales tactics, there are both benefits and drawbacks when you run a flash sale. 

The pros of running a flash sale include:

  • Clearing stock. Whether you have items that didn’t sell as well as expected, or want to clear seasonal items for new stock, a flash sale can help get rid of excess inventory. 
  • Create pressure to buy. A time limit and limited inventory for a great deal will trigger the fear of missing out in customers. They’ll either make purchases they weren’t planning or make planned purchases sooner. 
  • Grab attention. Successful flash sales can be effective in making new customers aware of your brand. New customers may shop in the sale, or simply become aware of your company because of it. 
  • Promote brand loyalty. New customers aren’t the only ones you’ll attract with a flash sale. They can be a great way of establishing deep trust and affinity with your brand among existing customers 
  • Grow profits. While certainly not a long-term financial solution (we’ll talk more about this in a moment) a flash sale is an opportunity to boost revenue in the short-term. 

On the other hand, the cons when you run a flash sale include:

  • Reduced profits. By its very definition, a flash sale involves selling goods at a big discount. This means that your profit on each item will either be smaller or non-existent. 
  • Reputation damage. A poorly managed flash sale can damage your brand’s reputation. If you have a high-end business model, customers may see you differently if you heavily discount your goods. 
  • Non-target market customers. Even a successful flash sale can hurt your brand by attracting the wrong kind of customers to your company. 
  • Alienated customers. While you might attract the wrong kind of customers, you can also put off the valuable, loyal customers who were already interested in your brand. 
  • Flash sale fatigue. Shoppers prove that there can be too much of a good thing. If you run too many flash sales, or at the same time as other brands, shoppers may lose interest. 

How to run a successful and profitable flash sale

While there are, as you can see, risks to running flash sales, a well-executed sales event can do a lot of good work for your brand. 

If you’d like to be able to benefit from the positive aspects of a flash sale, without suffering from the drawback, there are a few steps you should definitely bring into your planning process. 

While each brand and company will have its own approach to discount events, making sure you have a structured approach to your flash sales will help you avoid the pitfalls along the way. 

1. Start by defining your marketing goals

While flash sales are of course unique events, that do not exist in a vacuum. Any successful flash sale that your company runs should be aligned with your overall marketing strategy. 

As such, a flash sale should have clearly defined goals and objectives, which themselves should add up to serve your overall marketing objectives. 

The simplest place to start is by identifying your exact reason for running a flash sale. It might be to:

  • Attract a whole load of new customers to your brand in one go
  • Get a sudden injection of revenue into your business 
  • Clear out excess inventory from your warehouse to make room for new lines
  • Simply draw attention to your brand at a period of time with low consumer engagement

Of course, you don’t just have to pick one of these goals. You can have multiple objectives when it comes to flash sales, as long as they don’t contradict each other, and all serve a greater purpose. 

It’s also worth assessing whether flash sales will actually suit your brand. Remember, a badly executed flash sale can do more harm than good in the long run, even if it does accomplish short term goals of boosting revenue or clearing stock. 

If flash sales run the risk of alienating your loyal customer base or otherwise damaging your brand’s reputation, they’re not going to be worth the short-term gains. 

Make sure you make a solid analysis of possible outcomes before you charge in. 

2. Understand your target audience and how they spend

This might sound obvious, but it would be a waste if the way you plan your sale is not aligned with the buying and spending habits of your core audience. 

Some steps you might take include:

  • Digging deep into your sales reports. Look at what customers buy and when, think about how the timing of your flash sales might benefit you in light of your findings. 
  • Make sure that any discount will actually appeal to your target demographic. Don’t discount too little so as not to be appealing, but don’t discount so much you seem desperate. 
  • See what products customers have left in abandoned carts. Showing someone a product they previously browsed is now available at a discount is a shortcut to a sale. 
  • Be mindful of promoting products at a large discount to customers who bought them full price. Segment these customers out of your messaging, or make sure they’re promoted other products. 
  • Look to your competitors. Take note of their messaging, and the approach to flash sales they’ve taken in the past. Learn from their success and mistakes. 

3. Plan and stock for a smooth flash sale

While we mentioned before that flash sales are a great way to get rid of a lot of excess inventory over a short period of time, there’s also a danger that low stock could hard the success of your flash sales. 

One of the biggest hurdles for a flash sale is making sure that you have enough stock to hand to keep up with a demand that is much greater than usual. 

Failure to provide enough products to meet demand could damage your brand’s reputation. 

If your goal is to clear stock, make sure that you balance this with the level of service that’s expected by your customers.

4. Promote your flash sale

To start off with, let’s be clear: regardless of your market, product, audience, or size, the cornerstone of any flash sale promotion is highlighting that you’re offering great products at an impressive discount

Direct marketing

High impact, short time-scale flash sales are best executed with direct email or SMS campaigns to your existing customers. 

Since you already have the contact details of these customers, and know their purchase history, you can:

  • Perfectly time emails or texts to land at the start of the campaign 
  • Build hype around the sale by trailing it beforehand
  • Personalize messaging with products the customer is interested in
  • Create a custom user experience to encourage purchases

Social marketing  

Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram offer fertile ground for promoting your flash sale. 

While you would likely be targeting both existing and potential new customers, the rich user data available on these platforms make them ideal for micro-targeting the right audience. 

Remember, eCommerce shoppers are heavily influenced by recommendations from friends and family. Making your promotional materials on social platforms highly shareable will help you tap into this. 

General tips 

Whichever marketing channels you end up targeting, there are some general things to keep in mind when promoting your flash sale. For example:

  • Always include high-quality images of your products looking their best
  • Be clear about how long the sale lasts and what discounts customers can expect
  • Make it easy for customers to link directly to your website
  • Make sure your user experience on landing pages are optimized for finding the flash sale on site

How long should the flash sale last?

This question might sound like asking ‘how long is a piece of string’, but you’d be amazed how much thought brands put into deciding the duration of their flash sales. 

The length of your flash sale will be influenced by a number of factors, including:

  • The market you’re in. The kinds of products or services you’re selling will determine a suitable length of time; larger ticket items will sell slower, so a longer period of time is appropriate, and vice versa. 
  • Your marketing channels. How you announce your flash sales to customers will affect how long you run a flash sale. We’ll talk more about this in more detail in a moment. 
  • Your target market. Different demographics make purchasing decisions at different speeds. Knowing your customers and what you can expect from them is key factor. 

To expand a little more on what we said about marketing channels, let’s look at how the vehicle for your messaging might determine the length of your flash sales. 

If you’re running direct marketing campaigns using customer’s emails or SMS, then a 24-hour sale could be ideal. Target customers are guaranteed to know about the sale, and the short time period will create maximum pressure to act.  

However, if you’re relying on paid promotion, your message will trickle out over a longer period, and your target audience will be slower to act. In these cases, you might consider a 3-day event. 

Remember, while it might be tempting to run the sale as long as possible, the time limit is what creates the urgency for customers to buy. You want to keep things tight. 

Always make sure that you’re putting the time limit front and center in your messaging about the promotion. 

5 bonus tips for winning flash sales

While we’ve covered most of the important points already, here are a handful of other useful tips to keep in mind:

1. Tease the sale in advance (but not too long)

Making sure as many customers know about the sale ahead of time will ensure that you land the maximum sales when the event launches. 

However, be mindful of the fact that if you start promoting the flash sale too early, your full-price sales may drop off in the period leading up to the flash sale. 

Striking the right balance is the key to not being out of pocket. 

2. Create social events

Serving ads and creating posts on your social media profiles is all good and well, but what about creating Facebook events for your flash sales?

The beauty of this approach is that:

  • You have loads of space in an event to explain the event and get people excited about the sale.
  • You can leave invitations open, so your customers can do the leg work of inviting other potential customers to the event.
  • People attending the event on Facebook will receive your updates as notifications, and will be alerted when the event is set to take place, ensuring they don’t miss the sale. 

3. Prepare for selling out 

A huge percentage of items in flash sales sell out before the end of the sale. This is both a problem and an opportunity. 

While many customers are likely to be disappointed by missing out on the products they wanted, since you have them on your eCommerce store, you can recommend other, similar items. 

You can even steer attention towards products that are likely to offer you a higher profit margin. 

4. Have the infrastructure to fulfill orders

The whole point of a flash sale is to develop a sudden burst of orders. If you’re expecting a higher number of orders than usual, you need to be sure you have the infrastructure in place to meet them. 

This might mean increasing the number of staff you have in your warehouse, or otherwise rearranging your delivery systems to optimize fulfillment at high volumes. 

5. Plan for after the flash sale

Now you’ve done all this planning ahead of your flash sale, it’s time to think about getting back to normality after. 

How are you going to keep the attention of all the new customers you’ve developed?

How will you pivot away from the high volumes of orders? 

What will your next promotional campaign look like?

Make sure you know the answer to these questions before taking the leap.

Written by

Author avatar


Duncan is obsessed with making website building and eCommerce accessible to everyone. He explains the best tools and the latest digital marketing trends in ways that are clear and engaging. His focus is on supporting the sustainable growth of small to medium-sized enterprises. When not writing, he enjoys deep sea fishing and endurance cycling.

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